He brings home the bacon. He rakes in the cash. However you want to swing it, my significant other provides the main source of income. RJ pays the rent, electricity, gas, car insurance, and his phone bill. Sometimes, he pays my phone bill, too. Sometimes, I pay him back. Other times, I pay for the toilet paper, and he calls it even. He loves me, just the same.
We are equal; no matter who wins the bread, we have the same right to sit at this table.
My significant other and I met because our mutual friend thought that I could give them hope. I was just exiting being dirt broke; they were at the cusp of entering the uncharted territory of unemployment and homelessness. Our friend figured that I could help them find resources or inspire them to stick out the storm.
Instead, we found an instant electric connection. Our first conversation lasted 9 hours over text. It would have lasted much longer if we didn’t need a pesky little thing called “sleep.”
As RJ laid their current challenges out on the table, I began to open up about mine. Financially, I enjoyed solid ground. I worked full-time to pay the bills and wrote part-time to fund hobbies. My living situation was starting to become another story.
After a month of leasing my apartment, I was learning that my building was highly unsafe. I believed my daily endangerment was too much of a burden for anyone to bear. I couldn’t trust to let even my close friends inside. Until true love crossed my path. The perfect Hallmark plot line — if only we weren’t queer.
Throughout the first couple weeks of talking, I made it clear that my complex was riddled with violence and illegal activities. The only thing separating me and my nefarious neighbors was a door. Even then, my door looked like it had been knocked off its hinges more than a few times.
RJ invited me to stay with him for the weekend when he sensed how uneasy I felt in my surroundings. They lived two hours away, a sweet reprieve from the city that overwhelmed me. Though we were a newly minted relationship, I said “yes” to an extended sleepover.
His “apartment” was a furnished, spider-ridden basement on the outskirts of town. To make me more comfortable, he splurged on a hotel room a few miles away. Neither of us were making bank. Still, you’re only young, dumb, and in love once.
For three days, we reveled in our version of luxury and had a reckless, romantic time (with his shifts at work sprinkled in between). For the first time ever, my spirit felt vibrant and carefree. He felt the same way.
The moments of safety gave me a stark comparison to my hazardous abode. By the end of the weekend, it was clear that I should not reside there.
RJ offered to let me live with them indefinitely until I got my bearings. We took a trip to my old place, grabbed the essentials, and headed to his place. I was sure I would stay no more than a week or two while figuring out where to go next. There’s a stereotype about lesbian relationships — we’re known for sharing a U-haul at a lightening fast pace. I didn’t want to embody that stereotype. I also didn’t think I could, even if I desired it.
I never lived with a partner in the past. I had roommates to cut the rent. A kernel of my Catholic upbringing was the vow to myself that I would never “live in sin.” If a lover lived with me, we would have to be married. That’s what I was taught and what I thought I believed. I never anticipated this belief being challenged. My relationship pushed me to not only question it, but actively defy it.
Living with RJ for a few weeks, it made sense financially. I also had nowhere else to go. My friend’s list had dwindled while I was trying to survive day-to-day in an unsafe situation. The fact that they were gracious enough to let someone they had only known for a few weeks share their bed, food, and company meant the world.
A few weeks turned into a few months. We moved out of the basement apartment and into a sweet one bedroom. We’re about halfway through our lease right now. This place isn’t perfect, but it’s a roof and a home until we make our next move.
RJ swerved unemployment and landed a job almost as soon as he’d lost one. Now, he pays the rent and electric every month. I have tried to secure employment, but the only jobs that exist out here are retail. Retail is a very public industry and there are abusers from my past who live in this town. I can’t risk my safety for extra income. RJ understands and values my security more than any financial contribution I could make.
He supports me to pursue happiness even if it means that he has to sacrifice more of his time and energy to make ends meet. This support goes both ways. When RJ’s retail job became dangerous, draining, and almost took his will to live, he asked me how I would feel if he quit. He’d recently lined up another job, intending to work a two week notice. With the light at the end of the tunnel approaching, he couldn’t bring himself to return to his hellish workplace for another shift.
We brainstormed how we’d cover expenses for the next couple weeks. It would be tight, but doable. I assured him that no job is worth one’s life. RJ quit the next day and set to work finding odd side jobs in the community.
His drive to provide inspires me every day. I thought that men with a provider mentality were entitled, sexist, and controlling. I see that RJ’s intentions are pure. He gets his hands metaphorically dirty so I don’t have to. Not because of some toxic masculinity, but because they see me as strong motivation to work hard every day.
I’m no damsel in distress, but I like being taken care of sometimes. I have spent so long taking care of myself with nothing to show for it except my beating pulse. It’s nice to know that I can let up my grind and just be. That’s enough for him. As a Type A workaholic, I’ve learned to let it be enough for me, too.
When RJ returns from a long, tiring day, I rub his shoulders, his neck, his feet. I throw the pot of water on the stove and boil pasta. I toss it with sauce and add microwavable meatballs. If I’m feeling particularly extra, I’ll throw a dash of frozen spinach into the pasta water and sprinkle Parmesan over the whole dish. I fetch him a towel for his shower. I snag him the bug spray for the spider on the wall so he doesn’t have to bend down and pick it up.
I do these things out of love, not obligation. This give-and-take resembles the traditional marriages I saw modeled in my church growing up. If we were cis and straight, we’d look like the picture perfect 1950’s couple. Just throw a white picket fence and 2.5 kids in the mix.
I’m not a skilled cook or a pro at cleaning. I’m not a 1950’s housewife. Still, this whole experience has taught me that there is value in emotional labor. When the responsibilities are balanced right and there is an attitude of equality towards all types of work, this ebb and flow is beautiful.
Our relationship may seem to fall into gender role stereotypes. My partner is the breadwinner, my to-do list shifts around the things they don’t have time to complete. In same sex relationships, we are subject to the question Who’s the man in the relationship? This question doesn’t have a different answer based on our household roles.
Let’s get one thing straight: Just because RJ earns the majority of our income and I sometimes take on more of our housework doesn’t mean that they’re “the man” of the house. We both identify as nonbinary. Even though we fulfill some gender role stereotypes, our gender identities and expressions remain intact.