How queer folks challenge normativity and create their own life milestones

Just because queer people don't follow the traditional milestones trajectory doesn't mean that they don't go through life-altering events.

This article is about queer life milestones. In the photo, two people lying on a white blanket, smiling at each other.
Image: Via Pexels - Pavel Danilyuk

Back in the distant 2015, sub-prime lender AmigoLoans commissioned a study about the most important milestones people hope to achieve in life and at what age they expect to do so. In the survey, approximately 2,000 adults shared their experiences, regrets and fears with AmigoLoans and the result was a list of 25 major life milestones that ended up going viral on the internet. But there is a marked difference between what are considered milestones, these ‘big life moments’, for the queer community and our straight and cis counterparts.

To make things clear, a definition of life milestones, also called developmental milestones, indicates that they are “events that mark significant points in human development in terms of life changes or achievements”. According to the list published by AmigoLoans, we should have our first kiss at the age of 15, get our first full-time job when we’re 19, get married and buy our first flat at 27 and have a baby by 28. Currently at the age of 28, I have personally been late for almost every single one of the aforementioned milestones.

Now, here’s the thing. AmigoLoans’s goal in publishing that study was clear: they’re a money lender, so their whole messaging revolved around encouraging people to borrow money from them to achieve those life milestones at the right time. But AmigoLoans are certainly not alone in putting pressure on people to follow a certain predetermined path in life.

It begins within our family and the expectations they put on us, and then extends to larger society and the messages, both overt and covert, that we get from friends, media, books, movies, the internet or other people we encounter in life. From the moment we’re born, we are raised under the presumption that this predetermined trajectory is what we need in life, is what will make us whole and content humans. And we’re reminded of it every step of the way.

Psychotherapist and author Rachel Wright called it a “relationship escalator” – date, purchase property, marry (preferably in a church), rear children, die. The ultimate goal of this relationship escalator is a permanently monogamous cohabitating marriage with children.

And the problem is that this pressure seeps through. This socialisation can lead to feelings of anxiety and of being left out or worthless if we haven’t achieved certain life milestones at the “appropriate” age. I’ve surely heard the clock ticking on my shoulder before. I’ve certainly felt like I wasn’t doing enough, achieving enough, conforming enough.

But then I came to Ireland. And it wasn’t the change of scenery or the fact that Ireland is inherently different as a country and a society, because it isn’t really. It was the fact that here, the majority of people I know are queer. And queer people have a way of not following the predetermined trajectory.

After moving here, I got to witness how some pretty cool individuals manage to have fulfilling and exciting lives without being married at 27. I got to see the alternative. Or rather, the possibility of alternatives. And it was so refreshing and empowering. Whenever I go back to see my family and friends in my tiny hometown in the middle of Italy, I see the difference starkly. It feels like they are two separate worlds that will never meet while I awkwardly float in between. It doesn’t take long for me to get the wrong kind of homesick. And sometimes I wonder how many of the people that I know there will regret following the trajectory.

Part of the reason why a lot of queer people manage to escape this set path is, honestly, because they can’t do otherwise. Indeed, the aforementioned developmental milestones are deeply rooted in cis-heteronormativity. This means that these milestones might not even be available to queer people because of homophobic and transphobic narratives and governmental policies and cultural norms on family, religion, education and other social spaces. A lot of queer people living in this country grew up at a time when queer relationships were not only shunned, but illegal. Marriage, that thing that we apparently have to be done with by 27, only became available to LGBTQ+ couples eight years ago.

But that’s not the whole story. Another part of the reason is that queerness in itself is a subversion – of stereotypes, of societal structures, of gender and sexual expectations. The way queer people conceive of life is different because there’s no one path for us. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to achieve any of the life milestones that AmigoLoans’ study identified. Some of us want to marry, some of us want children and that’s absolutely great. Because these developmental milestones are not inherently bad. It’s the fact that we’re pushed, almost forced to go through them, that is the problem.

What’s more, just because as queer people we don’t follow the traditional milestones trajectory doesn’t mean that we don’t go through life-altering events at all. It only means that often they’re different, unique to our queerness.

Want some examples of what researchers have identified as developmental milestones for queer people?

Initial awareness
Usually, the first life milestone we queer people go through is becoming aware that what we want and what we feel might be different from what our cis and straight peers feel. It can be in the form of being attracted to someone of the same gender as ourselves, or feeling desires for multiple genders, or none at all. Or it can be the initial awareness that our gender does not align with the sex we were assigned at birth, or that it doesn’t conform to the binary or even that we have no gender at all.

Whatever the form it takes, this is when we start questioning what we feel and want. It is the moment when we begin to explore, experiment, search and discover. It can happen at any age. Some people know that they’re queer from very young. Some others figure it out at later stages in life and that doesn’t make it any less valid. The beauty of queerness is that it’s such a diverse experience.

Choosing an identity label for ourselves is also a particularly important milestone because it means that we’re more self-aware and that we can start to communicate what we are, want and feel to others.

While most individuals experience stability in their self-identification, a considerable amount of people change the way they label themselves through life. It can happen at multiple stages and the way we identify can change as a result of an increased self-awareness or simply the fluidity of our identity.

Self-identification is also hugely impacted by the language and representation that is available to us. If we have no language or examples readily available to help us explain how we feel, it can be more difficult for us to find a way to communicate it, which is why representation is so important. Finding a community, be it online or offline, is also a great way to open up more possibilities and help us find the words to describe ourselves.

Coming out
As we all know, coming out is not a single glorious occurrence, but a series of events featuring different people and different settings. It’s a process that can take as long as we want and need. The first time we do it can be a particularly vulnerable moment, one that is deeply impacted by the reaction that other people have when they hear it.

It can be easier to come out to people who don’t know us at all, because our sexual or gender identity becomes just another detail that they’ll get to discover. It’s much bigger to come out to someone who’s known us for our whole life because it becomes a part of us that they now have to fit into the image they took years to build around us.

For trans folks, this also means starting to present in their affirmed gender, which may involve changing the name they go by or asking people to address them by their preferred pronouns. Not to mention it may also involve a different gender expression.

The above are just three examples of life milestones that queer folks usually go through, but there are many more and usually specific to our own queerness. Like having romantic relationships, for those of us who are interested in them. Or accessing gender-affirming healthcare, for folks who wish to take that step. And for those of us who so wish, there could be marriage and kids. But there’s really no one path. No predetermined future. No sequence to follow or steps to take at fixed points in life. And isn’t it beautiful that we get to create our own life milestones?

This article originally featured in the 378 Pride 2023 issue of GCN.

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 378 (June 1, 2023). Click here to read it now.

Support GCN

GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.

During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.

GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.

Proud Warriors

Issue 378 June 1, 2023

June 1, 2023

This article was originally published in GCN Issue 378 (June 1, 2023).

Read Now