Dating And Gender: Respecting Your Partner’s Identity

We live in a world where everything is, for the most part, very black and white, yes or no, when it comes to gender. The first words said about us when we are born – and sometimes even before – is ?It’s a boy!? or ?It’s a girl!? We are dressed in the supposedly appropriate clothing, pink for girls, blue for boys. Women and men have different roles in society, and even in this advanced age well past women’s liberation, there are still distinct gender roles that are very prevalent in this society. So, what happens when someone doesn’t fit into those boxes?

Here in the LGBTQ+ community, we run into this issue all the time. Some of us fall into society’s pre-determined gender roles, but others do not. We tend to be more open to respecting the fact that there are people who are gender fluid, genderqueer, and transgender. However, often we may not know the specifics of how to respect that. This becomes even more of a challenge when someone we are dating identifies outside of the currently accepted gender binary.

The first, and most prevalent mistake that many people make regarding this is assuming that a female bodied person appreciates?being referenced with female pronouns, and vice versa for male bodied people. The easiest way, believe it or not, is to simply ask. If the person is in some way gender variant or queer identified, they will understand what you are asking. However, do NOT ask ?Are you a man or a woman?? This is extremely insulting, and something an uneducated homophobe would say. Instead, ask, ?What pronouns do you prefer?? or ?May I ask what your preferred identifiers are?? ?This lets the person know that you care to be respectful. Don’t assume, ever. If there is any doubt, ask.

When it comes to dating someone who identifies outside the binary, the same rules apply. Ask your new partner questions if you are uncertain of how to be respectful. Also, you should take your advocacy in a situation when you wind up dating someone of a fluid or trans* identity a step

further. Make sure that spaces, LGBTQ and otherwise, are affirming of these identities. There is still a lot of prejudice toward trans* and gender fluid people, even in some queer spaces, so make sure that the space you are visiting will be affirming. That way, you and your partner are not blindsided when, say, you enter into a group for queer women only to find that the space is not open to gender fluid and trans* women. Also, if anyone is willfully ignorant or disrespectful, take the time to (politely) educate. This shows support of your partner, and knowledge of the issues. Here are a few things to remember to make this as painless as possible for all involved:

  • Never assume that just because someone presents as male or female that this is his/her/hir preferred identity
  • Take the time to ask and learn about gender neutral pronouns, and about fluidity with gender in general
  • Do not take a non- binary person to a space in which their fluidity is not affirmed and respected
  • Do not assume that a clearly female bodied person in male clothing identifies as male (or vice versa)
  • Admit when you make a mistake, and make a real effort to do better in future
  • Be polite when asking questions about a person’s identity, and respect the answers you receive, even if you do not understand them.

All in all, thanks to the rigid thinking of the society in which we live, those of us who do not fit into these pre-assigned boxes?that have everything to do with what parts we were born with and nothing to do with who we are as people, can have a hard time with acceptance from those who do not understand. Education is the key to tolerance and eventual acceptance, so educate whenever and wherever you can, and be a true advocate. It will do your relationship, your partner, and the community at large a world of good.

Edited by AEK

Tiffany Willis Clark is a fifth-generation Texan and the founder and editor-in-chief of Liberal America and AmReading.com. An unapologetic member of the Christian Left, she had a long and successful career actively working with at-risk youth, people struggling with poverty and unemployment, and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. She’s passionate about their struggles. In 2011, she made the decision to pursue her dreams and become a full-time writer. Connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.