How do I come out as nonbinary to my straight partner?
Updated: Mar 13
Q: i am afab, and have a boyfriend that i've been dating for 2 years now. my problem is, i am nonbinary, and want to come out to him, but i don't know how and am afraid he will break up with me due to being straight. i don't plan on medically transitioning or changing my name and am fine with any pronouns, so there wouldn't be a significant change he'd have to get used to. but i am also afraid the lack of change would mean he'd act as if i wasn't nonbinary in the first place. i've known i was nonbinary since before we began to date, but only stopped being in denial recently. i am out to my friends, but it was easier because they are lgbt too. any advice?
K: As we've stated previously, sexual orientation labels are personal identity labels, rather than descriptions of the current relationship dynamic someone is in. So, really, I think the issue with coming out is less that he's straight and more so about his attitudes towards trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse people and how he might treat you. If you haven't already, I would start with gauging your boyfriend's understanding of trans and gender diverse issues. Do y'all know other nonbinary people, and does he seem to understand and respect their identities? Have y'all watched any media with nonbinary characters or actors, and if so, how has he talked about them? Since you're not sure how he will perceive you after you come out, it sounds like you don't have a lot of hard data about his views on nonbinary people. Unless your boyfriend is transphobic in a way that hasn't yet been revealed to you, it sounds like the issue for y'all would more so be about if your boyfriend could re-frame who he thinks you are rather than if he would still be attracted to you. That's not something you can always control or necessarily predict ahead of time, so all you really can do is decide what your boundaries are in terms of support and patience you may or may not be willing to offer him as he's learning, and what you are not willing to do or put up with. After you gauge his attitudes more generally, I'd start with thinking about what you expect from a straight man to feel comfortable continuing to date him. Would you need him to take initiative to educate himself, or would you be cool with teaching him (to start with, or in an ongoing manner) what he needs to know? What would make you feel seen and supported in the relationship? What would make you feel uncomfortable? It's not reasonable to expect him to cease identifying as straight (although, you could personally have a boundary of not being comfortable dating straight men), but it is reasonable to expect him to see you accurately.
If I did have advice on how to come out to him, it would be around prioritizing your identity over his. Basically, rather than starting with reassuring him that you're not going to medically transition or change your name or pronouns and that, in some ways, nothing is changing, you should just tell him that you're nonbinary and see how he responds to that. After you hear his initial reaction, then go into the details of how you would like to be referred to moving forward, etc. I think that will give you a better idea of how he might view and treat you as a nonbinary person than if you go into it front-loading reassurance.
S: Agreed, especially with the last paragraph. We wrote about a similar situation recently, but in that one the partner was also trans. The first difference here is that if you're thinking about coming out to a cis person (which we're assuming your partner is from context) and you don't know their knowledge level and thoughts about trans and gender diverse people, your first priority should be keeping yourself safe. So if you really don't have that information, start by finding out (we wrote about how to do this here). Since you have queer friends, you may already know where your partner stands; in that case, you can move on to your actual question.
The note of preemptive apology in your question ("i don't plan on medically transitioning or changing my name and am fine with any pronouns, so there wouldn't be a significant change he'd have to get used to") is really sad to me. Plenty of trans and gender diverse people don't feel the need to make any of these changes, but you're framing that as a benefit to your boyfriend because it makes his experience of your identity easier. And what matters here is what makes you happy. This doesn't really practically change the situation, but I encourage you to keep an eye out for ways that you're squeezing your own identity into a form that is more comfortable for other people, rather than expressing it how you'd actually like to.
That shift might actually help. Because you are asking your boyfriend to make a significant change: you want him to know and respect your gender, and that's a big deal! But not in a bad way (or if it is, then you've learned something important about who he is). It's a wonderful and exciting thing that you're ready to come out to people! If you can find a way to share with your boyfriend how important this is to you without apologizing for it, that may help him realize that this is indeed a change and he needs to respond accordingly. But don't be afraid to present this as the positive shift that it is. Coming out to someone should, ideally, be about you, not about them. If he reacts in a way that centers himself...well, that doesn't say great things about him as a person.
Practically speaking, I suggest naming the specific things you're asking him to change. It's perfectly reasonable to tell him explicitly that you need him to shift how he thinks of you, since you're not a woman and that will be a change. If there are particular things you'd like him to change, like calling you partner instead of girlfriend, ask for that directly; it may help make the point.
I'm realizing now that I haven't said anything about his straightness, because I honestly don't think it matters. I'd stop worrying about his straightness completely; it's not really a reason not to come out. To quote our post from last week: "Enforcing strict rules about what people of a certain identity can and can't do is actually pretty harmful, and it erases a lot of the glorious fluidity and openness embedded in queer history. Plenty of trans and gender diverse people come out to their partners and the relationship survives just fine (or becomes even stronger since you're happier and there's increased trust between you), because usually we're dating a person, not their gender."