For a certain sort of middle class Millenial such as myself there was a particular path laid out for me as I became an adult. In my 20s this path was to involve getting a job with a decent salary and slowly working my way up the office hierarchy. I would also meet my future life-partner, preferably of the opposite gender, with whom I would enter into an exclusive, monogamous relationship. At some point, possibly our mid-to-late 20s, we would enshrine this relationship in marital law, expecting it to last until we died. After marriage we would combine our financial assets and purchase our first flat (maybe even house!) and start to build a home. By the time we hit thirty we would have a child on the way, with plans for at least one more. It’s seems like a fairy tale life and, a few years into my thirties, I can assure you that I have achieved none of these things!
Regarding the job, I initially decided to pursue a path of environmental activism followed by one of writing and narrative coaching. Neither of these have landed me big bucks but it was a compromise I chose to make to pursue things I was passionate about. I also used the financial privilege I did have to support me in this. As for that life partner, well, I’ve blogged about the challenges facing gay and queer men a number of times. While a Conservative government may have made the tokenistic offering of marriage the mental health struggles, suicide statistics, loneliness epidemic and widespread unhappiness paint a very different picture. It’s not that we can simply translate our lives onto the blueprint offered by cisheteropatriarchy. And the older I get the more I realise I don’t want to do that, even if I could.
Because there are problems in monogamous relationships and nuclear families that rarely get discussed but often get felt acutely by and taken out on queer people. Some of us our thrown out of the very homes and families we were born into while most of us have to struggle through childhood, adolescence and adulthood with hardly any support at all in understanding who we are and how to build strength to face societal prejudice and indifference. It’s often not until we’re a bit older that we meet others like us and by that time it’s too late – we’re already carrying trauma and unhappiness, yet somehow are expected to cohere into a seemingly functional group of hetero-almosts who fit in and don’t cause too much of a fuss. If we’re lucky, we’ll find a group of like-minded folks who want to talk about our emotional experiences and identities in a supportive environment. I’m part of such a gay men’s group as we struggle through decades of piled up problems we could all really do without. But again, we’re having to take the initiative to protect ourselves with very few straight people stepping up to support us or showing a great willingness to hear our stories and help be the change (a phrase I hear a lot of cishet people bandy around). Somehow in and amongst this and all the other woes of neoliberal, consumer capitalism that further isolate and fracture we’re expected to be happy and make home. That’s a task I’m not even sure Hercules could accomplish. And now with the pandemic, multiply all these problems by a very high number and then add 100.
I want to be clear. I am not against monogamous relationships, life partnerships, heterosexuality, healthy celebrations of love and/or families. But, as ever, I want to speak a word for queerness and the myriad ways we are excluded from all of the above and how they are made exceptionally difficult for us. It is also when these things combine to create a culture of cisheteronormativity that actively excludes, tokenises, exoticises and, often, murders queer people, that I just have to call bullshit. The intersections of our struggles are unique and cannot be qualified with “it’s not that bad” or “it’s better than it used to be” or “it could be worse” or “but I don’t have a problem with the fact you’re gay”. I also want to be clear that the heterosexual people who benefit from the privileges of this system also face huge struggles. Domestic abuse, dysfunctional partnerships and family units, financial inequality, sexism, toxic masculinity, loneliness, are just some of the ways this system crushes those within it as well as those it ostracizes. I am not trying to pit heterosexuals against queer people but I am suggesting that there are alternatives to how we live and love that could benefit us all.
But the thing is, if we want these alternatives, which queer people have been busy building for years, it will take self-reflection and a willingness to let go of the privileges of heterosexuality and being cisgendered (this does not equate to relinquishing those identities if they are important to you). Privileges that often don’t make for happy lives but do make the lives of queers even unhappier. To be continued…