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Written by Nicolas Aramayo.

Art by Archie Bongiovanni.

While chatting over dinner and drinks at our favorite bar, my partner and I are briefly interrupted as the server sets our glasses down in front of us. We fall silent as we see they’ve mixed up our order. My deliciously sweet and refreshing vodka iced tea is set in front of my cis woman partner, and her Old Fashioned stares me down, the scent of the mostly-whiskey concoction making my eyes water.

It’s an honest mistake—one that servers always make whenever we go out—but the message is clear: men like dark liquor that doesn’t disguise itself with grenadine or little umbrellas, and women drink sugary cocktails with cherries lounging at the bottom. In this bar, we have been presented with our pre-destined roles, the ones coded by my flat chest and beard scruff; by my partner’s long curls and red lipstick.

We share a secret smile and swap drinks.

Moments like this remind me that I can’t get away from gender. I think about it every time this game of musical drinks occurs—at a bar, at a restaurant, hell even at the movies in the dark (in-movie cocktails, y’all!). If it wasn’t so mundane, such a small thing, I would protest. But instead I have to laugh. I have to laugh that exasperated sigh of a laugh when the world demands that I think about gender.

When this particular mixup happened, I opened up Instagram, took a picture of our drinks, and posted a poll on my story:

“What am I drinking?

  1. Vodka iced tea
  2. Old fashioned

I wondered briefly if other people—not strangers like this server but people who knew both me and my partner—would also make the same mistake. As the votes poured in, I had my answer. To my absolute non-surprise, most people who answered assumed I was drinking the Old Fashioned. I showed my partner and we both laughed at it. We laughed with each other. And then we laughed at gender. 

If it wasn’t so mundane, such a small thing, I would protest. But instead I have to laugh.

It’s been over five years since I started transitioning, but only two years since I’ve been comfortably non-binary. It took me so long to realize how much of myself I was witholding because, even though I was identifying as non-binary, I didn’t want to be identified at all.

In the past, I always felt the need to appear more “bro” than bottom in order not to make the women I’ve dated uncomfortable. My partners (consciously or not) made me feel that I needed to be or assumed I only ever wanted to be masculine just because I had a deep voice and facial hair. And a part of me—a very soft and sensitive part of me—began to die in those early years. I found myself trying to emulate a very cis masculinity because that seemed to be what everyone wanted, and I just wanted love.

I became someone that was easy to understand for their sake and their love, but over time I became distraught that this was all there was for someone like me: relationships that involved an idea of who I should be but never made space for who I actually was. Without realizing it, I had confined myself to a gendered box. I thought that finding myself again would be an impossible task. And then I fell in love with my current partner.

At first glance, it sounds unhealthy: I found myself while falling for someone else. But I’ve always been confident and secure in my identity on my own; I needed to know if I could feel secure with someone else. With my current partner, it finally felt like I didn’t need to hide the more feminine parts of myself to make her comfortable.

Being together has given us a shot at an unscripted relationship. There is no blueprint for how a bisexual cis woman should be dating a non-binary person—so we had to make our own. No longer confined to cis-heteronormative rules that we choked down for so long, we learned how to create a love that felt safe for both of us and the ungendered universe of personality that exists within us. Where the responsibility for our emotional, physical, mental, sexual, and spiritual health belongs to both of us. Where there wasn’t a “breadwinner” or “protector” or “pants-wearer” and there never would be. We can both protect, provide, guide, and please one another in ways that cannot be reduced to gendered roles.

And once you taste the sweetness of being beyond the binary, and the freedom to express that with someone who loves you, there’s no going back. There’s no reason to.

We can’t rely on others to tell us who we are, but we do need people we can feel comfortable exploring with; people who can affirm that we are not strange or abnormal for wanting to exist; people who don’t keep us from feeling or doing just because gender says so. And once you taste the sweetness of being beyond the binary, and the freedom to express that with someone who loves you, there’s no going back. There’s no reason to.

It shouldn’t make others uncomfortable that I like to lounge around in a bathrobe at home, giving myself a manicure while my partner drinks whiskey neat and swears like a sailor while playing video games. It shouldn’t be an issue when we both leave the house wearing equally short shorts and having equally fine booties. It shouldn’t bother anyone when we walk down the street with her arm around my waist or my arm wrapped around hers like an old Victorian couple.

Societally, there is so much shame around defying expectations in relationships. When it comes to sex, we can use words and tools and forms of play to defy norms, but how do we defy norms in daily life? Being non-binary and being affirmed in that identity is definitely one way to do it because it is not a means to a gendered end but an end to gender itself. No rules, no roles, no binary—just you and how you craft that identity for yourself and with others.

I’ll raise a vodka iced tea to that.

About the Author

Nicolas Aramayo (they/them) is trans, non-binary, and Bolivian. They live in Brooklyn with their partner and 3 plants (Lenita, Palito, and Samuel). Apart from working a desk job to maintain some semblance of financial stability, Nico loves cleaning, cooking good food, making fresh bread, and getting tattoos. Their dream is to work remotely as a writer, listener, and advice-giver. Feel free to reach out to them if you want to talk about mental health, coming out to very religious or conservative family (and surviving), relationships, trans-related healthcare and gaming the system, and pretty much anything else. (They might ask you to compensate them for their time if you do want to get into nitty gritty stuff).

Follow on IG: @smolnswole