BY ISABEL MUDFORD, Originally published by Woroni on October 13, 2014.
Relationships are complicated and mine is no exception. My partner once considered himself a lesbian, and not in that creepy misogynistic way. When I first met Joel, that wasn’t the only name he was known by. All of his colleagues, and many of his friends and family didn’t yet know that Joel was transgender. Joel has a female body but considers himself, and is known and read by others now, as a man. We are seen by many of our friends, neighbours and strangers as a ‘straight’ couple, but according to the Government, we’re lesbians. How Joel and I consider our identities as a couple is sometimes crystal clear and sometimes it’s like mud.
Isaiah Berlin argues that identity only matters when it is in conflict. Indeed, everyone’s discovery of their sexuality or gender identity is born within a maze of relationships, families, workplaces, and friendships. Some people are offered a map out, and some just have to figure it out themselves. Identity means a lot to Queer* people because they usually have to fight for it. Being L, G, B, T, I or Q is often a huge part of the way Queer* people recognise and identify themselves (hello undercuts, birkenstocks, and lentils). This stranglehold on sexuality or gender ‘identity’ is something we don’t share so much with our heterosexual or cis-gender counterparts.
Not long before Joel and I met, I had just been through a break-up with my boyfriend and somehow fallen for the Queen of all Queers. I knew immediately that I did not want to ‘come out’ because I felt I had never been in the closet. I come from a very supportive family and have loads of awesome allies as mates. Nothing was ever going to be hidden from them. Anyone who knows me knows I just can’t keep a juicy secret like that to myself! More importantly though, for me, my non-heteronormative sexuality is something that is constantly developing, not something I was born with. I don’t believe this makes my sexuality a ‘choice’ as such. But I also don’t think that choosing to be gay or lesbian or whatever else should be seen as a negative thing to choose. If I had realised earlier that I could be living this lifestyle it would be have been rainbows and glitter from day one! Being Queer* is the most liberating feeling I’ve ever felt and I have developed so much as a person over the last eighteen months. But, that’s not to say it’s been very easy.
It has been a challenge for me to start imagining myself as a Queer* person and then to find myself in a serious relationship with a dude. It’s especially complicated because parts of our relationship have been just like a lesbian couple. It was like the bowl of marshmallows had been given to me and then, although I knew it was to happen, taken away – like a subject in the Mischel experiment. In Cube we get dirty looks, but outside, we can kiss with no fear of homophobic slurs. My dad thinks we are a ‘de facto’ couple having lived together for just a month, but my brother has been simply ‘living with his girlfriend’ for over a year. My ex says he is concerned, not because he thinks I am a lesbian in disguise, but that his friends do. We kind of live in some loved up limbo. It is clear to me that this idea of ‘identity’ is not just about how you see yourself, but how those around you understand you.
Amongst Queer* theorists, there is the concept of Queer* time which explains how Queer cultures have developed new ways of tracking the passing of time in their lives with wedding anniversaries, children’s birthdays, and often the other celebrations of traditional family not available to them. Joel and I may be a ‘straight’ couple, but we can’t get married. In some states, we can’t adopt, or get IVF treatment. In many ways we are subjected to the same oppression that other Queer* couples encounter, but don’t fit into the same boxes. Like a lesbian couple, for years we may have to rethink how we celebrate our milestones and develop as a family all while seeming, to most, like your average ‘straight’ couple.
Although we may be just as frustrated at these circumstances as our lesbian and gay friends, Joel and I like being Queer*. Each day is an opportunity for us to explore what that means for us as a couple and as individuals. How others and how we may one day see ourselves is unpredictable and complicated but will never be dull.