Not only has my partner come out to our friends and family, but she is now completely out -- to everyone. Since she's no longer concerned with anonymity, and since we both have a vested interest in destigmatizing trans* lives as necessitating secrecy, I've decided to begin using my real name rather my former pseudonym of Jason Rozek.
Being out to everyone has been incredibly liberating and has inspired some reactions in me that I hadn't ever considered. The whole time she was in the closet, I was so concerned with wanting to tell the important people in my life that I hadn't really thought about all the other people I encounter. For the first time, I'm able to talk about her as the woman she is, to anyone. The first time I had this opportunity, I didn't really know what to do.
Just a few days after she made her gender identity public knowledge by making it "Facebook official," I got a haircut. It was the first time I had been to this particular salon, so I had never before met the stylist cutting my hair. As often happens when getting a haircut, the stylist initiated standard, innocuous small talk. She asked what I do for a living and whether I had any exciting weekend plans, and then she asked if I had any children.
"No, my partner and I have a dog," I responded. "That's kid enough for us for now." She then asked about my partner, and I got to use female pronouns with a stranger in passing without feeling like I was breaking her trust in any way. And I used those female pronouns with abandon. It felt so freeing! There was an odd feeling that followed, though. I was strangely compelled to disclose her transgender status. It seemed so bizarre that I wanted to do so, given my view of my partner as unquestionably female. I don't see her as "female, but..." at all, so why would I want to tack on some kind of modifier when identifying her as woman to a total stranger who surely wouldn't be interested in any information on either of our gender identities?
I quickly realized that this was all about something I hadn't really considered before: my identity as a queer man, and how that identity is erased when I talk about my opposite-gender relationship. The "but..." that I wanted to add to our discussion had nothing to do with my partner's gender identity; rather, it had only to do with my still wanting to be seen as the queer guy I've publicly been for the past decade.
I've read a lot about bisexual erasure and the frustration that people feel when they're in a relationship with someone of one gender and presumed to only be interested in that person's gender. It can cause a sense of wanting to strike back whenever they're generalized as straight or gay in order to affirm and validate their sexual orientation and personal identity. While this is true for me in some respects, my discomfort really stems from another area. Let's just say it's not been a particularly big surprise for people when they discover I like men. I'm more or less presumed to be gay without ever even having to say so directly. Now, however, I'm in a relationship with a woman. Not only am I fighting the urge to blurt out, "But I'm still totally queer!" but I'm also fighting the urge to say, "Yes, my partner is a woman. Please let this moment of shock sink in before continuing my haircut."
I'm a little bothered by the idea of being presumed to be heterosexual, but I'm much more perturbed about a future in which I'm read not as straight but as a sad closet case. I think about several years from now, when I mention my wife, and of the inevitable speculation and "I thought he was gay!" gossip. Rather than worry too much about it, I've just decided that I should craft amusing stories to placate their need for gossip. I'll tell them I went to an ex-gay reparative-therapy camp and was healed! I do live just a short distance from Michele Bachmann's congressional district....
In seriousness, though, the notion of queer identities extends far beyond how we're viewed by acquaintances. Right now, everyone who knows me knows my partner is trans*, but someday that won't be the case. I realize it's an inevitability that people will speculate about my sexual orientation, but worrying about how people may or may not "read" me is entirely useless in the end. I'm as queer as I allow myself to be. My queerness needn't be reflected in my relationship, because it's simply who I am. It doesn't matter how straight a relationship I'm in; my queer identity isn't something that can be erased. Above that, it's something I can continue cultivating through activism and participation in the queer community.
The fact that I'm with a woman doesn't strip me of my queer "cred." In fact, I feel like it's doing the opposite. I'm actually starting to view my sliding away from the "exclusively homosexual" end of the Kinsey scale and landing in a much greyer area as something making me even queerer. I figure that the harder it is to explain the exact perimeters of my sexual identity, the queerer it is, right? Yeah. Let's go with that.