Following the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, someone told me my generation is now responsible for setting the standard for queer love. At first, I didn’t grasp what that meant. But now it makes sense. Queer people could never before express their sexuality so publicly and openly. There aren’t many, if any, precedents or examples of queer love in America’s past from which to model ourselves. This leads to the conundrum: Because we have nothing to replicate, we are forced to imitate roles governed by heteronormativity. We’re the first generation dealing with this conflict, this struggle, so like it or not we must pave the way.
We didn’t ask to be in this position, we only want freedom. People, from the Uranian movement in the nineteenth century to the conception of Pride, had to hide, fight, and die for us to be where we’re at today. But it’s also worth mentioning that none of us—the fighters and activists of the past, and the present result of their work—desired to do it. If one sat down with an activist and posed the question, “Would you prefer to fight for civil rights, or have them by default?” I can almost guarantee that nobody would answer the former.
Consider marriage. Is marriage even for us, now that we have it? Marriage, as it stands, is conventional, and by that I mean heterosexual. Marriage was and is formed around a basis of the religious perception of love—that it’s a union of man and woman. At the outset, it was created by heterosexuals, and queer people have only adopted it. We are expected to believe we can be ourselves in a system not meant for us, that because in 2018 we can marry, we are a now fully realized community. Instead, we are a cheap knockoff of a heteronormative institution. Tradition, as a concept, is seemingly not for us—from marriage to religion to public and private spheres to even storytelling—we have nothing deemed ours.
When I contemplate recent queer narratives, my mind jumps to Call Me By Your Name. When I first read André Aciman’s masterful novel, I hailed it as a queer classic. I recommended it to some people and was underwhelmed by their reactions. Then, I realized: Call Me By Your Name is so specially tailored for the gay male experience that, obviously, not everyone will have the same emotional response that I did.
Considering such, I was surprised to discover Aciman was a heterosexual man, married and with children. This is no slight on Aciman—if anything, I laud his radical empathy. But, as I have found with stories like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Brokeback Mountain, and The Song of Achilles that serve to detail the queer experience, to find out a heterosexual author penned our narratives for us is rather exhausting and a tad disappointing.
I would call for queer artists to create and fashion our own stories, but we already do that—I think of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man. However, these, with rare exceptions, hardly receive the same attention as their heterocentric counterparts. Why is this? Sometimes I believe it’s because the general public is only ready to learn about queer experience through a heterosexual lens. Other times, I think it’s because they distrust us to tell our own stories. Whatever the case, I’m convinced they don’t want to hear us.
Fathoming a culture opposed to our own is almost impossible. All I know is we are fed lies, and we can’t keep pretending to be ourselves through a lens of heteronormativity. We may not aim to please and satisfy straight people, but beneath the surface, that’s the mistake we repeat. With marriage—while before I only worried myself with earning the right—I now face the same quandary as straight people: I am pressured to find a partner, and to find one quick, or else risk being alone. What troubles me, nevertheless, is that if marriage isn’t for us, does that mean love isn’t either? Just because we can freely exist now doesn’t mean there’s a place in this world for us.
Perhaps I conceptualize these extreme opinions because I’m insecure, and this is somehow a means to reaffirm my existence. But is there a queer person out there who can confidently say that they believe they’re authentic, at all times, and in all scenarios? That’s not rhetorical. I’m genuinely curious.
Maybe we’re not actually going to pave the way. Perhaps, when it comes down to it, what we’re going to accomplish is figuring things out, so the subsequent generation can set the road on top of our footsteps.