Author’s Note: BTQIA+ individuals are those that fall under bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, agender/aromantic/asexual, and all other marginalized gender and sexual orientation identities other than lesbian women and gay men.
1. Remember that your partner doesn’t represent the whole of their community.
Often when allies come into discussions about their partner’s sexuality/gender, they use their partner as the sole example and source for various topics and issues. While this is okay because personal experience does have a lot of influence, it can be detrimental to the others in the community. If your partner defines their label with a personal definition, that in no way means the community as a whole defines the same label that way. Approaching various issues this way can be harmful to some important discussions.
For example, your partner may be okay with you using certain language (slurs, phobic and abrasive remarks, etc.) but the rest of the community won’t always be comfortable with that. As a partner of a BTQIA+ individual, understand that you still need to listen to other members of their communities on how to approach topics, issues, and language use.
2. Ask questions, but do your own research, too.
When you have questions about the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s okay to ask your partner. Then can often tailor answers in a way that will make it easier for you to understand. But realize that your partner may not always have the energy to answer these questions or address certain issues. This is when it becomes your job to research independently. Not only will this bring you one step closer to being able to more effectively communicate with your partner, but it will show your partner that you have a willingness to learn more about them.
3. Correct and educate your friends and family members.
This step is one of the hardest, especially in families that are not exceptionally friendly to LGBTQIA+ individuals. It may result in a few uncomfortable conversations, and you could lose some friends, but it’ll be worth it for you and your relationship. Whenever a friend or family member makes an ignorant/prejudiced statement, or uses a slur, or uses the incorrect pronouns (only correct this with your partner’s permission), simply correct them. Your family and friends may not mean ill by it, they may just not understand what they are saying, so take the opportunity to educate them on why what they’ve said is wrong.
This also applies to any friends and family that are LGTBQ+ themselves. A surprising amount of prejudice towards BTQIA+ identities come from within the community. Just because your aunt is a lesbian, doesn’t mean she should be excluded from being called and corrected on her biphobic remarks. You may feel awkward and fearful about correcting family and friends, but keep in mind how awkward and fearful your partner might feel around them because of the ignorant/prejudiced things they say.
4. Go to Pride events with them if they ask you to, but respect them if they would rather go alone.
Many of the BTQIA+ community will date people who are considered allies (straight, cisgender people). If you are considered an ally, you need to understand that pride events could prove to be stressful for your partner. It’s often hard for BTQIA+ people to find acceptance at pride events when bringing their ally partner, and because of that, they may choose not to bring you — which is a sad reality many of us are still fighting today.
Another reason your BTQIA+ partner may opt out of bringing you to pride is the idea of having a safe space for them to validate themselves, experience their community, or simply have fun with those that share their experiences. Some may feel more comfortable doing this without their ally-partner coming along with them. You may feel excluded, but respect that pride holds a lot of meanings and a lot of special places in the hearts of LGBTQIA+ people. If your partner wants to experience it alone, or with their fellow LGBTQIA+ support groups, try to accept that this isn’t a dig at you or your relationship. It can be an attempt to hold on to their BTQIA+ identity, to laugh and love with their fellow LGBTQIA+ community, or, unfortunately, an attempt to “prove” that just because they’re dating an ally/cisgender and heterosexual person they still belong in the community.
If your partner DOES make it clear that they want you to go to Pride/Pride events with them do your part and look into the history of pride. Keep the focus of the event on them. Show them how supportive you are of their identity, and how much you value their identity.
5. Show them support and solidarity, even if they aren’t out.
Your partner may only be out to you, and that’s okay. You need to do what you can to show them that you stand with them, no matter what. If they decide to come out to more people and expand their support system, help them troubleshoot various methods of coming out. If they are out to other people, continue to stand by them and support their pride in who they are. Use their pronouns, listen to their complaints and frustrations, help them combat dysphoria/dyspmorphia, and take part in online discourse when you can — without over-stepping the voices of those within the community.
Keep in mind that some issues may cause extreme stress (shootings targeting LGBTQIA+ people, laws that take away rights from the community, etc) and your partner will need extra support and nurture to get them through. A good rule of thumb; support your partner like you would support any partner, in everything they do.
6. Learn the specific problems of their community.
This is a big one. Every different part of the LGBTQIA+ community has smaller sections: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and many more. All of these sections have their own issues that they must face every day. Many sections have overlapping issues but still require a different approach.
Here are some well-known issues:
Lesbian and Homosexual individuals experience homophobia and lesbophobia.
Bisexual/Biromantic individuals experience homophobia AND biphobia/erasure.
Transgender individuals experience transphobia.
Questioning individuals experience invalidation from outside and within the community.
Asexual individuals experience erasure and acephobia.
Pansexual individuals experience homophobia, erasure, panphobia, and can experience a lot of biphobia as well.
Note: There are many, MANY identities that experience erasure, phobia, and invalidation. Take time to find out exactly what your partner deals with.
These issues can overlap, creating unique situations for each individual:
A transgender lesbian will experience homophobia, transphobia, and sexism.
A bisexual, fem presenting, nonbinary will experience nonbinary erasure, biphobia, homophobia, and sexism.
Queer People of Color will experience racism as well as any phobias/sexism surrounding their sexual orientation and gender.
And there are even more combinations than that, all resulting in unique crossroads that can promote diverse dialogues, but also create mentally and physically unsafe environments for the individual in question. The more you learn about what your partner and other BTQIA+ people go through, the more you’ll be ready to correct your friends and family and help them understand as well.
7. Promote and take part in open dialogue.
In a BTQIA+ relationship, dialogue is especially important. Open dialogues are particularly essential when dating people with fluctuating sex drives, mental illnesses/traumatic disorders, fluctuating genders, asexuals, or agender individuals. This dialogue will help you understand your BTQIA+ partner’s boundaries, pronouns, symptoms/“triggers”, and allow your partner to communicate with you during any identity changes/moments of self-doubt.
While it may take two, you can help build the trust your partner will have to have in you and begin nurturing the perfect environment for your partner to start opening up. Once you and your partner achieve this, in any way, navigating the relationship will become much easier. Let your partner know that they have the ability to communicate with you on topics like sexual intimacy, mental health, and a continued exploration of their sexual and gender identity. It all may be confusing at first, but if you have a solid grasp of Commandment 2 then your knowledge will grow alongside your partner’s. It will also make self-exploration for your partner easier and your relationship will be less stressful.
8. Understand that they may still be finding themselves, and that’s okay.
Don’t look at this as a verification of the stereotype that all BTQIA+ people are confused. It’s normal for everyone to go through periods of self-discovery throughout their lives. For some people, that might mean a change of opinion on politics, social issues, and lifestyle choices. For LGTBQIA+ individuals self-discovery includes an exploration of identity. If your partner uses certain labels when you are first dating them, and begins to question those labels during your relationship, jump back to Commandment 5 because they’ll need all the support and solidarity you can give. If you have open dialogue, your partner should feel comfortable expressing their exploration with you.
Do your best to show them that you are with them during all of their exploration. You can do this by learning more about the identities they are exploring, and by voicing all concerns and hesitations you might have. It’s better to do this when they first come up, rather than waiting until the last minute and dropping a surprise on them later in the relationship. We know that our explorations may cause stress on our relationships, and we need to know that you will be there for us throughout this. If you can’t be there for your partner, or don’t agree with the direction they are going in, make it clear. Don’t hold anything over their heads, and understand that changes to their identities might lead to changes in your partnership.