What Happens When the Person You're Dating Comes Out as Non-Binary?
"It gave us more freedom to be and do who and what we wanted."
Clarity and Sam at a the Equality March on DC this summer. Photo via Clarity
In most societies, the gender and sexuality binary are solid as stone, taught to us from a young age and assigned at birth. Pink or blue, man or woman: For too many, one's genitalia determines sex and, consequently, who they're attracted to and what traits they embody. But those constructs are not set in stone; they are fluid and ever-evolving, and have been that way throughout history.
Today, more young people than ever are coming to believe that gender and sexuality binaries are outdated concepts. And as more people come out as non-binary, they're forging new kinds of relationships where gender constructs that once dictated the rules of courtship are made less meaningful. Below are three accounts from people in their 20s who have come out or had partners come out as non-binary during relationships, and the pleasantly surprising results that have followed.
I am a non-binary trans femme who has been undergoing hormone treatment for two years. My partner and I have been together for three years. She calls herself a lesbian for the sake of convenience in a cisheteronormative setting. We're in an open relationship, and she's been with another partner for four years.
My partner wasn't really surprised by anything I've told her about myself. She's known me since before I came out and has said things like, "I kind of felt as if you weren't a cisgender heterosexual man." I was allowing people to call me a "man," use "he" pronouns and so on, but I came out a few months into the relationship. For me, personally, it's helped me work through a lot of fears and insecurities.
It's really wonderful to have somebody who may not understand everything you're going through but loves you no matter how you choose to dress or call yourself. Gender roles are not an issue in our relationship. She never expects me to "be a man," and I never expect her to be a certain kind of woman. Not having those expectations just makes living easier day to day. We can avoid the pressure of prescribed gender roles and have a little bit of paradise in our relationship at home.
In society, there is [pressure] people put on us; they'll read us as a gay man and lesbian or something. Those expectations make people react based on how they think we're presenting. But between the two of us, it's a lot more peaceful.
Before I came out, I mostly dated women who had certain expectations—for me to be able to handle things or to want certain lifestyles or a family. Those values did not vibe with me and were uncomfortable. It may not have been the reason I ended those relationships but it's something that would've ended it at some point.
I've been with my partner, Sam, for more than two years. Little by little they started to unhide or reveal things to me. The first talk of transitioning came about a year ago, and they began hormone treatment about six months after that. I had a lot of warning and prep. There were incidents where I saw how feminine they were. I was waiting for some kind of proclamation of a new identity.
Even if there hadn't been, I was starting to see signs of gender non-conformity in general. When they told me they were officially going to come out, I encouraged them to transition into a more femme identity, but still non-binary. They were initially hesitant, but I was relieved when they did. That said, I was scared for them, too. There's a lot of political turmoil surrounding trans people these days.
Dating someone who is non-binary means having neither a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Nobody feels forced into those heteronormative roles. Nobody feels obligated to pay or hold open doors; it takes off a lot of pressure about who "has to do" what. They treat me with such respect as a person. They don't see me a certain way and I think that's hard to find from anyone.
Sam was always feminine and a lot of people thought they were gay. When I met them, I knew they were not a typical masculine person, which is why I liked them. They were very sensitive, upfront, and intuitive and asked a lot of questions. We both had a lot of conversation about how neither one of us wanted to be treated as a "girl" or a "boy." Both of us felt like we were much more complicated than that; that our feelings were more complicated, and that gender as a social construct is very limiting.
It got easier and made more sense as they started to come out. I am not a particularly feminine woman all the time. I don't want or care to be. I like things that aren't typically feminine; I'm very strong and authoritative, I'm very decisive and very logical, and I'm a good leader. In many heteronormative power dynamics, you, as the woman, are considered to be more submissive—you can't go out of the house wearing certain things or can't express your sexuality in certain ways. There are lots of limitations on how women and men can act in relationships.
It was hard for me to connect with men who didn't want to be emotional or women who either wanted me to be "masculine" or more "feminine." Sam doesn't interrupt or patronize me, something you get all the time as a woman in general. I am a sensitive person and total cry baby, so it's OK to have someone who is really comforting and gets it.
I've been a non-binary femme for about two years. I was dating somebody for three years, and we were dating for a year before I came out. It was a huge part of my coming into myself. My gender expression is feminine, especially appearance-wise, but I don't identify with femininity too much. Being non-binary is really freeing because I don't relate to masculinity either.
My partner was really, really supportive, which was helpful. I got to discover myself through the process of explaining my identity to someone who cared about me and their reactions were nothing but helpful and kind. I didn't come out publicly until about a year ago so when I decided to use they/them pronouns; my partner was really supportive and would remind people about that.
It was cool seeing how our relationship developed after that, after I had found better context for what being in a relationship meant for me, too. It felt like I unlocked a large portion of my identity so I was better able to explore and more of a complete person and partner. I could define how I wanted to be and how I wanted to be treated. It's easier to have respect for one another and not fall into those misogynistic traps.
In the beginning, we were a "heterosexual couple," which is hilarious to me now. It was a cool discovery process together; my former partner is now gender fluid, having come out after our relationship ended a few months ago. When I opened up the conversation about my gender, it gave them space to do that too. We explored stuff together; I would do their makeup and we would go shopping, so we would have a lot of conversations about gender fluidity and how we felt about it.
I always knew my partner was more feminine than me and we kind of found the words for it later. It didn't change too much but it opened up a lot. I've always been the dominant one in the relationship so none of that changed. It made sense afterwards. It gave us more freedom to be and do who and what we wanted.