Lost In Translation: How Coming Out As Non-Binary Changed Everything In My Relationship

Griffin Wynne reflects on their experience coming out as non-binary while in a relationship.

Illustration by Sam Tuvesson
Story by Griffin Wynne

I started dating my high school boyfriend after we planned a music festival in our town together. It was an outdoor show called “Ham Jam” and I designed a flyer reminiscent of the Woodstock logo, with a little white pig where the dove should have been. My original drawing still hangs in my childhood bedroom and I look at it when I go to visit my parents; trying to reclaim it as a symbol of my love of music and involvement with harm reduction DIY spaces, rather than the years I spent following boys with guitars around and strategically working backstage at events to put myself in close proximity to “cool people” (a.k.a men with one earring who love the Melvins and talked over me).

Our first kiss tasted like Svedka and grape soda. He made me a necklace from his guitar pics for my birthday that I wore every day. I grew incredibly close to his family. Over time, our young love became a space of safety and support that seemed impenetrable. I never realized how special that was until college, when I heard horror stories of body negative high school boyfriends who made the women in my dorm question their pubic hair, or their cellulite, or who felt like all men thought reciprocating oral sex was gross. I guess that I always interpreted his support as a constant in my life. That he would always be open minded, feminist, and comforting in his actions. That his love for me meant more than bodies or our sex.

We went to colleges on opposite coasts and with time differences and life changes it was natural that we drifted apart. The geographic distance made room for emotional separation, and that made coming out to him even harder. Fully articulating that I was non-binary didn’t happen in day or a moment. Even now, years later, it still feels like a fluid and continuous process that’s always growing and meaning something different. Sometimes not having a gender feels like being completely untethered from everything–the ultimate freedom. And some days being non-binary feels like endlessly swimming in the ocean between islands and never touching land. I’ve learned how to float over the years, but in the beginning it just felt like I was drowning.

I changed my name, cut my hair short and began to dress differently. All of these were little steps that got me closer to feeling more comfortable in my body. Through my first semester of college I tried on a variety of names and words for what I was feeling, what I “identified” as. I grew tired of defending myself, tired of describing everything. Tired of feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere or that my existence was taxing to anyone I encountered, especially my boyfriend. I told him in different ways. Through texts and calls and blurry video chats on lagging WiFi I tried to explain what I was feeling and what I was doing. I came out to him over time, counting the days until the holidays where I could see him in person. Thinking he was with me, supportive, loving.

The breakup started small. He started commenting on my haircuts and tattoos. He would dismiss the things I was interested in. He met each accomplishment I shared with stories of women at his college that drank beer from hand-carved growlers or played bass in funk bands — implying not only that there some sort of competition for his attention, his approval, between me and these women I didn’t know, but that there was a competition that I was losing.

It’s clear now that he wasn’t comfortable with me growing and evolving without him. He wasn’t comfortable needing to learn or evolve the words he used for me or the way he made love to me. I had made our relationship so easy for him: making his flyers, wearing his picks, loving his band, meeting his family. My queerness was one of many facets of my being that I was carving without him. Without his approval or attention. It wasn’t for him or about him.

Winter break was when it all crashed down. We celebrated Christmas and solstice together, exchanged gifts and spent time with family. And the one night while watching a Grateful Dead documentary we got in a fight about pronouns and queerness. He called me a poser. A fake. Noted that I had come out only for attention, for clout. He said I was pretentious, judgmental, pseudo-intellectual. Truthfully, our relationship ended there that night, but it didn’t really hit until the next week, where after getting a cavity filled, I went to his parents house thinking we’d had sex in the afternoon before his parents got home from work and he told me I wasn’t “attractive” anymore.

It was all of my worst insecurities and body fears coming to life, from someone who I thought I could trust and love more than anyone. I ran out of his house without shoes on and cried in a snow bank until my best friend’s mom picked me up in her minivan. The pain of rejection of letting someone into my life and having them hurt me so badly — it felt inescapable and boundless. Coming out had made me “less attractive” and that seemed like a betrayal I would never get over.

Coming out when you’re in a relationship is akin to going on a romantic road trip you spent forever planning with your partner, and getting three states from home before you realize that you and your partner had two different itineraries the whole time. It doesn’t necessarily end dismally, but it certainly causes some sort of fork in the road, where you realize you want different things, or you both need to adjust where you’re coming from, or that there’s no way you’re going to make it work. There’s no one route, or singular way to do it. And the truth is, there’s no one way to ensure that someone who loves you will be able to understand what you need and give the support and validation you deserve.

Looking back now, outside of my gender or my sexuality it’s clear my high school boyfriend never could have handled me being my own person. I designed the flyer for that show, I didn’t take center stage. I came to the ukulele club to watch him, I never learned the instrument on my own. My queerness made me more vibrant, more exciting, more individual. It was mine. And it had no service to him.

To him, this newfound political engagement was annoying, taxing. It was limiting what he was allowed to do or say and drawing healthy boundaries around the way I demanded to be treated that I never established as a 16 year old drinking cheap vodka from a plastic water bottle and hoping to be noticed by a boy in a band. If it wasn’t the queerness, my intersectional feminism would have ended it. My intelligence. My bullshit-meter. My lack of wide eye admiration I’d give him when he played me the corny and grammatically incorrect songs he wrote for me. Coming out wasn’t comfortable for him, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t benefit him at all. And though it hurt to let him go, the way I life my life isn’t about being comfortable or beneficial for anyone but myself.