As I wrote “Future Queer” for The New Republic, I spoke with many writers and activists, and asked for their predictions of what queer culture might look like in 20 years. In their answers I found both a faith that the Internet will connect us and a faith that it will divide us, a desire to archive the stories of the first generation lost to AIDS more carefully, and an excitement about the way our sense of gender is changing us both as individuals and as a community. I'd like to share some of the responses I received:
I’m 44 and I lead a very domestic gay life: a same-sex legal marriage, with a child. At 20, if you told me this would have been my life, I'd have laughed at how ludicrous you were being. Even at 30, I wouldn't have believed you. I still struggle with the term "wife" and feel weird, even after all these years, kissing in public, though I was always out in college and at work—that's generational, the shame is just ingrained. I hope subsequent generations don't feel it.
In 20 years, my hope, at least, is that we don't assume our kids are heterosexual from the moment they're born, and that we don't use words like "tolerance" because really, it's intolerable. In terms of things "queer," the discourse is changing at a fast clip right now. Gay and lesbian would seem, to those outside the mainstream, old hat—“homonormative,” if that's a thing. We're having ever-evolving conversations about the meaning of gender, more people are coming out as trans, and trans, it seems, has evolved into a kind of continuum, which is exciting. I do wish everyone involved in the conversation would listen to one another more. We've come a long way in the past decade. But it took years to get to this point. Let's not forget how new this is, and that rights can be taken away from us, just like that. So, in 20 years, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that we may still be right here.
Kera Bolonik is a writer and the executive editor of Dame Magazine.
In the early Aughts, my friends and I spent our Saturday nights at a gay dance club in the Bronx called the Warehouse, a cavernous former loading dock turned into a makeshift gay club for men of color who were looking for either sex, love, or a strong drink. Despite the club’s seemingly specific clientele—African-American men who slept with other African-American men —it really was a big tent affair. At the time, pre-Internet, the Warehouse was the only show in town, so if you wanted to find young gay black men in a social setting, you had to make your way to the Grand Concourse and find them among the thugged-out neighborhood boys, turned-out fashionistas, discourse-ready academics, closeted choir directors, musical theater majors, and black body-boys with their gym-ripped bodies. We all had to co-mingle with each other.
The Warehouse, as cliché as it sounds, was awash with a vast assortment of black queer humanity. I partied, had sex with, and befriended folks who were for all intents and purposes, despite our shared racial experiences, not me (a geeky book nerd). Needless to say, I learned a lot, about fashion, art, working out, and Sondheim.
I think snapshots of our queer future can be found on our current social media platforms. I envision all us becoming more entrenched in our echo chambers of personal interest. Queer poets talking to other queer poet about poetics, gay Republicans talking to each other about fiscal conservatism, queer art school kids talking to other art schools kids about visual aesthetics, Bears talking with other Bears about all the happenings at Bear Week in Provincetown. Big tent parties will become a thing of the past.
William Johnson is the managing editor of the Lambda Literary Review.
My thought is that by 2035 the mainstreaming of queer life in America will be so complete that our concerns will turn to historical preservation, and the documentation of harder times and battles. Well, some of us will have those concerns. Many will simply take advantage of the freedom they have, never knowing what we fought for so they could have it. I could go on about how important I think it will be to remember and highlight the work of the lost generation. AIDS decimated our community, and our creative community was especially hard hit. Many of those artists were the same ones on the front lines of the culture war. May their work be sought out, brought back, made available for future generations.
Ira Silverberg is a former Literary Director to the National Endowment for the Arts and currently the Strategic Advisor for Open Road Media.
After the first LGBT president, we will look back with fondness and nostalgia at the bad old days before we got sucked into the marriage industrial complex. We will miss the communities we constructed filled with freaks and weirdos, who instead of racing toward the mainstream, refused to embrace it. We'll have realized that the PTA is boring and suburban potlucks are still filled with the bad food and worse fashion we remember from our childhoods. We'll long for the poetry, plays, memoirs, novels, and essays we wrote—and only we read—in order to share our stories, as well as the media, congregations, and organizations we invented to fight for our rights and everyone else's. We will miss being referred to as an army of lovers.
Linda Villarosa is the author most recently of Passing For Black.
Queer has been gentrified—decontextualized from organizing and made into an aesthetic devoid of relevant political critique. My hope is that in 20 years we will have abolished "queer," and recommitted ourselves to organizing against "colonialism" and "capitalism" instead (which I believe is a different political project), but it's looking increasingly bleak. Which goes to say that in the future we'll probably see more of the same: a few good under-resourced people fighting the fight nonetheless!
Alok Vaid Menon is a south Asian trans activist and artist.
In 20 years, and ideally much earlier, I would like to see all members of the LGBTQ+ community be on equal political footing. This may mean retiring the transphobic history of the LGB(t) label itself, and moving towards a more encompassing and less unwieldy term like “gender and sexual minorities” (GSM). The priorities of this fully unified community must be set according to the needs of its most threatened members. This means that a majority of community resources should be devoted within the next five years to fighting harassment and violence especially against trans women of color; trans-specific suicide prevention; and obtaining the same legal protections for trans people as for gays and lesbians in areas of employment, education, healthcare, government, and all other civil institutions. The absence of true equality in the GSM movement would result in the continued fracturing of a community that must be unified against the forces of male-dominated patriarchy that oppress all of us.
Meredith Talusan is a trans woman of color whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Fusion, and Buzzfeed.
I don't know what the future of being queer is, but I do know what I would like it to be: queerness in all forms, transgressive and politically active and aware, with equal rights for everyone, those who want to marry, and those who just want to fuck. And, on the selfish side, in 20 years, there had better be an app for femmes to find other femmes to get down with!
Randa Jarrar is the author of A Map of Home.
You have to take inequality and climate-sea level rise into account. A foot or more in sea levels will impact many of our LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transexual, Intersex) traditional places of safety—NYC, Boston, San Francisco. And if we let inequality continue rising, it will undermine the economic gains LGBTIs have made, particularly in these safer areas. San Francisco already feels less gay with the intense influx of straight tech men. Lesbians are now centered in Oakland. LGBTIs need to understand we have a big stake in a fairer economy, a stable climate, a fair electoral system, and equal rights for all. We have to join forces with other progressive movements to elect progressives and defend the rights of regular people—including ourselves.
Hannah Doress is cofounder of Shore Up Marin, a multiracial social equity and sea level rise coalition.
Basically in 20 years I hope all people who self-profess politically as queer have some understanding of race and power structures. As Audre Lorde puts it, there are no single-issue poems because we don't live single-issue lives.
Wo Chan is a queer poet and drag performer living in Brooklyn, NY.