The hottest days of the year call for a Summer Fling. This week, we're deep-diving into sex, dating, and relationship drama, here .
The questions started trickling in last November, around my 29th birthday. At the time, my biggest worry was surviving my Saturn return, but people around me seemed to have other ideas.
“Are you worried about turning 30?” they’d ask me. “Are you working toward your long-term goals? Aren’t you going to settle down?”
I get why people asked questions. Many of us have been inculcated with the idea that 30 is an age of implications, the time when we’re supposed to start getting really worried about how the rest of our life will go. It’s a benchmark age, by which time you’re obligated to examine how well you’ve measured up with prescribed milestones: career progress, marriage, and having kids. We’ve built a lot of expectations into 30, and tremendous anxiety bubbles up around the idea of achieving those milestones. That is, if you haven’t achieved them by the big 3-0, you’re meant to worry that you may never achieve them at all—for cisgender, heterosexual people, at least.
But, as a queer, transgender person, my timeline has very little to do with my age. That’s why, as my 30th birthday approaches, I’m not worried at all.
I didn’t always feel that way, particularly when it came to relationship milestones. When I had my first relationship at 19, I hoped we’d be together forever. Like so many other young people—straight or otherwise—I believed my first love was the only love I’d ever want or need, and I couldn’t imagine life without them. In fact, the thought of it was kind of scary. Being queer and transgender only exacerbated that fear.
That first relationship ended around age 20, and that’s also when I came out as trans. At the time, friends, family, and the people around me were insistent that I would never find someone who could truly love me this way, often in an effort to get me to change my mind about being transgender. During my early 20s, I sought out romantic relationships in the shadow of that fear, convinced that I had to hold onto whoever showed me love because they might just be my last chance at companionship.
As I got older, I questioned those ideas. Who says that we can only rely on romantic partners to support us in crisis, or to care for us in old age? When did we decide that our security should be so deeply entwined with our ability to find romantic love? And what did it mean for members of my own community, for whom finding and building upon romantic love comes with a particular set of challenges? In the absence of legalized gay marriage, I had to imagine different possibilities for coupling and building relationships, and many in my community did, too. On top of that, I, like many other trans folks, spent much of my early 20s navigating questions about my identity and going through the very intense process of medically transitioning. The obligation of meeting certain deadlines on my life trajectory—particularly ones that were set up for people who don’t have to wade through these experiences—simply didn’t matter.
The ability to form long-term partnerships is often contingent upon a sense of stability, and much of what we expect to attend those partnerships—home ownership, steady employment, health care, children, for example—can often be unattainable for queer and trans people. In fact, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 US Trans Survey found that 23 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination in housing and 27 percent had been fired, denied a promotion, or not hired due to their gender identity in the year leading up to the report. According to a survey from NPR, as many as 18 percent of LGBTQ people have avoided seeking medical care due to fear of discrimination.
And, while adoption for same-sex partners was legalized in 2016, many states still have extremely prohibitive laws that make it challenging for us to adopt. It seems silly to be concerned about reaching milestones that have been and continue to be unavailable to myself and other other people like me. In other words, we didn’t push back against the life accomplishments of monogamy, cohabitation, and building nuclear families as an act of resistance—in many cases we have not been given any other choice.
For the LGBTQ community—and for trans people, especially—these restraints have changed the ways that we form relationships with one another. As a result, we’ve created non-traditional family models, redefining family to include many more people than just those to whom we’re biologically related. We find emotional support through friends and prioritize loving platonic bonds. Many of our romantic relationships look different as well, whether that means embracing non-monogamy, living separately, or simply giving equal weight to our relationships with friends and lovers.
Of course, people today of all genders and sexualities are beginning to operate on different timelines. How often are we harangued with another op-ed about how millennials are ruining everything, from chain restaurants to the sacred institution of marriage? According to a 2017 report from the US Census, the average age for a first marriage today is 29 for men and 27 for women, compared with 24 and 22 respectively in 1980. And those numbers continue to inch closer to 30, which still feels like it holds a place in the cultural imagination as a moment when it’s time to suddenly be grown-up and settle down.
All of that considered, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been released from the idea that I should feel any kind of pressure to find a special someone simply because my 30s are on the horizon. In the absence of that pressure, I’ve taken an approach to love that leaves me with a sense of peace. Detaching myself from the anxiety that if I haven’t found long-term love by now then I’m doomed, has meant that I’m ready to let love and romance happen when they will, whether that’s next week, in 10 years, or if it never even happens at all. And that sense of freedom? That's available to anyone who wants it.