On Being A Queer Woman Who Is Dating A Straight Cisgender Man
If I met you at a party and you asked my relationship status, I’d say that I recently moved in with my partner. Every time I say that, I watch the reaction of the person in front of me. If they’re straight, the reaction is often a self-conscious nod and smile, and I know they’re trying to change their idea about who they thought I am (which defaults to straight). If they’re queer, the reaction is similar, except they assume without question or further probing that my partner is a woman (or, for the more open-minded, that my partner may be trans or genderqueer). In both cases, while I’ve asserted myself as pretty darn queer, I also feel guilty, as if there’s some sort of fraud going on. Because my partner is not a woman, not trans, and not genderqueer.
This is where I struggle: conveying the fact that I am not straight even while I currently live with my straight, cis-male partner. Every time I tell someone, it’s as if I’ve lost queer points of some kind. This is an issue that comes up for any queer person in a heteronormative relationship, and while for some people it might not be important to make their queerness known, for me it’s extremely vital as it’s a part of who I am and how I think and interact with people.
While I am queer as a three-dollar bill (as the inscrutable saying goes), I have also found myself more often than not in relationships with straight cis-men. My first relationship, though, was with a woman. She was an amazing, artsy person I knew in Israel, which is where I grew up and where, in the mid-oughts, the queer scene hadn’t spread to teens as much as it has by now. It was lucky that I met her. We broke up because my father died and I couldn’t really handle relationships in general, let alone romantic ones. I then went on to have relationships with men, which caused my friends throughout my teens to stop believing that I was bisexual, which was how I identified at the time. This drove me absolutely crazy. Just because I was monogamous with a man who made me happy didn’t mean I didn’t look at women, didn’t mean I didn’t want to be with women, and didn’t mean I was straight.
This is essential: Being in a straight relationship does not equal being straight.
When I was in England for a year abroad during college, I found myself being identified by most people as a lesbian because it was known that I was hooking up with a dear friend of mine (another amazing, artsy, intelligent, and kind person) who was a lesbian. This was also pretty weird, since at the time I still identified as bi and it felt odd that men would talk to me in this casual way that made it clear they thought I was “one of the guys” just because I enjoyed the female anatomy as much as they did.
As time went on, I realized more and more that it wasn’t about gender for me. I feel the same way about people of all genders. They’re pretty, and my mental sex drive is high (which is not the same as my actual physical libido). I am an ogler, though I hope I’m not as obvious/creepy about it.
The more I like a person, the more attractive I find them. And to be honest, I am often more attracted to other queer people than to straight people.
This has become, inadvertently, one of the ways I find myself proving to others, and maybe to myself, that I am queer: I mostly socialize with other people who identify somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum. I also tend to be intellectually involved in queer life. I have friends and acquaintances who are queer artists and writers, I tend to have long discussions about queer bodies, vocabulary, identity, the privilege involved in understanding the nuances of the lingo we use, etc.
But, at the same time, the fact is that I’ve been living with a cisman since November 2015, and have been seeing him for over two years.
So another way I’ve needed to navigate the whole being-queer-in-a-straight-relationship thing has been through communication. My partner knows I sleep with other people occasionally and that I’m a big flirt in general and he’s OK with that because it’s just a part of who I am. He accepts that and loves me for all of me.
Still, despite all that, I still know that when I walk down the street holding my partner’s hand, I am going to be read as straight. And that’s hard for me. I wear a rainbow decoration on my backpack, one side of my head is buzzed (according to this roundup on Pride, it’s called the “Half & Half”), and I mention being bi or queer (I often use the term bi with straight people because it’s more understood, but just use queer with people who aren’t straight or cis) in conversation a lot. Sometimes it’s kind of awkward, and I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do anyway. Sort of like Kate McKinnon licks her gun for no apparent reason and gives me the tinglies.
One of the things I recently did that has both helped and confused me was join an arts collective at The Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. Being around other queer people who assume I’m queer or gay simply because of my attendance feels lovely and freeing, as does going to events at other queer spaces. But I still feel like a phony at times because of my ability pass as straight, as reluctant as I am to do that. I know that it’s a privilege to pass as straight in a world that still targets people for being queer, and there’s even more privilege in wanting to be rid of that.
I still know that when I walk down the street holding my partner’s hand, I am going to be read as straight.
Of course, the mere fact that I find so much importance in being read as queer conveys my insecurity in asserting my identity and being believed. But why should any of us question anyone else’s identity? Therein lies the rub: we do. Straight or queer, we question people’s identities, which makes fighting for recognition something that rests so heavily on my mind, and something that I am constantly and continually learning to navigate.