Culture & Conversation LGBTQ

Ask a Queer Chick: How Can I Support My Genderqueer Husband?

Lindsay King-Miller

Most of the resources seem to be nonspecifically aimed at "allies."

Welcome to the first Ask a Queer Chick of 2018! I’m ready to make this my gayest year yet, by which I mostly mean listening to lots of Hayley Kiyoko and drinking plenty of water. And occasionally taking a sledgehammer to the gender binary. How about you?

I think I’m bi but I still am not sure if it’s because of the heteronormative climate. I have never kissed a girl. I kissed a boy and it wasn’t anything spectacular. I want to experiment with a girl but I am having trouble figuring out how to do that. Especially since I don’t want other people to know I’m not straight. 

The idea of “experimenting” has always seemed weird to me. I don’t think it’s really possible to approach your sexuality like a science project: with a control group and a null hypothesis. If you make out with a girl and feel nothing, does that prove that you’re not into girls, or that you’re not into this girl specifically? It seems like an oddly clinical and bloodless way to frame something that should be personal, intimate, and thrilling.

I don’t think you need to hook up with a girl, any girl, just to determine whether you’re into girls. Kissing a random girl isn’t the same as kissing a girl you like, who likes you back.

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So, is there a girl you like who likes you back? Start there. If there’s a girl you like, but you’re not sure if she likes you back, you’re going to have to find out or you’re never going to get your smooch on. (Yes, figuring out whether you like to kiss girls will definitely entail letting at least one other person—the girl you want to kiss—know you’re not straight.) This doesn’t have to be something you rush out and do this weekend just to check “figure out my sexuality” off your to-do list! It’s OK if it takes you a while to even find someone you’re interested in, and longer to get to the point of doing something about it. You also don’t need to have a hot makeout session with another chick to verify your bisexuality. If you’re into imagining kissing girls, that’s enough information to go on. If you’re not ready for anyone else to know about your attraction to girls, that doesn’t make that attraction any less valid.

It’s also OK if it takes you a while to figure out whether you’re really bi, or whether you’re just attracted to women and heteronormativity convinced you that you had to be attracted to men too. Kissing one dude and not being that into it is fairly common for people of all orientations, because—sorry—a lot of a dudes are bad kissers. If you feel like you’re still interested in the possibility of fooling around with a guy, you don’t necessarily have to write that off because of one bad experience.

Basically, there’s no rush. It’s OK to be whatever you are, and it’s OK to feel whatever you feel. Just don’t treat people like objects, or scenic rest stops on your journey toward self-knowledge. If and when you “experiment” with a girl, remember that she’s not a test tube for you to pour your emotions into. She’s a human being with needs and desires of her own. Keep that in mind, and you’ll both have a lot more fun.

My husband recently came out as genderqueer. He’s considering changing his pronouns, but hasn’t done so yet. Honestly, it’s all great. I’m happy and excited, and it’s gone about as smoothly as one could hope. However, I still have feelings! It’s been a lot of change at once, and even if it’s good change, it’s still something to get used to. I was wondering if you had any resources off the top of your head for spouses of genderqueer folks. Most of what I’ve found uses the same language for any friend/family member (“don’t center your feelings!” “it’s not their job to explain things to you!”) which feels, I don’t know, distant from marriage? If you’re my spouse, it sort of is your job to talk things out with me, and me with you, and for us to take turns in our feelings. Like, I’m not your ally, I’m your wife. (I guess I’m both but hopefully you can figure out what I mean.)

I want to congratulate you and your husband both for this question. Him for having the courage to come out and live more authentically, and you for being supportive, loving, and—this is key—asking someone besides your husband for help. One of the biggest mistakes that I notice from family members of the newly out is expecting their loved one to do all your homework for them. While trans and gender-nonconforming people may have specific things they want you to read/watch/listen to/meditate on in order to better understand what they’re going through, it’s not their job to put together a full Trans 101-102 reading list. And it’s great when folks are proactive about finding the resources they need.

I assume you’ve already done the same Googling I did before writing this, and found a range of sites like the Straight Spouse Network and SOFFA Trans. Most of the online spaces for discussing a spouse’s transition are moderated lightly to not at all, so you may encounter some unhelpful and even transphobic stuff (including deadnaming). Still, if you’re willing to wade through a bunch of posts, you may find some folks you relate to, and that can be a huge benefit when you’re feeling isolated. You are both an ally to your husband as he comes out and a person experiencing a major change in your relationship, and you need support in both of those roles.

You should also check out your local LGBTQ community center, if you have one of those—most large cities and quite a few smaller ones do. They might have a resource library, a support group for family members of trans people, or just some social events where you can meet other queer and trans folks and explore what this community has to offer. I don’t know how you define your own sexuality, but if you identify as straight and are grappling with what it means for you to be in a relationship with someone who is not a man, queer community resources could be really useful. Most LGBTQ centers offer counseling services too—that’s how I found my beloved therapist—which you could take advantage of individually or as a couple.

Like you, I am cis and have a genderqueer spouse. The difference is that my partner was out as trans when I met him, so I never had to make the adjustments you’re struggling with right now. However, I’ve found that part of my role as a cis spouse is to take on some of the burden of education and advocacy. Trans and nonbinary people are often pressured to live their whole lives as a Teachable Moment, and there will come a time (if it’s not here already) when your husband is just so fucking tired of defining “genderqueer.” At that time—or, in a perfect world, about two minutes before that time—you can be prepared to step in and say something. For example, you might say, “Yes, this is a valid gender identity, and here is a brief overview of how to not be a dick about it.” And if someone persists in being a dick, you should be willing to shut them down.

This might sound like the nonspecific “ally” advice you’ve found unhelpful, but I think it’s important not just as support for the trans community, but for the health of your marriage. You can and should take trans issues personally, because they are personal—they affect your family. Your partner’s transition doesn’t belong to you, but it is something you’re going through together: the good parts and the scary parts. When people live authentically and inhabit every facet of who they are, they tend to be happier, more generous, and a lot more emotionally available. Your relationship can come out of this even stronger. I wish you both the best!

I was in an opposite-sex relationship for about seven years. Everyone expected us to get married, but I really never felt like that guy, I’ll call him John, was the love of my life. I broke up with him about a year and a half ago and dated a handful of other guys immediately after, and then ended up reconnecting with a girl I had been with before John. I’ll call her Katy. This time around, Katy broke my heart, but since then I’ve moved on to a very stable, very loving relationship with a genderqueer person.

The issue, however, isn’t with me or my partner, but all my friends and family members who are suddenly very interested in my sexual orientation! In the past month, I have received texts and comments from, “OMG you’re a lesbian now?” to “Why didn’t you tell me you’re bisexual?” and, of course, the dreaded “Do you think you’ll ever go back?” My mom even had the nerve to ask me if I think the reason I’ve broken up with all my boyfriends is because I have always liked girls more. WHOA. HOW. RUDE! In an effort to not jump down my straight friends’ and family members’ throats, what are my best responses to these types of questions?  I’d like to still have some friends left when I’m done defending my queerness, after all.

There are a number of possible responses to these types of intrusive questions, from placating to scorched-earth, and they are all valid—just as it’s also valid to simply refuse to respond when someone asks you a question that’s none of their business. But I think, if your goal is to shut down conversation while avoiding conflict, your best bet is to answer these questions as though they are the most boring inquiries imaginable. Offer no follow-up information; simply say, in your blandest tone of voice, “No, I’m not a lesbian. Where do you want to go for lunch?” or “I broke up with all my boyfriends because those relationships stopped making me happy. That reminds me, I read a really interesting article about dinosaur classifications the other day.” Then resist all attempts to resurface the topic.

Good luck, and congratulations on finding someone who brings you joy!

Got a question? [email protected]! Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

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