Yes, you can live on love and fresh air (it’ll just be a very short and happy life)


The moment we choose to love - bell hooks



This is an anti-oppressive exploration of love. This was always going to make its way into a series on anti-oppressive healing because, silly as it might be to repeat a truism, love really is that important to health and happiness. But it’s useful for it to be grounded in the reality of oppression and daily life struggles, thus the bulk of this piece is dedicated to a healing, stimulating, and somewhat involved exercise you can do with a loved one or a potential loved one.

I’m going to start with the title. I jokingly mentioned it to my soul mate, Sus, after we watched this movie called Into The Wild, based on the book by the same name, about intrepid, modernity-disdaining, freedom-seeking Chris McCandliss. The movie is almost as good as the book is and, while I’m not getting into the entire story here, the narrative tracks his adventures across the U.S. (border-hopping to Mexico via a canoe along the way) as he seeks to free himself from the values and accouterments of capitalism, greed, and vapid elitism, ultimately ending in his dream adventure “into the wild” of Alaska. He nearly pulls it off, but due to an unfortunate accident caused by hunger and delirium, he ends up starving to death in an abandoned bus, deep in the Alaskan wilderness (partly due to his own inexperience as a privileged white kid, but mostly due to the unpredictable hand of fate that eventually guides us all to the next realm).

“Happiness only real when shared”:

Now, I followed McCandliss’ adventures in the book and movie with a little awe, until the last part, where I felt a sharp sadness. It wasn’t because he starved to death, deeply tragic thought that was. Learning about his starvation made me feel deep empathy but not sadness, primarily because I have never known starvation so cannot relate with the kind of emotion that only comes from experience.

I felt sad because he was alone.

(At least alone in terms of physical human company. Who knows how many non-human spirits and free souls were with him when he finally departed this realm.)

I wanted to reach into the pages and across the movie screen to hug him, hold him close and let him know that he was loved as he died.

He wrote short notes as part of his journey, which was one of the main ways the author was able to trace the adventure. As he lay starving to death, the last thing McCandliss wrote was a beautiful note saying that he had lived a wonderful life and was dying happy. Kick-ass free soul this kid was, I thought to myself.

But it was the note he wrote before that which really caught my attention.

It stated: Happiness only real when shared.

I found that quite powerful. The man was starving to death, and the most important thing to him at that time was the company of loved ones. I thought it was a gut-wrenchingly powerful testament to the critical and core need for love in the life of any human and non-human soul to ultimately find happiness and liberation.

Which is what this article is about.

But I’m desperately hoping that it won’t be a putrid bowl of quasi-sentimental, pseudo-sap that capitalist and colonial culture has reduced love to. The sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, heteronormative, false-beauty-projecting, elitist-fantasy-laden garbage that is portrayed in the overwhelming majority of mainstream capitalist and colonial culture in our society and across the world has nothing to do with love.

Because they all miss out on one vital point, indeed the only point that this article is going to expand on.

In order to know true love and happiness, we need to commit to the liberation of our loved ones and ourselves in equal proportion.

What the fuck are you talking about?:

What exactly is this liberation we need to commit to for love? Equally important, why is it so vital for true love to blossom and, if it is, how can we implement it in our daily lives? All good questions, metaphysical friend who pops up with incessant regularity whenever I need a segue into the next part of my article. Let’s start with trying to understand exactly what this liberation is that we need to commit to.

I suggest that it would be liberation from the various forms of oppression that we have to deal with on a daily basis, the forms of oppression we benefit from, and those we are marginalized by. However we might identify ourselves – woman, trans, man, straight, or queer – i.e. regardless of where we find ourselves on the gender spectrum or what form our loving relationship takes, love requires an absolutely inviolable commitment on the part of all parties involved in the relationship to dismantle and eliminate sexism, misogyny, transphobia, and heteronormativity. To that we should also add colonialism, racism, and exploiting the earth. This is true especially for men (i.e. cis-gendered men, i.e. those men who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, i.e. those referred to as “men” across the vast majority of the world’s population, i.e. the overwhelming majority of asshole evil-doers on earth).

Men absolutely have to commit, body, mind, and soul, to the dismantling of all those internalized forms of oppression in themselves and in their relationships in order to know true love. Else, they will always be guilty of ignoring or, worse, reproducing those forms of oppression in their loving relationships.

So why is this so important anyway?:

Buddy, I am of the firm belief that when humanity is truly liberated from all the forms of oppression we see around us, we will know the truest love and the most awe-inspiring happiness. I know that when I commit, with every breath of my being and sinew of my soul, to the liberation of my loved ones and larger community of human and non-human souls, I am happier and more loved as a result. In particular this means committing to the liberation of our loved ones from all-encompassing forms of oppression that vast majorities of the global population experience. This includes, but is not limited to, those forms of oppression faced by women, trans communities, people of color, queer/lgbtq+ communities, ethnic/religious minorities, colonized indigenous people, as well as people dealing with health problems and disabilities. Regardless of which part of the globe we reside in, we all almost certainly know and love people who might fall under any one or more of those monikers, both self-identifying as such and having identities imposed on them by the more dominant sections of society, comprising almost solely of men from the powerful economic, religious, and ethnic classes of that society.

Now, it should come as no surprise that the forms of oppression of utmost importance to commit to destroying as part of a commitment to finding true love and happiness include sexism, misogyny, transphobia, heteronormativity, racism, and colonialism. I, and countless others, are also convinced that these forms of oppression cause humanity as a whole to live off the exploitation and degradation of our non-human kin and fellow souls, as well as the planet as a whole. Indeed, one might also say that a belief in dominance over non-human life, as opposed to living in communion with them, also works to uphold those myriad forms of oppression. Thus, a commitment to destroying oppression is ultimately the truest commitment one can make to love and happiness, in our lives and the world around us.

But let’s break it down to the day-to-day with our loved ones.

A simple 4-step exercise for you to implement with your loved ones (and potential loved ones):

Ok, so far so good, or for many of you it might be so far so much ethereal, fussy platitudes and mumbo jumbo mansplaining.

Agreed, so let’s move into a simple, but mentally stimulating exercise that we can do with any human we might call a loved one, you know, a partner, a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a lover, a parent, a child, a soul mate. Now, it’s a little involved; but I’m assuming that if you have a loved one in your life you might do this exercise with, you wouldn’t mind spending some time on it (at the very least it gives you both an excuse to communicate with each other about important shit). Just read in detail and follow the steps listed out – easy peasy, awkwardly cheesy.

Step 0 – Commit to love, liberation, and happiness: This is Step 0 because without it, the exercise is futile. Nothing can instill a fundamental commitment to the liberation and happiness of your loved ones and yourself other than the commitment itself, a truly honest commitment you will only find in your own heart. I can’t tell you how to make this commitment because that’s for each individual to figure out. It can take time and practice to really internalize the commitment, and we will need to keep reaffirming that commitment to ourselves and others for as long as we live. It’s difficult, no doubt, but one thing that can make it a little easier is to understand the mental framework needed to make such commitment.

It’s quite simple really.

Women and trans people in general don’t have problems committing to the liberation and happiness of their loved ones but have a tough time doing it for themselves.

Men have the exact opposite problem.

If you self-identify as a woman or trans person, ensure adequate focus on your own liberation and happiness first and foremost, especially with male loved ones (the guy gets enough privileges and benefits from sexism and misogyny, so it’s ok to not really give a shit about him as often as needed for you to feel truly free and happy in your life). If you don’t feel loved, liberated, and happy in the relationship, make no mistake about it, there are only one of two things that are possible: you’re either in an unhealthy relationship or an abusive one. An unhealthy but ultimately loving relationship can always heal, regardless of what path the relationship takes (just follow the steps listed below after implementing step 0). Unhealthy, non-loving relationships on the other hand tend to always have some elements of abuse in them.

Now, very briefly regarding abuse, and especially for women and trans people – it’s imperative to rule out the possibility of abuse within the relationship and not allow oneself to be blinded by feelings of love. In no small part because abuse can often be very insidious, and the majority of abusive relationships don’t display the more overt forms of abuse such as physical or sexual abuse. If you feel you’re in an abusive relationship, you have to take a call on how to move forward. I’m not a fan of giving abusive relationships much patience or leeway (though I am a great fan of safety), and think that it’s important to activate one’s community to safely leave or at least ensure safety for oneself if leaving is a more difficult option. In addition it is vital to find truly non-abusive loved ones (and while there are always exceptions, you will likely stand a much better chance at finding a community of liberating loved ones with the women and trans people you have in your life, than you will with the men in your life, surprises either way notwithstanding).

If you self-identify as a man, you know, as a dude, first of all ensure adequate focus on the happiness and liberation of the loved ones in your life, especially the women and trans people in your community. This is absolutely crucial and vital for you to find true love and happiness. No amount of macho whining, masculine bullshitting, or otherwise manly cowardliness that seems to characterize the overwhelming majority of the male of the species will do. All that crap only breeds violence and ignorance. If you self-identify as a man, let me assure you, the only way you will find true love and happiness in your life is if you commit body, mind, and soul to the liberation of women and trans people, starting with those in your community of friends and loved ones. Also work on self-reflection, for which you might consider reading books like The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by the immortal bell hooks, or watching documentaries that explore issues around men undoing their internalized patriarchy and misogyny.

Ensure that you are also taking steps to liberate yourself from the traumas and pains that you no doubt have also suffered. Just remember to do so, always, in conjunction with the happiness and liberation of your loved ones. Then not only will you heal, but you will know a far truer love and happiness.

It really is that simple. I rarely make guarantees in my therapy practice, but I do make this guarantee to men that I think will do dudes the world over a veritable fuck ton of good if they were to internalize it and implement it in their daily lives:

When you commit body, mind, and soul to the liberation and happiness of the women and trans people in your community, while simultaneously honoring your own pain and traumas, you automatically liberate yourself and experience love and happiness.

(Ensure you don’t make a big deal of it though, like I’m inadvertently doing in this article – men bragging, even surreptitiously, about their feminism and great gender politics is a real fucking drag).

You see dude, barring abusive exceptions to this norm, women and trans folk are always more awesome than men, and they almost always respond to men’s commitment to true love, liberation and happiness with a commitment back in equal or greater measure. And it’s perfectly fine if they don’t. Men have it good in a whole load of ways, so it’s vital to stop whining and start loving properly. Most importantly however, the destruction of misogyny, sexism, transphobia, and heteronormativity will ultimately cure men of those sicknesses that all men are afflicted by.

Ok, enough with the therapeutic, self-indulgent rant and onward to step 1 of the exercise. Please note that the steps below are just a suggestion. As you read through all the steps you might have a much better and more kick-ass way of conducting this exercise with your loved ones, or find that you already have been, but could just add a couple of the points below.

Use as you deem fit.

Step 1 – List out different forms of oppression that you deal with on a daily basis, the ones you’re marginalized by and the ones you benefit from: This is a rather easy step. The instructions are given below (and don’t worry, there’s a point to all the “isms” and monikers you will see, and if you don’t want to think about those terms, think about oppression in terms of daily life challenges).

In this step, each individual in the relationship needs to list out the different forms of oppression they are marginalized by and those they benefit from. These are all terms that different people use differently, but have some global value in terms of defining various forms of oppression. The main point behind listing these terms is not to over-intellectualize the exercise, but merely to have markers that define what folks deal with in overt and covert ways on a daily basis. It also provides terms that can be useful terms to explore together in mutual knowledge gathering and sharing exercises (such as doing a google search for documentaries on misogyny and patriarchy that you can watch together or checking out books about colonialism and racism at the local library).

Let’s start with the different forms of oppression that you are marginalized by based on various broad identities you might find yourself identifying with. You are likely to identify with more than one. Here are some suggestions, but remember they are just suggestions, you might have terms and monikers that fit the experiences of your life better. If so, use them instead:

  • Folks who identify as women might consider writing sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, and gender-based violence – OR – if you’re not interested in writing down these terms, just write about different life challenges you undergo and have undergone as a woman.
  • Folks who identify as queer might consider writing heteronormativity, homophobia, and queer-bashing – OR – again, if you’re not interested in writing down these terms, just write about different life challenges you undergo and have undergone as a queer person.
  • Similarly, folks who identify as transgender or 2-spirited might consider writing (in addition to all those listed above) transphobia and gender-oppression (including the oppression of the gender binary) – OR – writing about different life challenges you undergo and have undergone as a trans or 2-spirited person.
  • Men should, on these points especially but as a rule in general, listen and learn. However some of the forms of oppression listed below will definitely pertain to men as well.
  • Folks who identify as people of color and/or indigenous might consider writing racism and colonialism – OR – writing about different life challenges you undergo or have undergone as a person of color or indigenous person.
  • Other major identities to consider and life challenges to write about include: folks who identify with various physical and mental health issues, including those associated with disabilities and ageing, that present them with unique challenges in living their daily lives; folks who grew up or continue to be impoverished or economically marginalized (remembering too that poverty is different in different parts of the world); folks who faced or continue facing some form of religious, nationalist, or ethnocentric fundamentalism in their lives (especially religious, national, and ethnic minorities in different countries), and so on…

That should give you a general idea. Feel free to adapt to the specificities of your life. Very importantly – remember to include any childhood or past traumas undergone, as well as crippling losses, and the daily life challenges presented by post-traumatic stress, since they are severe life challenges for anyone in and of themselves.

Now, once you have a satisfactory list of the different forms of oppression you are marginalized by, move on to the forms of oppression you benefit from:

  • Folks who identify as men, i.e. cis-gendered men, should consider writing misogyny, patriarchy, sexism, gender-oppression, and transphobia. Also try thinking about ways in which you benefit as a man from all those forms of oppression. If needed try talking to different women and trans people about the various ways in which society privileges men. Don’t get defensive.
  • Folks who identify as white should consider writing racism and colonialism. Also try thinking about ways in which you benefit as a white person from racism and colonialism. If needed try talking to different people of color or indigenous people about the various ways in which society privileges white people. Don’t get defensive.

…and so on and so forth with other forms of oppression. By now, I’m sure you get the point of this step, so let me save some belaboring time, suffice to say that once you have a satisfactory list of the various forms of oppression you deal with on a daily basis, i.e. ones you are marginalized by and ones you benefit from, move on with keen eyes and brimming hearts to step 2.

Step 2 – Talk about those daily oppressions, honestly, patiently, and regularly, including the ways the oppressions are reproduced within the relationship: This is quite possibly the toughest part of the exercise, but as the toughest parts tend to be, it is also the most invaluable. Indeed, you might find out that if you do this step really well, you can even do without steps 3 and 4 because you will flow naturally into them if step 2 is done properly. Step 2 needs to be done over a long period of time. You have to make multiple patient efforts in sitting down and talking about these forms of oppression you might face on a daily basis, until you get comfortable talking about it with each other regularly.

There’s an easy way to start implementing this step. You remember the various forms of oppression (or life challenges) you listed out in the previous step? Start with the ones you are marginalized by. Let the person who has more forms of oppression listed go first and let the other person listen. Then switch roles and do the same thing. Always ensure that the person with more forms of oppression listed talks for a longer amount of time. Remember, this is just a suggestion to help get you going on talking about these things. As with any suggestion, it can sound contrived to different people. Try to figure out a way to communicate that works for both of you.

Once you’re done with that, specifically talk about the forms of oppression you are both marginalized by and the ones you both benefit from. As you keep talking about these forms of oppression, you might find common spaces of solidarity with each other in fighting oppression you both are marginalized by, and self-reflection on oppression you both benefit from.

Once you’re done with that, specifically talk about the forms of oppression that marginalize one while benefit the other. This is the most crucial part of this step because these forms of oppression are the ones that are at greatest risk of being reproduced (overtly and covertly) in the relationship. bell hooks powerfully states that women (and to that we can add trans people) “have been socialized to be the keepers of grave and serious secrets – especially those that could reveal the everyday strategies of male domination, how male power is enacted and maintained in our private lives.”

These “grave and serious secrets” are the killers of love. It is imperative to talk about and deal with these forms of oppression in the relationship. Men will find that there is a lot of work for them to do to love properly. That’s a good thing. Deal with these oppressions as a loving, liberated team, which means the bulk of the lead on how to tackle them on a day-to-day basis should be granted to the person facing those forms of oppression, while the bulk of the responsibility in undoing it in the relationship falls on the shoulders of the person benefiting from those forms of oppression.

For example, if one were to take sexism or patriarchy in a heterosexual relationship between a man and a woman, then the man should listen to the woman for the most part in terms of how to undo the sexism and patriarchy in the relationship. The lead should be granted to her, while he should take on the bulk of the responsibility (both day-to-day tasks and self-reflection). So if she tells him to pick up the slack at home or be less of a jerk to her friends, he needs to listen, learn, and try doing better.

Ok, now that you’ve got the most difficult step out of the way, steps 3 and 4 are way easier. Like, so easy that you’re actually at the end of the article already.

Step 3 – Talk about how you might support each other in dealing with these day-to-day oppressions in your life: These are the practical suggestions, the small day-to-day changes you and your loved one can incorporate to liberate yourselves from the daily oppressions you deal with. These are based on your individual lives and, like I said, if you’ve done step 2 properly, these day-to-day life changes can and will be implemented with increasing ease. When in doubt, talk about it, then talk about it some more. There is no action too small or mundane to undo the daily oppressions you deal with. Indeed, it’s the little good things, done consistently over time that gets the job done. I get that we’re all doing important earth-shattering shit, but it’s cool to work on regular day-to-day stuff to help liberate each other and make each other happy. House stuff, non-house stuff, kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, cleaning stuff, cooking stuff, sharing stuff, work stuff, non-work stuff, friends stuff, relatives stuff, having fun together stuff, doing cool shit together stuff, communicating properly stuff, having healthy arguments stuff, building a community of loved ones stuff.

They all count.

Be honest and realistic.

Be in solidarity with each other’s journeys of healing, liberation, and happiness. (This is especially important for men to remember.)

Be truly loving. (This too.)

Above all, remember to go back to step 0 if you ever find yourself at a loose end on how you might implement this step. 

Step 4 – Finally, check in with each other constantly from now on out on how free and happy you are and how it might increase with time: You might find that you already do this one a regular basis, in which case, bully for you.

But if you find life getting ahead of you, and you aren’t able to do this step as regularly as you should to have a truly loving relationship, build some “Liberation and Happiness Check Ins” during the week with your loved one. Make it fun. Laugh. Laugh a lot. Cry too. Crying is good for you. But always try to end on laughter. Incorporate music, good food and drink into such times. Switch off the laptop and cell phone (do it), and dump the TV. As you start prioritizing and regularizing these check ins you will find yourself organically being more committed to the liberation and happiness of your loved ones and yourself in equal proportion. Smile as you implement this step, because it’s meant to be joyful just as much as it will be liberating and occasionally painful. In fact, just smile right now.

So, there you have it, an easy-to-follow, communicative exercise for you to do with a loved one. Repeat as many times as needed for a little boost of liberation and happiness to re-energize the love in your relationship. Keep at it patiently and eventually, you’ll find yourselves doing it so organically that it’ll be second nature.

That’s the point where the happiness and liberation of your loved ones deliciously finds complete communion with that of your own, ever-evolving as life happens. Now that’s a beautiful thing.

As always, stay happy, stay healthy, and stay free my friend.

Sap out.