My Partner’s Family Think I’m a Cis Woman. It’s Not Easy.

Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash (my edit)

At some point, while my partner was out of town, his mom and I were going to go shopping together. I needed groceries, and I don’t drive, so I was grateful for the offer of a ride.

In principle, I was grateful. But I declined, stating that I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t, but I almost never am. That wasn’t the issue.

I’d never spent any time around my partner’s family. I’d met his sister and mom briefly, on separate occasions. They and his stepfather call me a feminized version of my real (legal) name, which is not actually London.

I’d also never had a real relationship before, though, so at 30, this year, I had a holiday meal with my current partner’s family for the first time. But it was also the first time I’d spent a holiday meal with any partner’s family. They seem like nice people, but what sucks is being in a room full of people who think you’re something you’re not. You wonder if they’d still be nice or if they’d turn on you if they knew the truth.

And when you have to hide in plain sight like that, you have to be mindful about everything you do and say. When it comes to gender and sexual orientation, hiding is something I had to do for a long, long time. You might say I’ve developed a talent for it, the way a lot of queer people do.

It’s not fun.

We don’t do it because it’s “fun,” though. We do it to survive.

Today, I’m going to have a meal with my partner, his sister, and their parents again. (My mom passed in 2017, and my dad is quite a drive away.) It went well last time, but it was still quite anxiety-inducing, and this time isn’t any better.

When you’re hiding in plain sight, most people won’t be paying enough attention to figure you out, in most situations. But it only takes one slip, one word or phrase, one person glancing at you at the wrong moment from the wrong angle.

People who are both straight and cisgender don’t know the struggle. They really don’t.

My partner, who is cis and considers himself quasi-straight, doesn’t and will never fully understand this aspect of it for me. That doesn’t make him wrong for me; we love each other very much, and our relationship isn’t perfect, but for the most part, it’s really good. He doesn’t want to get into the nuances of my identity with his family, and I get that.

I really want to underline this point: the fact that he doesn’t fully understand why this is hard for me doesn’t make him a bad person or a bad partner. He’s a cis man, 25 years older than me, who grew up in circumstances that were very different from the way I grew up. There are a lot of things we don’t fully understand about each other.

And that’s kind of the point.

I don’t need to fully understand every facet of someone’s identity to respect and love them. That’s not to say I won’t try my best, because I will. In part, it goes to my natural curiosity, but more importantly, I try my best to understand out of respect.

One thing all five of us are is white. So, we’ll never fully understand the experiences of people of color. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to understand or that we shouldn’t do our best to be allies. We try our best because we want to be good people, and we want to avoid hurting others as best we can, but at a certain point, never having had the experience of being a non-white person limits the extent to which we can understand the experiences of people of color.

I identify as queer and face other kinds of discrimination. I can relate to and empathize with those struggles unique to non-white people, but I’ll never fully “get it.” Likewise, people who are straight and cis will never fully understand the experiences unique to someone like me, and that’s okay.

This is why I find it so perplexing when someone objects to people being visibly queer by saying, “But how will I explain this to my kids?”

I’m like, “I don’t know, just make sure your kid doesn’t treat other people like shit, and go from there.” That seems like one of the essential qualities for a parent to have, right up there with providing a safe environment for the kid and making sure they eat their veggies.

Your kid doesn’t need a master class on gender and sexual orientation to be respectful. Nor, incidentally, do my partner’s boomer parents. (Well, they shouldn’t.) Whether you’re 7 or 77, it costs $0.00 to avoid being a jerk to people who are different from you.

I’m not going to turn Christmas into a pop-up seminar or anything, but to avoid any mention of something so essential to my identity? That’s hard. It’s really hard. And I think life is hard enough as it is.

To all my queer brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings who have to hide, please be safe and stay warm. Try to do something for yourself when you can, whether it’s something explicitly affirming of your identity or just having a cup of cocoa. Cry if you need to, but know that there are people out here who care about you and want you to have a good, happy life.

In the case that anyone is struggling with suicidal thoughts or related issues and needs to talk, click here or here for hotlines (phone, text) and other ways to get support (chat, penpals). You are not alone in this.

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Queer vegan cryptid trying their best to survive late-stage capitalism while helping others do the same.

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London Graves

London Graves

Queer vegan cryptid trying their best to survive late-stage capitalism while helping others do the same.

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