I Become Monogamous At Airports

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I was dropping my sweetie off at the airport, which is always a hands-on experience: thanks to their chronic health conditions, they need to have a wheelchair just in case they run out of steps. And I’m not leaving them until I’m sure they’re seen safely off to the gate by an assistant.

This last time, we had a chatty attendant trying to get us transportation.

“You two really like each other, huh?” she asked, noting the way Fox and I kept holding hands.

“Absolutely.”

“It’s nice. Seeing people happy at the airport. You going back with her?”

“I’m going back with them, yes,” I said, applying a little stress on the proper pronoun to hint at their preferred gender, but that was – as predicted – overlooked.

“How long you two been dating?”

“Four years.” Followed by a little flare of astonishment from both of us, because we just hit four years and frankly, we’re both still a little stunned that this is going so well.

“That’s nice, that’s nice.” And then she leaned in, conspiratorially: “So when’s the wedding?”

“Oh,” we both said simultaneously. “No wedding. We’re… not that sort of people.” And those who’ve done this dance before can see where it’s going.

“Really!” she said, leaning back, impressed. “Wow, you see a lot of couples who say that, but usually one of them doesn’t look so happy. Yet you both look radiant. What is it? Y’all been married before?”

At which point, I faced an ugly choice:

These were my last moments with Fox, who I wouldn’t see for an unknown period of time because my schedule is in great uproar right now. And we didn’t know how long until the wheelchair attendant cruised up to us, which meant we could be separated at any moment.

I could educate this cheerful woman, and she was already full of questions, and I have no doubt there would have been a brief-yet-incomplete education on alternative lifestyles and all the usual questions and probably dealing with a bit of that vaguely-frowny scrutiny as she dug in to determine whether we were that happy….

Or I could dodge being someone’s teachable moment for the day and squeeze out a dribble of intimacy with my sweetie before I left.

I tucked my ring hand in my pocket.

“I’m divorced,” I said, and she nodded as if that explained it all.

The sad thing is, this isn’t the first alternative history we’ve had at a transportation dropoff. When Fox used to take the train, there was a conductor there who knew us as star-crossed lovers, monogamous and happy based on the way I ran eagerly to Fox to hug them. They asked us little questions about our life, each of which seemed innocuous, right up until we realized the impression they’d built up of our lives was based on thoroughly monogamous assumptions.

Fortunately, my wife is pretty cool with discovering that we’re divorced – or, in one notable occasion where I completely panicked, dead. It’s a joke. She gets it.

Because there’s a lot of talk about “coming out” as poly or gay or trans – as if it’s a thing you do once, and everyone on earth gets a little engraved invitation delivered to their door from alt-sex Hogwarts, and you never have to do it again.

But the truth is, every time you meet a stranger you have the option to come out. And it’s worth it, when you can do it – you can make someone read all the essays you want on the rights of genderqueer folks, but none of that will ever be as impactful as someone they think well of on some level coming out to them.

(And honestly, there could be a whole other essay written on why “Hearing it from someone you know” is more potent, because yes it’s unfair, but it’s a combination of “Humans generally learn from stories, not facts” and “Humans are generally more interested when there’s personal stakes.”)

It’d have been nice if I’d felt like educating that chatty woman at the airport. But the teachable moment also has costs – costs of safety (a lot of trans and gay people can still lose their jobs by coming out to the wrong person), costs of emotional effort, costs of spending time doing 101 level classes when you’re trying to sneak in one last wistful look with a person you love.

And it’s a balance everyone has to strike. Because the cost of me not teaching this woman is that she clearly remains unaware of “non-monogamy” as a potential story for the narratives she constructs, and that participates in a subtle form of erasure because she gets to do the majority of thing of painting over all non-traditional relationship styles with her assumptions.

It’s a cost I was willing to pay that day. I’ve had other days where I had the spell slots open to cast “Educate Mono” and had productive, if befuddled, discussions, and those were good. The value of the teachable moment is great, but there’s also the critical aspect that it has to be willingly given.

And too many people fall on one side or the other – “you HAVE to teach, ALWAYS, when you have the opportunity” vs “the teachable moment is bullshit, never do it, let them Google it.” And I think both of those aspects are short-sighted.

Do the work when you feel up to it. But don’t feel bad if you’ve got other priorities at the moment.

And until something changes drastically, when I drop Fox off, I’ll a different person to suit the situation. I’ll blend in to squeeze one more kiss out of my time with them before they leave for a few weeks. And so will they.

Because we’re always given the option to come out. And it’s not wrong, in any moment, to decide that you’ve got better things to protect.

4 Comments

  1. Geoff
    Jun 12, 2019

    I loved the bit about coming out as a near-constant possibility. A lot of my non-white, working class students face a similar “do I teach them?” Question when they infiltrate places of privilege—and often find that after the first few times, the questions become exhausting/degrading/enraging (depending on the individuals involved).
    Thanks, as always, for the insights.

  2. Anonymous Alex
    Jun 12, 2019

    “alt-sex Hogwarts”

    *snort*

    -Alex

  3. Laura
    Jun 12, 2019

    I am also here, awaiting my owl from alt sex Hogwarts

  4. Paul N
    Jun 18, 2019

    “Well, actually, we’re having an affair!”

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