- In a Minor Key:Queer Kinship in Times of Grief
Queer loss may not count because it precedes a relation of having.—Sara Ahmed, Queer Feelings1
Queerness can certainly arise from the representation of bodies; however, it also exists through illegibility.—Hentyle Yapp, Beyond Minor Subjects toward the Minor as Method2
When I emigrated to the United States, my family as I knew it was already dying, although I did not know it at the time. Perhaps grief colors my memories with a utopic wash, but I mourn a queer world that quietly extinguished itself before I even knew to name queerness—before the caste-based patriarchy of India and later, the violent settler-colonialism of the United States, demanded I define myself using a language of exclusion and alienation. My family, despite its cisheteronormative exoskeleton, grew fleshy interiors that kept the queer daughter, the genderqueer cousin, the gay uncle, and the polyamorous folks close to the heart. This was the family that taught me to forge kinship outside our caste, class, and religion, to make others part of our family; to perform the caring labor of kinship for anyone who sought it. This is the family that dissolved in a series of traumatic breaks following the deaths of the people who raised me. The pain of my paternal grandparents' deaths a few months apart from each other, during my first year in graduate school, still aches in my bones fifteen years later. The last time I saw them, it was for a year of caregiving, of needles, catheters, wheelchairs, as I helped care for them in the last stages of terminal illness. I had shaved off my long hair, and they said somewhat cautiously, nallaa [End Page 113] thaane irruku—"it's nice only, no?" I loved them for that. I felt their loss as one related to the queerest parts of me, as I struggled to reforge family in the United States. Because ironically, or perhaps predictably, mourning my family of origin allowed me to begin my process of coming out.
Folded into my own mourning is a communal ache I carry with my chosen queer family (forged through collegiality, celebration, and caregiving) with whom I share the enduring pain of resisting, deflecting, or being unintelligible to cisheteronormative conceptions of family and kinship. I hold in the folds of my particular grief, space for those whose traumatic breaks from family are far more violent than mine. And when I see allies at Pride parades giving out "Free Mom Hugs" and "Free Dad Hugs," I know intimately how that touch might recuperate us from the pain of losing blood family in myriad ways. Because as queer people, we know loss as an inevitable part of becoming queer. Queer kinship heals these wounds in ways that are immeasurable. We hold each other in relation not because we know the detailed contours of each other's pain, but because we see in them an interstitial quality that mirrors our own. Perhaps that is why, when we face loss and grief, our chosen family can grieve with us without having had the same attachments or traumas. I share with my queer family, forms of grief that remain veiled; forms of grief that are minoritized, not just because they are the lived realities of queer minorities, but because they are made minor to queer people themselves. I think of queer grief as a response not just to death, but also to the violence of relational endings. For when we lose family as a queer person, for better or worse, we lose entire worlds that made us who we are.
The labor of queer kinship lives in these affective interstices, working to not only offer material and emotional support, but also to recalibrate our politics of queer relation. The very "minorness" of this labor is devastating—because we cannot fully know the grief of others' familial loss, we generate instead what Erin Manning names, "minor gestures,"3 ways of perceiving and being that defy translation into dominant catalogues of meaning. What other proof can there be of this embodied grief shared between chosen family? Rather than seek a language...