I’m proud to say I’m going to be 30 before this paper hits the stands and I still don’t consider myself a grownup. An adult, perhaps, but not a grownup.
I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this. Queers seem to have a knack for holding onto their youthful qualities long after their straight counterparts have succumbed to the daily grind. I’m not just talking about looking young (although I can’t resist this opportunity to mention that I was carded recently) but about acting young, thinking young.
Granted, a good part of this is an artificial suspension, a denial of age that is connected, not to a fear of death, but to a fear of no longer being considered attractive. But this is a superficial sort of immaturity; it isn’t the kind of youthfulness I mean.
The youthfulness I’m speaking of is a healthy sense of rebellion, a reluctance to accept the status quo. It’s a refusal to go quietly into the drab existence of nine-to-five certainty that life will go on as it has until death claims you or retirement frees you. This juvenile mindset leaves room for the possibility that things could radically change at any moment and that any one of us could be an architect of that change.
The tendency to hold onto an almost-adolescent mental state might be partially attributed to that extra step in the queer maturation process, otherwise known as coming out.
For those of us who don’t figure out our same-sex attraction right out of the womb, or at least before puberty sets in, coming out can be like a second coming of age. You may have already gone through a sexual awakening of sorts, with mixed results, only to find that you have to do it all over again once you clue in to your queerness.
Suddenly there’s the second round of delirious firsts: first crush, first kiss, first make-out session, first full-on sexual experience. True, this can all happen in a night – or hell, in a lunch hour – but it provides a change in perspective, a revitalization that can knock a couple years off your mental age.
But late-blooming queers only partially account of our collective youthfulness. Perhaps a bigger part has been the defiant energy of the queer movement, the ongoing struggle against the injustices of the adult world. The combination of being denied rights and respect, and the righteous anger that it produces has led us to play an almost teenaged-role in society. Like being too young to drink, being denied grownup rights and responsibilities has kept us young beyond our years.
Now it seems that both the movement and I are maturing. We’re coming into our own, as it were, finding that we now have many of things that we’ve been working toward all these years, feeling comfortable and content in a way that we haven’t experienced before. It’s a good feeling.
But let’s not get too comfortable. It’s all too easy for comfort to turn to apathy and it’s that apathy that makes the difference between being an adult and being a grownup.
To me, being a grownup means you’ve stopped challenging yourself; that you’ve accepted the parameters of life and society and resigned to do the best you can within them. Being a grownup means you’ve given up fighting for something bigger than yourself.
When I was a teenager my step-father used to tell me that when I got older I’d get over being such an idealist. I would stop wasting my time at protests, stop arguing with people whose minds couldn’t be changed, stop feeling angry and learn roll with the punches. I’m going to be 30 this week and I’m still angry.
I know that in spite of recent gains there’s still a whole lot that needs fixing, from making every classroom safe for queer kids to extending protection to trans folks to decriminalizing all acts of consensual sex. This is no time to get comfortable.
I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming a grownup anytime soon. I just hope I’m not alone. I’d hate to be so radiantly youthful all on my own.