Things have been changing really fast for LGBTQs. Stigmas are blowing up, laws are being struck down, cultures are evolving. State-by-state marriage equality has quickly shifted from impossible to inevitable and the 2013 Supreme Court decision on DOMA enabled couples from states without marriage equality to still receive federal tax benefits if they marry out-of-state. That alone has had an enormous impact on how we and our families view our relationships and has prompted a mad dash down the aisle for many same-sex couples, especially lesbians. We’ve come a long way from when most Americans thought gay marriage was an abomination and most parents of queers weren’t even speaking to their children anymore, let alone pestering them about the promise of eventual grandchildren. Now those numbers are shifting: a huge chunk, but no longer the majority, of queers are estranged from their families or closeted. It’s becoming increasingly possible, although not universally so, to live openly in cities besides recognized gay meccas. Indeed, on our recent Grown-Ups Survey, 80% of you reported living in an area that was at least somewhat gay-friendly. Doors are now open to us as queer adults that weren’t open ten or even five years ago, and deciding which one to walk through is often very confusing. All we know is that something about our lives are fundamentally different form the lives of our heterosexual peers.
Some activists fear that won’t be the case for long, and that the queer community will suffer for it. In her speech Pro-Family Ideology and The Queer Community of Friends, which makes a case for valuing chosen family over biological ones, Sarah Schulman recalls “a time that is not long past, when queer people were at the bottom of every society.” Most queers faced pretty limited options: be closeted, be isolated, be quiet, or move to a gayborhood. That last option wasn’t always economically possible, especially for women and people of color. For most of gay history, we’d been outsiders by necessity, and were defined by our uniqueness and our opposition to the state, including, at times, our mandated exclusion from fighting wars on its behalf or teaching in its public schools.
Schulman traces the evolution of LGBTQ politics to a point where “Gay Liberation, through the venue of mainstream media, was replaced by Gay Rights.” The movement was no longer about the freedom to be different, but the chance to be the same. Laws to ensure marriage equality (which give homosexuals access to a heterosexual institution) are passing more quickly than laws protecting LGBT folks from workplace discrimination (which protect homosexuals from being penalized for being different). Still, many queers have no interest in marriage, family, or any state-backed institutions. And unlike heterosexuals, society largely hasn’t expected us to feel otherwise — in fact, they’ve fought hard to ensure our lack of access to those institutions. So we formed those “chosen families” to replace estranged biological families and to substitute for inabilities to have our own families. We kept going out and turning up well into adulthood. We blazed our own unusual trails with no clear road map, and those trails have led to inventive and inspiring multi-generational communities.
So here we are at a crossroads. What rites of passage, if any, commemorate a queer adulthood these days? The birth rate is the lowest its ever been and heterosexuals are fleeing and delaying marriage in droves, while many queers are flocking towards it. Regardless, it remains true that non-heterosexual women usually don’t face the same pressure to be married and have kids by their thirties in the same way straight women do (so far). We face financial barriers to parenthood and systemic discrimination in the healthcare system that most straight couples don’t have to deal with, which means if we do have kids, it often happens later in life. The statistics on queer adult women’s mental health and overall well-being suggest that there remains something fundamentally more difficult about existing on these margins.
Surely every queer generation has been through this — this looking at the world around us and marveling at how different it is than the one we expected as kids and even as twentysomethings. So this is our time.
What life stages do we employ to replace the standard marriage-and-kids narrative? For those of us following that narrative, how do we “queer” our marriages and families — or do we even? Will we go the way of the mainstream, will we stick with our foremothers’ queer traditions, or something in between? What do we consider when we plan our lives, decide where to live? How do we prioritize our career in an egalitarian household? Is it better to struggle to start your own businesses, or to work for the man to support a family? What makes us truly happy? What the fuck is an IRA? Many of you are struggling with these same questions — we surveyed you, so we know!
Here’s what we had to say about it. Eight of our writers are answering this question for themselves and we’ve got some infographics for a more objective look at the matter. Let’s dig in.
Infographic #1: Your Relationships & Families, According To The Autostraddle Grown-Ups Survey
Crystal, HR Director
My queer adulthood has been easier than I ever expected. I grew up a small homophobic town in Sydney where the words “dyke” and “faggot” were acceptable insults. (The first time I was called a dyke was when I was about 8 years old and it was by my own parent, so). Being different as a child/teen was tough and so I assumed adulthood would be more of the same. It hasn’t been, though, or at least my adult hardships haven’t been related to my queerness.
When I got the hell outta dodge, thankfully homophobia didn’t follow me. I’ve been lucky to enjoy almost the same opportunities in my adult life as my heterosexual friends. I’ve been able to get a basic education and build strong friendships and have a successful career. The only thing that I haven’t been able to do is marry someone I love (same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Australia), although that’s recently changed now that I’m engaged to a US citizen.
As I’ve entered into my thirties, my priorities have changed. My twenties were about coasting. I had a rough teenagehood and some health issues and two partners who passed away by my mid twenties, so I’ve spent a lot of the past decade feeling utterly exhausted. All I wanted to do was go with the flow and not think too hard about myself or anything else. I don’t regret those years; they were filled with great life experiences and a long-term relationship that I had to leave but will always cherish. I eventually just reached this point where I’d become so passive that I’d stopped growing and had lost all sense of purpose and direction.
Now, at age 31, my priority is taking control of my life and making these years count. I’m working on becoming my best authentic self, as naff as that sounds. I’m figuring out how to live a life that I can feel proud of and spend my time doing things that will make me a better person in every way – emotionally, mentally, physically. I want to get fit and grow vegetables and make things with my hands. I want to keep learning and improving myself, and keep finding new ways to add value to the things and people that I love. I guess decades from now I want to be able to look back on my life and say yeah, I made the most of it.
Heather Hogan, Senior Editor
There’s this thing I do sometimes where my girlfriend and I are cleaning the house or watching TV or drinking beers at our favorite pub or getting ready for bed and I really, earnestly, fervently go, “I love you. I just love you so much. I love our life together. And I like you. I really like you too. Baby, listen to me okay, I really love our life together.” It freaks her out. It’s the kind of thing a person says in a movie right before she gets hit by an asteroid. But I can’t help it. I do love our life together, and it’s not a thing I ever even dreamed of having. I didn’t realize I was gay or come out until my mid-20s, and so I never planned or hoped or wished for anything in my future other than infinite Harry Potter books and a couple of backpacking trips around Europe.
I grew up in rural, rural Georgia, where Jesus was breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the only thing worse than being gay was blaspheming the Holy Ghost. (No one knows what it means to blaspheme the Holy Ghost. It’s just that Jesus said it was the only unforgivable sin, so Christians worry all the time that they’re accidentally doing it.) I knew I didn’t want a husband, that was for sure. I knew I didn’t want to have kids. But I had no idea that a wife was a thing I could wish for, so I didn’t think much about my future at all.
But now here I am, doing a job I never in a quadrillion years would have had the courage to pray for; and living my life every day with my best friend, the woman I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. We share laughs and colds and blankets and bills and even a Netflix account. It stuns me. It overwhelms me. “I didn’t know life could be like this,” is a thing I say to her at least every other day.
Since I turned 30, I have felt an urgent, unyielding, existential tug on my mind asking and asking and asking if I’m using the quick breath of life I have on this earth to do something that counts.
I’m friends with a handful of people from my high school on Facebook. Ones who have never quoted Rush Limbaugh, referred to President Obama as the antichrist, or used the hashtag #AllLivesMatter. My childhood friends look like their parents now. Or like their parents did when we were kids. Just like them. Their kids look just like they looked in our school pictures. My childhood friends post photos of the same fields where we played softball, the same gyms where we practiced basketball. We were Spartans. Their kids will be Spartans. Their kids’ kids will be Spartans. There’s a certain kind of comfort in that, I think. A measurable, predictable kind of satisfaction. Hopefully they will be surrounded and buoyed up by the love of their kids and grandkids and great-grandkids for the rest of their lives.
The thing about not having kids, about not living in my hometown, about not choosing a career that promises wealth or a predetermined ladder of success, about not locking into the “college, husband, kids, grandkids” track of life, about not believing in the God I was raised to worship, is that I’m not really sure what my time on this earth means to anyone but me. Since I turned 30, I have felt an urgent, unyielding, existential tug on my mind asking and asking and asking if I’m using the quick breath of life I have on this earth to do something that counts. Every day — sometimes multiple times a day — I ask myself, “If I get smashed by a car today, will I have given all the goodness I had to give?” I want to die broke from spending goodness. I don’t want any goodness left in the bank. I want to have splurged on the world. On cats and dogs and panda bears and the people I love and the people I barely know and the planet itself.
That’s the way I’ll measure my success at the end of my life, as a childless queer grown-up, which is silly because giving goodness isn’t quantifiable and who knows if I’ll have time to tally up anything before I bid this earth goodbye.
The thing that makes me feel most like a grownup is that actresses who are my age are all moms on TV now. I think the weirdest thing about life is you’re Buffy, you’re Buffy, you’re Buffy, and then one day, when you’re not even paying attention, you become Joyce. It throws you when you realize it happened. You knew it was coming, but you never expected it.
I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever see thick, woolen socks in the Mirror of Erised like Dumbledore did. Probably not. But then, the older I get, the more I suspect that thick, woolen socks aren’t what Dumbledore saw at all.
Next: Riese and Kaelyn