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Ageing and SexualityCategoriesVoices

Being of Queer Age

What establishes adulthood has never been plainly obvious or value-neutral, as Sara Jaffe succinctly puts it[1]. Every society, based on the values it possesses, has its own criteria of what it means to be a child or an adult, suggesting that there is no ‘one’ universally agreed upon meaning. But one factor which distinguishes who a child is, and which milestone determines their transition into adulthood is, of course, age. This piece explores the relationship between queerness, age and eventually being an adult. If ‘adulting’ as a conventional concept has been used to determine what is the ‘right’ age to partner off, to become independent, to own a house or to have a family of one’s own, then what does it mean to be a queer adult in this context? Because there is no template to lead a queer life, a lot depends on the country or culture the queer person resides in, or the family that they are born into, or the type of childhood they had.

To open the discussion further, it seems that the conversion of the noun (adult) into the verb form (adulting) implies that ‘adulting’ is more performance than inevitability. Which is to say, there is no intrinsic understanding of ‘adulting’; it is something that can be learnt over time.

My understanding of this argument aligns with what sociologist Pamela Aronson proposes in her article The Markers and Meanings of Growing Up[2]. She argues that the five “objective life events” still oftentimes used in conventional discourse to quantify the passageway into adulthood – “completing education, entering the labour force, becoming financially independent, getting married, and becoming a parent” – depend on obsolete suppositions about class, gender, and sexual orientation. They neglect to think about the manners by which, say, feminism, has had an impact in whether young heterosexual women decide to postpone marriage or discard it as an all-consuming purpose in life.

For queer folks, this path to adulthood has never been clear. As a queer individual, sometimes it is metaphorically arduous to consider myself a grown-up; particularly when I can’t put myself into this conventional cycle. Some will contend that being queer is breaking this regular path to adulthood. However, since we are encircled by a world that believes in a linear path to adulthood, here and there I find myself walking on an alternate or rather an illusionary path towards adulthood.

I can’t marry my partner in India, nor would I be able to raise a child with my partner, at times I can’t even transparently impart my relationship status to different people within my community. Like other ‘queer grown-up’s’ that I am aware of, I will presumably end up with an academic placement and a partner burnt out with pansexual sport-fucking, settled down with me to raise animals, or if animals are not permitted in our leased apartment, perhaps a few plants. However, the point I am attempting to make is that in India we do not have an Equal Marriage Act, and adoption institutions are not transparently welcoming of queer folks. In this framework, queer people undercut or reject the heteronormative dream towards adulthood. For me and for some other queer people, traditional adulthood isn’t accessible and some of the time not desirable. Thus, we queer folks’ relationship with time – which determines age – itself is queer.

Jack Halberstam’s work In a Queer Time and Place  also argues that “queer uses of time and space develop… in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction” [3]. Queerness itself is “an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices”. It is bent by time-warping encounters as assorted as coming out, gender transitions, and age-characterising misfortunes like the AIDS epidemic. That is, queerness is established by its distinction from traditional imperatives of time. So which path validates queer adulthood?

But while talking about adulthood, it is also important to remind ourselves of our phase as children. In our childhood, we are confused, in denial or still-experimenting with our sexuality and desires. I did not ‘grow-up’ by following a linear concept of maturation like many other queer kids.

As a child I did not know what it meant to be queer, and I could make sense of my desires, pleasures, or “gay-like-experiences” that I had as a child only after becoming an adult.[4] So what was I as a child? I do not know the answer to this. But it is unsettling for me to realise that I was a queer-child only after my childhood. So, I was not really what I portrayed myself to be as a child. Now as an adult, I know I did not, or my queer identity did not exist corporeally in that space and time of my childhood.

While this might sound dark, it also points out an important aspect, something that is already mentioned. Being queer is to have a freestyle or counter-hegemonic relationship with time. To some extent, because of my physical appearance, personal style, and overall presentation I am often read as older than I am. And when I finally reveal my age, many people say, “Oh! You do not look like it.” What I am really interested in is to open a conversation about what it means to ‘look one’s age’, what it means to be an adult and what it means to be queer in this cycle of life. Now, I am not certain if I will be an adult even at the age of forty and that is fine. I now have a sense of myself, and thanks to queer time that still helps me to find myself and to discover more about myself even at this age.

 

[1] Jaffe, Sara. Queer Time: The Alternative to “Adulting”.  JSTOR Daily, January 10, 2018.

My piece is based on and borrows heavily from what Jaffe  proposes in her article to get a better understanding of  ‘queer time’.

[2] Aronson, Pamela. The Markers and Meanings of Growing Up: Contemporary Young Women’s Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood. Gender and Society, vol. 22, no. 1, 2008, pp. 56–82. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27641038. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021.

[3] Halberstam, Jack. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. NYU Press, 2005. eBook.

[4] When I say ‘adult’, I am not thinking of myself as an ‘adult’ and I do not think I know what it means to be an adult. I used the word because I am above 18 years of age, hence an ‘adult’ in the eyes of the Constitution and everyone else.

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Article written by:

Roshan Roy is a senior student of English Literature at Ashoka University. He can usually be found reading anything non-fiction, listening to John Mayer or contemplating life while listening to and singing along with Passenger’s songs. His areas of research and writing include sexuality and gender. He navigates life by writing performance poetry and non-fiction.

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