It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting in a coffee shop at 10:30pm sipping a “direct trade organic” latte with hormone/antibiotic free milk and eating a “brownie” that I’m fairly certain doesn’t contain chocolate or sugar. I’m wearing black leather boots with my dark wash jeans and a button up; not because I thought about it or planned my outfit carefully but because that’s simply the majority of what I own now. I’m ignoring everyone around me, listening to Indigo Girls at ear-damaging volume, and tapping away at my keyboard pretending I have very important things to do so I don’t have to acknowledge this is how I’m spending my Saturday night. I’d estimate I’ve spent, oh, 85% of my weekend nights doing this. Conservative estimate, mind you.
I’m basically a giant stereotype. A stereotype I would see in high school and think, “Wow. That person’s life is so much more exciting than mine. I will never be that cool.”
I’m not that cool.
My life is profoundly boring most days. I spend too much time home, alone, watching Netflix and reading political blogs. I have a terrible relationship with almost everyone in my family, not really by anybody’s choosing but that’s that. I’m constantly worrying about money and employment and whether I’ve chosen the right career path. My dating life is fairly low key which is fine until I see my friends get married and having children and I’m suddenly thrown for this, “CRAP! THAT is what I’m supposed to be doing?!” loop.
In other words I’m basically a mess.
For a long time I wondered if I’d done it wrong. Why I wasn’t That Queer with That Exciting Life? I ran into a friend tonight. She happened to be at the (admittedly very queer) coffee shop I was camping out in and came over to my table to say hi and give me a hug. We both noticed a younger-looking person wearing a “Class of 2015” sweatshirt from a local high school and a rainbow friendship bracelet, glancing up at us then ducking back behind their copy of “And The Band Played On.” We had to smile. We WERE that kid. And now, we realized, we were Those Queers. It was then that I really noticed my outfit, the crap spread over the table I was sitting at, and the friend I was talking to.
We started talking about those days of anxiously looking for anybody “like us” and trying to appear just as cool and together and adult. In that conversation we realized something about Those Queers, one that surprised us both to some extent. THOSE QUEERS WERE GIANT MESSES, TOO.
And, also, they were in those coffee shops at 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights, TOO.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me then that they were doing the same thing my friends and I were doing and, therefore, they probably weren’t that much more exciting during the rest of the week. They were exhausted college and graduate school students who were finishing papers, reading books on queer theory, or just hanging out online and simply looking for a way to not be in their rooms, alone, on a Friday night. They weren’t doing anything big or special or different. They were just THERE.
I think it’s ok, though, for teens to see me, to see us, and think “wow. They are so cool.” Even if we’re not cool, or together, or at a better place in our lives and even if we’re spending our Friday nights sitting in coffee shops writing blog posts about queer identity simply in order to not be home, alone, writing blog posts on queer identity. Non-queer folks have people everywhere to look up to, to see in every facet of public life. They can look at their teachers, their congress people, their parents and their grandparents and people all around and, by and large, see successful people like them.
As a 13 year old that wanted nothing more to shave my head, wear combat boots and confidently proclaim my awesome queerness with my appearance Those Queers were amazing simply because they existed. Who CARES if they were in a constant stream of dead end relationships with mountains of student loan debt, cars that constantly failed inspection, middling grades in college and no parental figures to speak of? They were THERE.
In 10 years that teenager at the coffee shop will be that 20-something at the coffee shop. I’m willing to bet with a shorter haircut, a computer to replace the book, and coffee replacing the orange juice because 10 years of being queer taught them to tolerate coffee. That Teenager will “escape” Boston because “escaping” wherever you grew up is an essential part of being That Queer no matter how open and liberal your city or origin was. That teenager will have long-ago scoped out the gayest coffee shop around; no longer going there to prove that survival was possible but maybe because that was the place where there are gender neutral bathrooms and nobody thinks twice about your haircut or gets confused about their new, non-binary name or the friends you bring with you.
Ten years ago I was just about to turn 15 and I was beyond terrified. I stole hopeful glances of any older queers I saw because it was proof I’d survive my teenage years mostly intact. It is its own perpetuating “It Gets Better” project without words or any proof beyond existence.
I guess what I’m saying is “God bless the gay coffee shops. Every one of them.”