She looks to be about thirty-five and walks with the confidence of someone who has had to prove herself on more than one occasion. She wears her hair short and accessorizes with quirky-but-professional bow ties that perfectly contrast her patterned button-up shirts. She makes a different caffeine pun every time she orders a drink, and something about her just seems to scream, “I listen to a lot of NPR.” The only thing more consistent than her coffee order is the smile that is always on her face. I can’t be sure, but I think she might actually be me from the future.
Sometimes I forget that I’m still going to be gay in 15, 20, or 50 years. I know that sounds stupid, but here’s the thing: the only gay people I know are my age, and none of us have any idea what the heck we’re doing. In fact, for a lot of gay people my age, being queer still means going to protests, frequenting bars and clubs, and figuring out how to navigate the incredible awkwardness and confusion of the “second adolescence.” As a twenty-something at a conservative Christian college, being gay is still a struggle.
So when this 35-year-old lesbian shows up to the cafe I work at for her daily latte, it’s a weirdly profound experience. She looks like me. She dresses like me. She makes dumb jokes like me. And she is obviously queer like me. But she also has a real career, a wedding band on her finger, a nice car in the parking lot, and an incredible air of self-assurance.
I’ve never been able to imagine what my life will look like beyond the next year or so. I’ve never thought about what my wedding will be like, what kind of person I’ll end up with, or what kind of mom I would be. That’s because, for most of my life, none of those things seemed like options. It wasn’t until I came to terms with my sexuality that those possibilities started to feel real. But even when I gave myself permission to imagine what it might be like to get married or start a family as a gay woman, I still couldn’t really do it…because I’ve literally never seen it done before.
You see, almost every queer kid is a bit of trailblazer. Metaphorical machete in hand, we cut our way through the heteronormative jungle that is young adulthood. We are all pioneers, and every date, every coming out conversation, every pride party, and every ugly reminder of homophobia is a new piece of previously unexplored territory. We have experiences and challenges that even the most wonderful and supportive straight person wouldn’t think to warn us about. We are our own pilots and navigators, which is both terrifying and exhilarating.
It’s terrifying to be so starved for role models, and it’s frustrating to feel unrepresented in the world around you. But here’s the exciting part: when your very identity already defies expectations, you get the chance to throw precedents in the trash and make your own way in the world. And as you continue to create and innovate, you might even get to be the role model you never had for someone else. That’s pretty awesome.
I still don’t know what my life will look like in 15, 20, or 50 years. But every time I make a latte for my future doppelganger, some of my anxiety is eased. My brief conversations with her make it just a little bit easier to see myself as a person with a big, beautiful, gay future ahead of me (and hopefully an equally impressive bow tie collection). Sure, I don’t really know much about what her life is like. But I know she’s living it, and I know she always has a smile on her face.
Here’s a relevant song that got stuck in my head while writing this. Go forth and blaze some trails, my friends.