What to do when your partner comes out as queer: allyship, guilt and love.

CW: This article discusses sensitive LGBTQIA+ issues and mental health concerns.


This is quite a difficult article for me to write. It is hard to admit that you are not a perfect person. Even coming up with an appropriate title feels obscenely problematic. I would like to start this short essay by iterating that this is only a personal account, and in no way intends to detract from the experiences of members of the LGBTQIA+ community - their stories are above all the most important to hear. When set this writing task, I suppose I could have spoken about my own experiences as a bisexual woman, and perhaps that would have been less controversial. But I am writing this because there may be other partners out there like myself who want to know that they are not alone. When you type the title of this article into Google, the most frequent search result will be something along the lines of 'what to do when your partner comes out as gay', meaning the article is tailored towards readers whose relationships have broken down, or are at risk of breaking down. This is not quite what I am talking about here today. I am discussing my own personal response to my partner coming out as queer, when they began questioning both their sexuality and their gender identity. In this scenario, we remain strongly united as a couple.


Allyship


I would love to be able to say that I have been the perfect partner in this whole transition. As a lifelong ally of the LGBTQIA+ community, in my head I have always thought I would be the greatest ally in a relationship as well. I'm bisexual - why wouldn't I be cool with a queer partner? But things are always more complex when emotions are involved. To see your partner decide to transition from one gender to another is not an easy thing. The mental strain of trying to accept your partner as someone different to the person you've known them as for so many years was surprisingly harder than I would have thought. It is even more difficult if they tell you they are uncertain about their sexual preferences as well. 'Am I even what they find attractive any more?' you ask yourself. As an ally, I felt the need to put their feelings far above my own. In fact, I pushed my own down and became ashamed of them. I saw (and still see) this person as the love of my life, so it felt like the right - and only - thing to do. I also didn't want to be a bad ally by giving my own negative emotions away. For a while, I will admit I became a therapist for my partner at the detriment of my own mental health. I think I was embarrassed to admit to my partner that I was scared and confused, and ended up saying nothing at all. My own breakdown in communication is my biggest regret. The longer I went on without saying anything, the harder it was to start. I couldn't just reveal my uncertainty 6 months down the line. How would that affect my partner?


Guilt


On the outside, I feel I did a good job. I took them out shopping for new clothes, took them to drag shows and gay bars, and boosted their confidence at every given moment. On the inside, I felt like a fraud. My brain even tried to tell me that I must be a bigot, or a homophobe, or any number of horrible things. Why can't I just accept my partner? Why am I so confused by their transition? The voice in my head was telling me that I was not a good enough partner, that I couldn't support them, and that the world would hate me if they knew the upset I was feeling internally. Friends and family would comment on how good a support I was being for my partner. The shame of admitting my own mental turmoil kept me silent. Me and my partner began to fight more and our loving and intimate moments became fewer and farther between. At more than one point, we both accepted that a breakup was inevitable. On one of these days, I decided to be truthful.


Love


'I love you, but I am really struggling with everything'. All of the emotions I had been feeling started coming out at once while sat in my partner's car. 'I love you, and I love supporting you, but I feel as though I have been putting myself on the back burner - I don't even know what I want or feel any more'. I was almost crying. It was our first bit of proper communication on the subject, in over 6 months of this transition period. When I look back on that, it seems so silly to me that I left it so long. Especially with the retrospective knowledge that it was this moment that changed everything for me. Instead of being disgusted or even upset, my partner just... understood. They listened. They nodded. They even sounded relieved. I have never felt so reassured in not being perfect. From this point forward, we began communicating healthily. All of the intrusive, negative thoughts I'd been feeling began to fade. I could be a supportive partner, while also working through my own negative emotions - the two were not mutually exclusive. I was not either a perfect ally or a horrific bigot. I was just an imperfect but loving human. It suddenly felt like something we were going through together, and supporting each other on, together. And here we are still now, a strong and loving couple.


Conclusion


Anyone, or any couple, experiencing a similar situation will realise that no two experiences are truly alike. There is no real one good or bad way to help each other through a change like this. Love, respect, communication and kindness are truly most important - to both each other, and yourself.