In an earlier blog post, I facetiously said I would go after the slogan “love is love” next. Well, why not. This should be quick.
“Love is love” is a slogan that is used to legitimize queer love by appealing to the value of love. It brings to bear every cultural narrative of star-crossed lovers torn apart by circumstance or by society, and observes that homophobes are the clear villains of the story. Love is love, and why are you against love? What petty prejudices do you have that motivate you to support one kind of love and oppose another? Also, if you read it literally, the slogan is tautologous, which is cute.
None of that is wrong exactly. The issue is that for some people, there are in fact substantive differences in how they love, or whether they love at all.
Consider polyamorous people or people with kinks. While such people might fit into the “love is love” framework, political opponents might not buy it. And the people in question don’t necessarily want to fit in that framework.
Even moving beyond specific identities, there can be all sorts of subtle differences in the way some people approach dating or relationships, that may cause them to reject “love is love”. For example, the movie Bros seems to follow a standard romcom formula, but still made a big point of rejecting “love is love”. In the very first scene, Bobby says, “That is a lie we had to make up to convince you idiots to finally treat us fairly. Love is not love. Our relationships are different. Our sex lives are different.”
And then there are groups like trans and nonbinary people, whose fight isn’t directly related to love. What does “love is love” do for them?
But is “love is love” directly harmful in any way, or is it just a matter of leaving certain people and groups out? You know, maybe it’s okay if the slogan only works for some queer folks. We can come up with another slogan for the enbies, and that slogan probably wouldn’t apply to the cis gays, and that would be okay because we can have more than one slogan.
But there’s at least one reason to believe that “love is love” is directly harmful: amatonormativity, the normalization and elevation of monogamous romantic relationships in society. Yes, there are many narratives of lovers crossing the world for each other, but uh, some of us had prior complaints about those narratives. They portray love as greatest thing someone can experience, the definitive way for a person to become whole. People who don’t experience love either don’t exist, are the subject of pity, or are inhuman monsters.
In my experience, some of the most passionate haters of “love is love” are aromantics. After all, all the stereotypes of loveless people are laid directly on their doorstep. “Love is love” is used to legitimize queer love, but at the cost of tying legitimacy to love. “Love is love” also the subject of internal conflict among aros, with some wanting to show that aromantic love is love too, and others wanting to wash their hands of the whole thing.
But that’s not to say that aros have a monopoly on complaints about “love is love”. Amatonormativity affects us all. I’m in a monogamous marriage, but I still have grievances with the way love is imagined as the ultimate metric of personal success.
Is there an alternative to “love is love”? I dunno, but if homophobia were defeated, nobody would ever have reason to say the slogan again, and wouldn’t that be nice?