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Don’t Get Cozy, Queer Millennials

BY ON November 20, 2015

Smiley faceI’m one of those few people who still reads Time magazine. I know . . . I’m ancient. What’s worse? I still read the paper version of the weekly newsmagazine, and I receive it from a member of the United States Postal Service. Look, I’m working on joining the rest of my digitally savvy generation. I’m proud to announce, for instance, that I recently became a member of the cool kids club and used my iPhone as a boarding pass for a cross-country flight. When my face lit up after the scanner successfully read the phone code, the TSA agent just glared at me all confused. Baby steps. . .

As you probably know, cover stories for the American Time usually prove to be nothing more than attention grabbing nonsense. I had little hope for a recent cover story entitled “Help! My Parents Are Millennials,” accompanied by an image of a baby riding in a fancy stroller and accosted by numerous smartphones pointed at his adorable face. I reckoned I was in for another essay of millennial bashing, a now popular activity among hip baby boomer intellectuals. I get the thrust of the concern for my generation; we’re sometimes entitled, self centered, lazy activists, ready to add a filter to our Facebook profile pictures to support marriage equality or show solidarity with the victims of the Paris atrocities, but not that into getting off our couches to do much more than that. It’s certainly easy to broad stroke an entire generation but I’m starting to find it a little lackluster. Why does everything have to result in some kind of generational fight?

Much to my surprise, Katy Steinmetz’s article proved more informative than condescending. Yes, she laid out the quirkiness of the smartphone society, our odd name selections for children, for example, and our exploding “vast archives of selfies.” Still, perhaps it’s the cultural historian in me, but I appreciated the fact that she let millennial parents actually speak for themselves, and the results proved illuminating. Some 50% of millennial parents consciously purchased gender-neutral toys for their children, compared to only 34% of Generation X or baby boomer parents. Millennials, not that surprisingly, overwhelming support same-sex marriage. They tend to care more about issues of sex, sexuality, and gender, and largely want to promote a more equal society for themselves and their kids. Sure, some of the carnivores among us might be alarmed that the occasional millennial parent trains his or her kid to be (gasp!) a vegan from an early age, but no one said the current generation has to be anything like the last one. Let’s remember that, as historians like Elaine Tyler May have argued, even the baby boomer generation fundamentally upended their approaches to issues of sex and sexuality and challenged notions of “normality.”

We ought to be critical of millennial culture but not because of the typical skepticism aimed at the selfie generation. For our queer cultures and communities, the millennial challenge is to not get cozy in the world that’s forming around us. We should combat the comfort that comes with living in a seemingly more inclusive society, because that inclusivity is a mirage to many in our diverse queer communities. That comfort can breed indifference, and with that we forget the immense struggles that queer people continue to face. Look no further than places like Houston, where a group of misinformed Americans convinced an electorate that trans people are mentally disturbed perverts lurking in public bathrooms ready to prey on children. Sure, there was some outrage, but too many of us let the day pass without anymore than a sigh. Imagine the prolonged outcry if, this past June, Justice Kennedy had written that marriage was not a fundamental right.

And then, there is racism. It’s our duty to stop treating non-white gay men in our communities as some sort of tangential concern. People of color and transgender communities are not allies in our collective struggle for acceptance. They are, in fact, the struggle. They face widespread stigmatization, violence, and homelessness, and yet we continue to convince ourselves that we have championed a more tolerant America.

As millennials, we ought to note the lessons of generations before us not to settle within the comfort of apathy and instead make our legacy one of an unrelenting push for an egalitarian world. We’ve already begun building a culture where children aren’t confined to pre-determined dreams based on the baby blue and girly pink toy lines, and it’s heartening that those children will be more able to accept cultural differences because of how the law treats same-sex couples and military service people. However, if that’s our millennial legacy, I’m unimpressed. You’re reading this rambling post on a device that has more technological power and with that more opportunities for learning and engagement than anything known in human history. Yet, we’re living in a world where members of our queer communities face bigotry on a deadly scale.

Let’s end the sighing. Time to get uncomfortable.


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