The S.O. is out east this weekend, visiting family. He's at the ocean now, and I texted to ask whether he could send me a picture of the stars. I miss them, living in Chicago. Upon his response that it was too cloudy for stars, I cried a little. I told him so and he informed me that werewolf week, my personal favorite euphemism for menstruation, is indeed imminent. I am now ensconced on the couch with chocolate, tea, and a fleece blanket, and it occurs to me that love means being able to predict your boyfriend's menses.
Perhaps, admittedly, not for most. But it's what love I am in means, in part. I am trans, I still menstruate, and I hate it. I repress it for the three weeks out of the month that I'm not bleeding from my obsolete reproductive system, and consequentially have no idea when to expect to begin bleeding again. The S.O., for whatever reason, keeps track for me. This weekend is the first time since January that we've been apart overnight; it took his absence to reinforce exactly what his presence means, from letting me know when I'm PMSing to rolling cigarettes for me when my hands aren't up to it.
Neither he nor I like to refer to certain aspects of our relationship as caretaking. Of course he does things beyond the call of duty for most engaged twenty-somethings -- I don't think most people our age routinely help their partners dress or shower, for example. But that doesn't make either of us consider how we function to be other than completely normal. After all, most partnered gay men don't keep track of when their boyfriends get their periods; nor do most people of any age learn how to ground and support their partners through flashbacks. We don't see any of the above as weird or burdensome -- it's common fucking decency. The person you love needs help with some things, you provide that help. The person you love is a survivor of sexual abuse, you stay away from things that will trigger.
I'm beginning to add to that opinion. Most of it, I still maintain, is just common decency, or common sense. Of course you ask every single time whether something physical is okay. Of course you're going to notice a trend in the menstrual cycle of someone with whom you cohabitate. But increasingly I think a lot of what the S.O. is doing amounts to unpaid carework. A quick Google search for the term brings back a definition of carer as "Someone whose life is in some way restricted by the need to be responsible for the care of someone who is mentally ill, mentally handicapped, physically disabled or whose health is impaired by sickness or old age" (Baroness Pitkeathley). Whose life is in some way restricted, I repeat for emphasis. Ouch.
No, I don't think the boy would be sipping daquiris on a tropical beach if he weren't acting as a caregiver. But maybe, I don't know, he'd get out more, he'd write the Great American Novel, he'd study more, something. I'm feeling guilty, obviously. Carework is not something I feel entitled to from him or anyone, but I'm afraid that by allowing it I'm demanding it. In fact, I feel like he didn't really know the extent of my disability until we moved in together; I feel like I pulled him in under false pretenses in some nefarious plan to have someone around to button my oxfords and help me get up stairs and things. Clearly, that's not how it went at all. I continue not to think of him as "caregiver." He's my boyfriend, my fiancé when we get technical, my partner sometimes, my significant other, et cetera. But he's also other things -- among them student, writer, queer, agnostic, survivor -- and maybe caregiver goes on that list too. I'm not entirely sure whether I'm allowed to say that without him identifying as such (oh dear can you tell I came up transqueer? One may never impose adjectives on another without explicit consent!), but spending even a day-and-a-half without him throws into pretty sharp relief what my life is like with him.
To give you an idea, I haven't showered today; I wore clothes that I took off buttoned and buckled, which means they're recently worn. I'm not smoking unless in company, as the only tobacco we have is of the roll-it-yourself variety. Also, I keep dropping pens on the floor and not being able to pick them up (until I thought to do it with my toes, in which I retain freakish dexterity). There are a thousand tiny things that sound trivial individually, but make a dramatic difference when missing en masse. So yes, I do think my romantic relationship has elements of caregiving about it -- in both directions, as in all relationships, but I feel that the care coming from him to me is indeed CAREGIVING, in the Baroness Pitkeathley way, and what I do for him is just common decency.
For the moment, I'm too tired to angst about it, and will only add that love also means excusing shared showers as medically necessary.
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