“If my identity depends on that of my partner, I no longer exist as an autonomous person”


This January, my partner and I will celebrate seven years together. We spent roughly half of that time in a long-distance relationship before reuniting in London three years ago. In autumn, I’ll temporarily move abroad once again. We decided to stay together and finally reunite for good once I’m back.

By now, I’ve heard enough variations of the ball and chain joke to know that’s straight people’s code for expressing marvel at a relationship’s longevity. Which never fails to make me flinch at the much more sinister implication. To most people, we’re a straight couple destined to marry in a lovely church in the Italian countryside, make some babies and exchange cutting passive-aggressive remarks till death do us part.

Unfortunately, my partner S. and I are both staunch atheists and very much not a straight couple. S., a cis man who’s comfortable with identifying as straight, went into a relationship with me knowing I was queer. Then, earlier this year, I came out a second time and he found himself in a relationship with a non-binary person.

Since I told him, he’s been my first and biggest ally. He switched to gender neutral language, asked about what further changes he could make to affirm my identity and reassured me that he would support me with any decisions I’d make as part of my transition. It meant the world to me that he adjusted so effortlessly, especially as I knew many others wouldn’t.

As most non-binary people, I grapple daily with misgendering, confusion and denial. For those who are desperate to deny my queerness, loving a cis straight person makes me cis and straight by association, no matter what pronouns I use and how tight I bind my chest. For them, it’s simply dismissing an irrational whim I’m on. For me, it’s an act of violence. If my identity depends on that of my partner, I no longer exist as an autonomous person. This is the exact opposite of my relationship with S., where it’s precisely our separate, unique identities that we cherish.

Things like avoiding big earrings or wearing a binder in the scorching Italian summer heath aren’t always necessary for me to feel like myself. Sometimes, for me, they actually feel like a performance I put up for the benefit of others, something I’ve always been fiercely opposed to. In fact, S. and I have never fitted the heteronormative expectations of what a couple should look like. But in a world that refuses to see my queerness, things like me dressing masculine and him wearing bright-coloured nail polish are no longer things we do just because we like doing them. I think acts of self-affirmation are important, but personally I don’t want my sense of self to depend on them. 

I believe a degree of performativity will be inevitable, especially in the first stages of my transition. Luckily, my partner has my back, whether it’s about correcting people who misgender me when I’m too exhausted to do it or mastering the art of angling and posing to minimise the horrible dysphoria I get from looking at most pictures of myself. Our relationship will always be a safe space for both of us to explore our identities.

“As long as you are with the person you love, every label, every thought and every judgement are just words,” S. told me recently. I half agree, because as a non-binary person, I’ll always care about how others perceive me. But with him I can afford to care a bit less, and that sense of comfort makes me feel more like myself.

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