Dragging a Partner Out of the Closet

I am a 35-year-old queer lady working in IT. I  have been out at work as a lesbian for 10 years, and always felt comfortable doing so.

But now I’m hitting a new challenge in my life. I was recently unemployed for a year, and during that year my female partner went under treatment for gender identity issues, and changed genders to male.

The relationship has worked out for us, so I am now a queer lady partnered with a queer-identified man. The word “queer” seems to be the best identifier for me: I have a nuanced enough identity that I don’t identify as “bisexual.” I’m not in a “lesbian” relationship. And I’m into my partner, but not most guys.

In the last few months, I have found myself starting at a great new job, but find myself plagued by the feeling of being in the closet.

Having a girlfriend was always shorthand for saying that I’m gay at work, but now I have a boyfriend who doesn’t want the whole world to know — upon first meeting — that he used to be a woman.  If I told my coworkers the whole story — which might be too much right now anyways — I would be ‘outing’ him before he has even met most of them socially and has a chance to decide what he wants them to know.

How does someone like me avoid this feeling of being in the closet?

Socially I’m in a whole new world here.

5 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    If the person you are with turned into a man, then why do you tell people he is not a man? It seems completely disrespectful of you to want to tell people he has not always been a man.

    Research shows that gay people who are out of the close at work do better at work.

    Here’s that research:

    That said, the reason for this correlation is that people who are authentic at work are more valuable to the co-workers. The trouble is, that you are with a guy, and you are uncomfortable, so you are wanting to talk about his gender change instead of dealing with your own discomfort. For you, being “out” is not about being authentic — it is about being in denial.

    People care about your sexuality only in so much as that they want to hear about who you are dating, or they want to know about your significant other. But it seems absoltutely over the top that you feel you need to tell people you are with a man but you are not straight. No one cares. Really. And no one needs to know. People can be supportive and intrested in your personal life without having to hear all that.

    You have a lot of issues you need to sort out personally — like, why are you so concerned if you are with a guy or a girl? Just be with whoever you are with and enjoy it.


  2. KindaRelate
    KindaRelate says:

    Penelope — She is really in a new world here. She’s navigating labels and implications. She’s sorting through her own new identity on this one. I agree with you, Penelope, that she should learn to become comfortable with the fact that she is now in a relationship with a man. But your tone is a little harsh. To the email writer, the gender change isn’t anyone’s business. I think you have to become settled with the fact that you are in a relationship with this “person.” The backstory is no one’s business. You can discuss it gradually (if it comes up, if it makes sense in an authentic way.) I am a multiracial woman and as I have aged have certainly had to deal with labels and their implications. I think you are in a rough patch of change and you will settle into an authentic place shortly.

    • KindaRelate
      KindaRelate says:

      Also — I think you’re lucky you’re in a new job. You would likely have to explain the story repeatedly if you were in an old job. Just think about it this way — you are “reframing” this in a new office where you don’t have to answer the complicated question of “What happened to your girlfriend? Did you two break up? And what happened to your committed life as a lesbian? Are you suddenly heterosexual and how does that happen?” Be gentle with yourself as you find the sentence that satisfies you. When I was a kid, people didn’t use words like “biracial” or “multiracial.” They used words like “mulatto” and “oreo.” The world changes and you become better armed to decipher your place in it.

  3. Queerly
    Queerly says:

    Being queer’ is a factor that encompasses more than just who one is partnered with at the moment, but is often a lifelong identity that people carry with them even if they, by circumstance, end up in a heterosexual relationship.

    I think racialized notions of ‘passing’ are an apt analogy. I can ‘pass’ as white, although I’m latino. I don’t hide being latino in the office regardless of how I look. I wouldn’t ‘hide’ being a latino just because ‘nobody cares.’

    However the question of how to express ‘queerness’ as part of one’s professional life, when decoupled from one’s relationship status, is complicated. It carries the risk of being viewed as overly revealing or even just plain weird.

  4. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    The replies by Queerly and KindaRelate make so much more sense than Penelope’s reply. Penelope, I love ya, but issues of identity are so much more important than the flip, dismissive tone of your reply implies. It’s not about whether others care.

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