Danielle Mustarde asks, What might lez/bi culture look like 25 years from now?

BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE

I recently found myself watching Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas’ newest film Nina, and it got me thinking about the future. Our future, to be precise. 

Set in Warsaw, it tells the story of Nina (Julia Kijowska) an unhappily married, wannabe-parent who falls for her twentysomething surrogate, Magda (Eliza Rycembel). 

Mildly-unbelievable-relationship-logistics aside, the real draw of the film is its depiction of queer subculture as sexy, authentic, and most interestingly, as a usual and accepted part of modern day Polish society. The landscape is both recognisable and yet, sociologically-speaking, a Utopian version of Warsaw where LGBTQI people are included and embraced fully. 

It was at this point I wondered: will I ever see such a society exist in my lifetime? How will we date, and raise families? Will “lesbian” and “bisexual” still have their place in DIVA’s tagline? Will there be a time where being LGBTQI is seen as usual, run-of-the-mill, a non-topic, even? What will LGBTQI culture look like for queer folk of the 2040s? 

There are, it seems, a lot of questions to be asked of the not-too-distant future. But what separates fact from queer science fiction?

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GENDER IS OVER

The Guardian recently published a playfully-named piece, Mars Is Lovely At This Time Of Year, in which they asked a handful of futurists to imagine what significant social changes may have taken place by the year 2050. 

One professional Mystic Meg foretold of family holidays spent on Mars. Another believes that instead of sending emojis to one another, teenagers will send actual emotions via an advanced, social communication system, which sounds utterly terrifying. Most interestingly for us, however, are the predictions made by the wonderfully-named futurist and author, Faith Popcorn, who believes that, by 2050, society as a whole, “won’t be having babies naturally”. “Pregnancy,” she professes, “will have become outdated,” and gender “irrelevant”. 

“We’re already witnessing gender fluidity,” Popcorn continues. “Facebook has 71 kinds of gender; 48% of millennials believe that gender is a spectrum … All of the traditional grounds for gender – the idea that one gender takes care of the other, or bosses it around, however you see it – will disappear. We are at a mid-stage now – and it’s sticky.”

Sticky is certainly one way to describe current “conversations” – often two very polarised views on how humans should or should not be allowed to operate in the world in terms of their gender identities. One positive thing we can take away from this stickiness, however, is this: things are as they are here in 2019 because society’s attitudes towards gender are in flux – they’re changing. Sure, there are some very loud people who aren’t happy about it. But isn’t that always the case with progress? As Popcorn says, it’s those people who will become the “left-behinds” and the “Luddites”. Sooner rather than later if you would, Mx Future. 

Popcorn’s second theory – that pregnancy will have become “outdated” and parents will instead grow tiny humans outside of the womb – is an interesting one, perhaps even more so for same-sex families where advanced reproductive technology has the potential to drastically change the ways in which we have families. That is, if global warming doesn’t put a stop to it all before then – gulp. 

The oft-sensationalised-in-the-press theories surrounding the potential for same-sex parents to one day have their own biological children is something DIVA explored back in 2017, after speaking to Care Fertility founder and embryology and IVF specialist, Simon Fishel. 

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LESBIAN COUPLE HAS FIRST BIOLOGICAL CHILD 

“Everything we see in the media in relation to being able to generate sperm and eggs from, let’s say, skin cells, is about what you can see under the microscope,” explains Simon Fishel, whose career in fertility spans more than 40 years. “Yes, we can reprogramme cells to make them look like egg cells, or to make them go through the changes to become a sperm cell – it doesn’t matter the biological sex of the person that the cells come from. The important thing to grasp here is that it looks like a sperm and it looks like an egg, but what’s far more important than how a cell looks, is what’s happening to its DNA.”

In short, even though scientists can model what looks like a perfectly healthy sperm from the cells of a biological female, the DNA within that sperm might not be normal. Bearing that minor complication in mind, could it ever be a possible that two women could have their own, biological child? 

“I do think we tend to get there eventually. I remember once giving a lecture to some students and someone asked, ‘Do you think we’ll be able to clone mammals in the future?’ And I said, ‘Yes probably, but it’s unlikely in my lifetime.’ It was about a month later that Dolly the sheep was announced.” 

Better not rule it out completely then, eh? 

Equally interesting was how social attitudes to fertility treatment had changed since Simon had begun working in the fertility industry. In the mid-80s, for example, staff were allowed to be “conscientious objectors”. “We used to have situations where we had to be sure we would have a team available to treat a single woman or a lesbian couple, otherwise staff had the right not to be available for treatment.”

Thankfully Simon’s predictions for the future are hopeful: “I think the future will be all about technology, rather than discrimination of any kind.”

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MAJORITY OF BRITISH COUPLES IN OPEN RELATIONSHIPS

Another way social attitudes have changed in recent years is the way in which we navigate our romantic and sexual relationships with each other. And I don’t just mean apps like Her and Tinder. 

The queer community has always been at the forefront of alternative relationships – whether sexual or romantic – but as terms like “polyamory” and “open relationships” become more usual in the mainstream dating lexicon, how might dating look for queeroes and straighties alike come 2044? 

“While I was researching for my book Is Monogamy Dead?, I became more and more interested in how alternative relationship structures had been pioneered in the LGBTQI community,” explains author and comedian, Rosie Wilby. “Open relationships, living apart together, and conscious uncoupling were all common queer behaviours decades before they became trendy buzzwords in glossy women’s mags. What we’re seeing today in the UK and Europe is a pull towards more traditional models. Now that the LGBTQI community have access to marriage and kids, many of us are trying out the idea of ‘biological families’ – as opposed to what author Armistead Maupin called ‘logical’ families. 

“There’s almost a role reversal going on where queer folk are trying out heteronormative relationship models and heterosexuals are moving towards more experimentation and creativity. Still, I believe this will settle down within the next 25 years and that we will start to see a much broader acceptance of polyamory across all sexual orientations. We’ll also have an entirely new language around dating and romantic love. Just think of how many new words – ‘ghosting’, ‘bread-crumbing’, etc. – have sprung up in the last few years with the advancement of technology. That creation of a lexicon to describe new sexual and romantic behaviours will continue apace.”

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STUDIES REVEAL LINK BETWEEN HISTORIC SEX ED REVAMP AND INCREASED ADULT HAPPINESS

Alternative dating and relationship models, such as those mentioned previously, are bound to become more usual as the next generation of politically woke, young LGBTQI people become fully-fledged adults. 

Even in the last few years, there’s been an increase in the number of young people identifying as LGB. In a 2016 Office Of Natural Statistics study, 4.1% of the UK population aged 16 to 24 identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual – an increase on previous years and the largest percentage of any age group across the study.

Assuming there are no major societal catastrophes (touches all of the wood), it seems only logical to predict that more diverse sexual and romantic behaviours – and thus sexual identities – will become more socially acceptable and celebrated, particularly with the recent government changes to Sex And Relationships Education (SRE) in England. 

“My hope is that 25 years from now, we won’t be discussing the need for specific LGBTQI education in schools,” says Sarah Calvert, a psychosexual and relationship therapist. “As a society, we’ll accept all genders and sexualities.”

Though the government’s new guidance is a welcome update, not to mention being “greatly overdue”, Sarah believes it “doesn’t go far enough” to meet the needs of children today. “While it states that ‘teaching about LGBT is expected during pupils’ school years’, it allows schools to decide at what age this is appropriate. Research however shows that LGBTQI issues increasingly impact younger children and that children encounter ‘gender’ as a concept from birth and usually from a cisgender bias. With that in mind, it really is essential to teach young children so that they know it’s ok to feel different to what’s currently considered the ‘norm’.”

But what of schools of the future? Does Sarah believe the new guidance will set the wheels in motion for a truly inclusive sex education? “In the future, education and understanding will develop further to meet the needs of the next generation. Rather than teaching sex education from a heterosexual point of view, teachers will be prepared to address the pleasures of sex and include exploration and understanding of LGBTQI issues, requiring teachers to be comfortable with LGBTQI issues, sex and their own sexuality in order to deliver effective learning. It really goes beyond sex ed. In the future, SRE should be harmoniously integrated into the ethos of school to ensure congruence. By educating children while they’re beginning to develop their values and beliefs about themselves and others, we can empower 2044’s adults to be happier, more accepting and better prepared to face the world in which they’ll live.”

HETEROSEXUAL PEOPLE OFFICIALLY A MINORITY 

As the many diverse ways in which we identify, love and interact are embraced, celebrated and – through such inclusive education – finally fall in line with the values of our society more widely, will anyone feel the need to “come out” any more? 

Stephen Frost, author of Building An Inclusive Organisation, doesn’t think so. “When I gave an undergraduate lecture at Oxford University last year, 51% of the class identified as non-straight. As a gay man, I felt binary and old school. In 2044 in the UK, it’s going to be less about if you’re gay or straight and more about infinite sexuality.

“[The concept of] coming out will instead be a spectrum and refer to mental health, or whether you voted for Brexit. The ‘binary’ was a convenient staging post to achieve equality for gay and lesbian people but the majority now includes both straight and gay people. The challenge, I believe, will be how we include bisexual, trans, queer and intersex people. 

“The current conversations surrounding trans identities, for example, warns us of the need to ensure that diversity doesn’t become a series of competing interests. Those that have already won their rights will continue to have a particular responsibility to ensure that a thousand flowers can indeed bloom. 

“More hopefully, technology, social attitudes and mobility will allow all of us to express our uniqueness more than ever before – and we’ll be less binary and richer for it.” 

By 2044, Stephen believes we will “all be minorities”. “Straight men will be more emancipated than ever to discover their own identity beyond the stereotype or societal expectation; which is good news for all of us. Our increased diversity will have blossomed into a shared sense of inclusion rather than polarisation and power, I hope, will also be more equally distributed, benefitting all of us. Finally, though many in our community have always been non-binary, by 2044, the rest of the world will have caught up.”

The idea of increased gender fluidity is echoed by Sally Hines, associate professor of sociology and gender studies at the University Of Leeds. She concludes her recent book, Is Gender Fluid?, by saying that while “the world we live in remains far from gender neutral, moves towards gender fluidity are to be welcomed. They enable greater possibilities for all.” 

By 2044 then, perhaps we’ll have smashed our way out of the closet, in terms of both sexuality and gender identity, for the last time. 

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UK WORK FORCE MORE DIVERSE THAN EVER BEFORE

Another area of our lives set to have changed dramatically 25 years from now, will be the ways in which we work. 

With the advancement of automation and algorithms, many jobs including secretarial roles, GPs and some of the work currently undertaken by journalists (YIKES) will have become the jobs of “robots” – though this is more likely to mean computer and otherwise-based artificial intelligence than fully-functioning, human-like cyborgs. For the moment at least…

As well as the ways in which technology will impact on our careers, so will the greater acceptance of a larger, fully visible and diverse workforce. “By 2025 at least three-in-four people in the workforce will be millennial or post-millennial,” explains Luca Sale, co-chair of Amazon UK’s LGBTQI network, Glamazon. 

Companies are already proactive in appealing to the LGBTQI workforce but soon, believes Luca, “diversity and inclusion will be a seamless part of any business strategy.” “Job postings from companies will use gender neutral nouns and adjectives, thus further removing binary language and opening the job to a wider candidate pool; anonymised CVs will help recruitment teams to objectively assess applications and remove unconscious bias, and all HR systems will remove the need for titles and allow new employees to select their preferred pronouns.”

This might also have an effect on where queer people choose to live in the future. “Currently, many LGBT+ people choose to live in big cities which provide an easy commute and an open, accepting culture, services and entertainment. However, as more employers support flexible working and invest in areas outside of the city centres, we will see the same inclusive culture expanding out, leading to more progressive attitudes and many more LGBT+ people opting to live outside major cosmopolitan areas.” 

Suki Sandu, founder and CEO of Audeliss and Involve agrees. “The conversation is getting louder, and more businesses than ever are placing diversity and inclusion at the forefront of their policy making. In the future, the most sophisticated and forward-thinking of societies will eradicate prejudice, so that inequalities and injustices don’t exist – or are considered irrelevant. Whether you get a job or not will be based solely on your skills and contributions, not unconscious biases.” 

Suki also believes that workplaces in 2044 “won’t just run by white, straight men; but by diverse teams of all colours, genders, sexualities and backgrounds”. “Not only will this improve attitudes and acceptance, but it will encourage innovation and the merging of cultures, beliefs and ideas. All of which equal success and growth.”

THE FUTURE IS NOW

So what have we learned? That by 2044, two women or two men could, in theory at least, have had their own biological child. Coming out may be a thing of the past, or instead repurposed, as the tables turn and heterosexual people become the minority. 

Traditionally queer or alternatives ways of loving and raising families may become the new norm, the workplace may even have reached something close to true equality – and most exciting of all? Ellen DeGeneres will have become the first woman to trial a new age-defying technology and will still be hosting The Ellen Show at the ripe old age of 85.

As we both celebrate our past and look, hopefully, toward the future, it’s helpful to remember that there is only ever the present moment and, today in 2019, we’ve not quite reached a queer utopia like the version explored in Olga Chajdas’ Nina. 

If we’ve any chance of actually getting there, we must continue to work our way through the “sticky stuff” by actively supporting our trans, non-binary and intersex friends, lifting up those who are most marginalised within our community and continuing to stay vigilant and visible when those in the greatest positions of power look over their shoulders to a past where LGBTQI rights aren’t on the agenda.

In the eternal words of Annie Lennox, “The future hasn’t happened yet and the past is gone. So I think the only moment we have is right here and now, and I try to make the best of those moments, the moments that I’m in.”

Who knows? Perhaps there’ll even be a flashback to this article in the 50th anniversary of DIVA, the world’s leading magazine for ______.  I’ll leave you to fill in the blank.

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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