Readers: This is my last column of 2018, and I must say that it’s been quite a year. I end 2018 with deep gratitude for my family and community, and I am planning one hell of a look for New Year’s Eve. I wish there were a way to kiss this entire town at the stroke of midnight.
On to this week’s question…
I'm writing because I recently started dating someone who is 11 years older than I am, and sometimes we have differences that are troublesome for me to navigate. For context, he is a straight white man, and I am a white queer woman.
I don't mind helping him to figure out questions he has around identity politics, but sometimes he'll say some stuff that toes the line between accidentally ignorant and willfully so. Usually, this type of behavior is offset by the fact that he's the most emotionally mature, giving and considerate partner I may have ever had.
I'm worried that at some point I'll maybe take that for granted, or the political differences will become too annoying for me to have patience for. I've dated lots of men and women in the past who were politically astute but emotionally immature. He's the opposite.
I don't think pedantic approaches like assigning him reading will be productive, but I need to be able to set healthy boundaries with him, too.
Can this work?
To me, the debate over politics and identity is really about how we support each other’s innate right to exist. Do you believe that he respects your identity as a queer woman? The kinds of willful microaggressions you describe can be a larger indicator of someone’s true feelings than any vast statement they make about people of color or the LGBTQIA+, for example. Your boyfriend should not be needling you about who you are, and the fact that he does is a red flag.
He’s emotionally mature and very awesome to you, and you deserve nothing less than that. You also don’t deserve a partner who will gaslight you and choose to say things that hurt your feelings or, even worse, diminish or invalidate your community. I worry that, while he’s having a bit of fun and snickering at giving his radical girlfriend a hard time, you’re tits-deep in your inadequacies and very aware of the fact that you cannot turn to him for support on these issues. Would you invite him to join you in publicly advocating for your rights? Would he refuse?
I used to be a real harpy about telling everyone to dump crappy partners, but you seem hopeful that healthy boundaries could be a solution. Still, I don’t see much of a future for a couple that disagrees on something as deeply personal as identity politics. There are all kinds of situations where your queerness could become an issue, and you don’t deserve to have a fundamental part of your sense of self picked at for his amusement. For example, I do not mess with white people who think America is post-racial, because I know that we won’t see eye to eye on myriad issues related to racism, so why bother put myself through all the “debating” and gaslighting?
The fact that you describe some of his actions as willful brings me the greatest concern. He’s ignorant, to a degree, but at the end of the day, he might just be having fun. It’s up to you how much of that you can tolerate, but you shouldn’t let it cross the line from devil’s advocacy into bullying or negating who you are.