I Don’t Mean to Baffle You, But I Do: Queerplatonic Partnerships

Two people laughing together on a bench.

I’m adding this edit, all these years later, to note this, since I see a lot of confusion around the subject and credit is important — as is the ability to follow lexicographical history and find the first instance of a word: The word to describe this concept was coined by kaz and myself in 2011, though many others have built upon and explored it since, building a rich vocabulary around it. When discussing these kinds of relationships, especially when defining them in a dictionary/wiki setting, please do consider giving a nod to us. Thanks.

I have several queerplatonic partners in my life, people with whom I’m deeply emotionally connected and in constant contact with, even if we don’t necessarily live within convenient reach of each other. We share an intense connection that is complicated and rich and fascinating; we are, as a friend puts it, ‘in each others’ pockets’ and what’s going on in their lives is intimately familiar to me. Almost all of them are also in romantic sexual relationships in addition to their queerplatonic relationships with me, as well as other types of relationships with people in their lives.

As I’ve ranted about ad nauseum before, there’s a tendency to value romantic and sexual relationships over other types of relationships, where friendship and queerplatonic connections are considered the training wheels for the real relationship, and where it’s assumed that nonsexual partners always take a back seat to other kinds of relationships. And don’t enjoy a connection with the same emotional depth as a sexual relationship. We are, after all, just the second fiddles, the entertainment while the primary partner is away.

The devaluation of these kinds of connections means that many people are also deeply confused by them, especially when they encounter queerplatonic partners in person. And I do say partner, and sometimes refer to the unit formed by a partner and myself as a couple, because we are. We function like a couple, we do things together, we are intimate with each other, though not necessarily in the way people expect. We are a couple.

Frustratingly, I note that most people read these relationships as intimate romantic and sexual ones; my local queerplatonic partner is often assumed to be my girlfriend, and it’s something we struggle with socially. People invite us to events as a couple, and make accommodations based on the assumptions that we are sexually involved. Neither of us has a particular inclination to correct them because we are a couple, but not the kind of couple they’re thinking of, and trying to explain the exact nature of our relationship just makes it more confusing, as we’ve learned. More to the point, neither of us really has any desire to share personal details of our lives with people simply to debunk assumptions, so we articulate more specifically as needed when the situation arises.

We baffle and confuse people. They don’t understand how two people who appear on the surface to be a romantic couple are not, and all the attempts in the world to disentangle their assumptions usually end up just more snarled and snagged, because of the deeply rooted social attitudes about relationships and friendships and everything between. The very concept of a queerplatonic relationship is beyond the ken for most people; even if it’s thumbnail defined as an intense friendship, though this is not really accurate, people still don’t get it. They can’t fathom the idea that people can enjoy intimate relationships that are not intimate in the sexual sense.

They also really struggle with the idea that when my partner has romantic involvements with other people, she’s not ‘cheating’ on me, and I’m not jealous or upset. They’re mired back in that place where we’re a romantic and sexual couple; some people want to show us how progressive they are by nodding and talking about how we must be poly, but that’s not the case. And again, it’s the kind of thing neither one of us is particularly inclined to correct, because it’s not really anyone’s business, strictly speaking; both of us are clearly happy doing our respective things, both of us are clearly aware of what the other is doing, and beyond that, it doesn’t really matter.

We are fortunate, however, to live in the kind of community where the root assumptions made about us aren’t negative; people look at us and see poly queers a lot of the time, which isn’t a bad or dangerous thing to be here, for the most part, especially in the progressive communities we frequent. Our false reputation doesn’t endanger us, although it probably hinders my partner’s ability to get dates because some people assume she’s not available or not interested in them, based on their beliefs about her preferences and relationship status.

In other regions, such queerplatonic relationships can be much more dangerous, and it’s not safe to let these assumptions lie. They must be corrected, and correcting them can lead people into a wandering path of trying to articulate something that is often beyond the experience and knowledge of most people in the conversation. It can also be really difficult to correct people on issues like this without making it sound like a poly queer is a bad thing to be, which it’s not.

I forget which celebrity it is (and someone will undoubtedly email to remind me and provide an exact quote, so I’ll thank you in advance, reader), but it’s someone who’s often asked about his sexual orientation and declines to provide an answer, saying that it’s not anyone’s business. And more to the point, he says, he really doesn’t have a problem with people assuming he’s gay, if that’s what they want to assume. That’s the stance we’ve taken, both being queer as a snake’s suspenders and not interested in sharing the intimate details of our lives with others, but it’s also a stance that not everyone can afford to take.

Going out and about with her, watching people make assumptions about us, I’m struck by the myriad ways in which awareness needs to work. We need a world where people know what queerplatonic relationships are, where people learn not to make assumptions and to let people articulate and define their own relationships—and we need to make sure that acceptance and knowledge aren’t built at the cost of other queer people.

Image: Sam & me on the bench, Shandi-lee Cox, Flickr