Culture & Conversation LGBTQ

Ask a Queer Chick: How Do I Tell My Fiancé I’m Not Straight?

Lindsay King-Miller

Also: I'm a band director who's engaged to the music teacher at my school. When can we come out?

Happy February, everyone! I haven’t been Catholic for a very long time, but I’m still giving up heteronormativity for Lent. Join me, won’t you?

I’m 24 and was designated female at birth. My fiancé is a 25-year-old cis man and we’ve been together for five years. We both identify as hetero, but I have been dealing with a lot of emotional stuff for the last ten years. It was beaten into me by my family that I’m not gay, I’m not allowed to be gay, I’m not allowed to identify as a man. Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a man. I have no intentions of going through gender therapy. The most I’d do is wear a chest binder, cut my hair, and maybe wear more androgynous clothes once my family isn’t around to abuse me.

My fiancé knows I’ve been struggling with this and is very supportive. I’m not attracted to other men, though I am to women, and I do feel like I’m in the wrong body and want to express it, but I have no idea how to break it to him. I haven’t told him “I am a man” or “I am a lesbian,” just that I’m dealing with feelings. I don’t know how to tell him, “Hey sweetie, I love you and I can’t picture a future without you and I want to marry you, but I’m not straight.” Can I do that? Am I allowed? 

You are allowed. The entirety of your unique being, in all its gorgeous and terrifying complexity, is allowed. You are allowed to be the person you know yourself to be. And you are allowed to put a whole lot of distance between yourself and anyone who tells you otherwise.

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I understand that this is overwhelming, especially after a lifetime of being told that fundamental aspects of your identity were forbidden. It sounds like you’ve spent so much time suppressing your truth that you’re not even quite sure what to call yourself—are you a woman who wants to be with women? Are you a man who wants to stay with your male fiancé? Are you some other combination of gender and sexuality? It’s all allowed, and the only one who gets to decide is you. Based on your letter, it sounds like you identify as a man and are primarily attracted to women, so I would probably describe you as a straight man, not a lesbian. I’m going to write the rest of this response with that assumption, but that doesn’t mean that’s how you have to identify; it’s just a lot simpler than writing “a trans man or a lesbian or a nonbinary person or whatever feels true to you” in every sentence.

First of all, have you seen a therapist about the abuse you survived? Growing up under the constant threat of harm can absolutely shape your understanding of your own autonomy and boundaries. It’s going to be hard to process your identity and desires while still carrying the weight of a lifetime of being told that you owe it to your family to be who they want you to be. The survival skills you developed to appease your abusers and stay under their radar will not serve you well in building a lifelong partnership on equal footing. A therapist can help you develop new ones.

A trans-competent therapist can also help you cope with your feelings of dysphoria (“trapped in the wrong body”) and decide what, if any, gender-confirming medical care to pursue. You say you’re not interested in making physical changes beyond altering your hair and clothing style, and that’s fine—you do not have to take hormones or have surgery for your identity as a man to be valid! But it’s also worth noting that you have only recently begun to acknowledge your transness; you are barely at the beginning of your journey and what you want might change over time. If you have an LGBTQ community center in your vicinity, they should be able to help you find supportive and affirming mental health services. Even if you are never interested in seeking therapy specifically related to your dysphoria or transitioning, I suspect you’ll feel safer with a trans-competent therapist since you won’t be trying to avoid mentioning your gender.

You say you’re in love with your fiancé and you want to marry him, but noticeably, you don’t say anything about whether you’re attracted to him—only that, in general, you’re attracted to women rather than men. This is perhaps inappropriate speculation, but I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the possibility that what you feel toward him is something more like friendly devotion than romantic love. If your immediate reaction to the preceding sentence was, “Nah, I want to make out with his face all day forever,” then awesome, but if you’re not generally attracted to men, it’s probably worth asking yourself why—and whether—this dude is an exception. It’s OK if, as much as you care about him and appreciate his presence in your life, you want your life partner to be a woman. In that case, it would be better to end things now than to get married, spend years resenting the potential romances you’re missing out on with women, and eventually split up with both of you feeling bitter and angry.

If nothing else, I really, really recommend a long engagement. There’s nothing wrong with taking the scenic route to the altar, and it sounds like you need some time to process before you make a life-altering commitment. Wedding planning is not a notoriously relaxing time in a person’s life, nor is it especially conducive to introspective contemplation. It’s probably wise to postpone.

At some point, you’re going to need to explicitly come out to your partner. If you don’t, I suspect that part of you will always wonder whether he would stay with you if he knew you aren’t really a straight woman. That kind of doubt can be really destabilizing to a marriage and, over time, erode the trust you two share. It is not impossible, of course, that when you tell him you’re a man it will change his feelings toward you. In the event that this does happen, please remember that it doesn’t mean anything about you or how deserving you are of love. Some people are simply attracted to women and not to men. If it turns out your fiancé is such a person, it will be a painful loss, but I promise you will meet many more people throughout your life who you have the capacity to love deeply and be loved by.

I’m sorry to say I think you have a lot of turmoil ahead of you. Working through your abusive upbringing, sorting out your complicated feelings about gender and sexuality, coming out to your fiancé, deciding whether or not to stay in your relationship, and then either dealing with a breakup or planning a wedding—it’s safe to say that your dance card is going to be very full for a while. Please believe that this time of intense emotions and hard work will help you arrive at a more peaceful, authentic, and joyful life than you have yet experienced. It will all be worth it.

In the meantime, there’s no rush; give yourself as much time and space as you need to feel your feelings, practice self-care, and just relax. I’m giving you a shitload of emotional homework, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in Gender Processing Mode during all your waking hours. Prioritize what brings you joy. You’re going to be amazing.

I have recently found myself in a new and strange situation and was wondering if you have any advice. Here’s the background: I’m 23, I just graduated college, I just got a job as a band director at a K-8 school in Glendale, Arizona, and moved from Chicago to take it, my fiancée got the music teacher position at the same school, I’m gay.

What would be the most graceful way to present the bit of information about being with the music teacher? People tend to get a little weird about the whole gay thing. I’m an outgoing person, but for some reason ever since getting to this new school I have a hard time telling people about my fiancée. I think it’s because she’s also here at the school, but I’m not sure what to do. Plus, Arizona seems to view the whole gay thing differently than Chicago does. Any insight at all would be swell. 

Given the recent and infuriating firing of a Miami teacher for getting same-sex married, I regret to say that my first piece of advice has to be: Protect your livelihood. If you have reason to believe that your school would fire you (or your fiancée) if they found out about your relationship, I think your best move is to keep quiet and work on lining up new jobs as soon as you can.

Arizona does not have statewide employment discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Phoenix law prohibits firing you on the basis of your sexuality, but Glendale, even though it’s less than ten miles from downtown Phoenix, does not.

Bear in mind, too, that Arizona is one of seven states with a “no promo homo” law that prevents school teachers from discussing homosexuality in a positive light. This restriction is supposed to apply specifically to sex education, but is phrased generally enough that opponents argue it could be used to punish a teacher for discussing queerness or queer people at all—including themselves.

Before coming out, think about whether the culture at your school is affirming. Do they offer a gay-straight alliance or other group for LGBTQ kids? Are there other openly LGBTQ faculty members? Can you find books with LGBTQ characters or themes in the school library? If you don’t know the answers to these questions yet, it might be wise to wait before mentioning your relationship.

I’m giving you a lot of worst-case scenarios here! It is entirely possible, even likely, that everyone at your school will be perfectly chill about you and your fiancée being in lesbians. Many, many LGBTQ teachers are happily and steadily employed. (Many more are underemployed because our country shamefully undervalues educators, not because of queer or trans antagonism.) You deserve to be able to come out at work without fearing for your job. I want you to be aware of the potential risks, but I don’t want you to blame yourself if any of those consequences actually comes to pass.

No matter what happens, the problem is neither that you are gay, nor that you are out. If anyone fucks with your safety or your employment because of your relationship, they are the problem. You can choose to handle other people’s homophobia as confrontationally or conciliatorily as you like, but the problem is always them, not you.

If you decide either it’s safe to come out, or you’re not interested in concealing your valid and loving adult relationship to assuage someone’s bigotry, you are welcome to mention your engagement to the music teacher whenever the topic comes up. It’s not particularly strange for members of the same faculty to be romantically involved; educators are some of the most likely people in the United States to marry within their own profession. Unless your school has a policy against teachers dating each other, which would be extremely unusual, you should be fine. Treat each other like any other colleague during the school day, but if your co-workers ask what you’re doing this weekend, it’s perfectly fine to mention that you have a date with your betrothed.

And congratulations to both you and your partner on finding work in your field right out of school! Maybe you should buy a few lottery tickets in case your lucky star is still hanging around.

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

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