for my partner, on his birthday

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve progressively posted less and less about my personal life on the internet. Over the past five years, I’ve grown immensely—I am no longer the scared, frustrated young student posting about gender inequality because no one would listen when I actually spoke about it. While much of my professional development over that time has been shaped by teachers, peers, and exceedingly patient editors, the personal growth I’ve undergone has been primarily at the hands of my partner, friends, and loved ones. As part of that growth, I can better name the parts of my identity make my life both cooler and harder: neurodivergent, queer, trans, angled aroace. These things shape who I am and how I move through the world—and the ramifications of my oppression often significantly affect those closest to me.

Somehow, despite all the chaos of the past two years, I’ve had the incredible fortune of navigating it all with a partner who supports me when I need it, holds me accountable when I’m in the wrong, and collaboratively builds a space with me where we are both inspired to grow individually and together. I haven’t talked about Nick much on here, and that will probably continue, but we’ve known each other since my ASU days and stayed in touch sporadically while I was in Los Angeles. When all the right pieces fell into place years later, sharing my life with him in whatever ways we see fit felt comforting and secure. (Which is kind of funny, because we both fully acknowledge we wouldn’t have worked in undergrad.)

As we’ve celebrated his birthday recently, I’ve decided that instead of (or in addition to) writing too many letters, it’s important that I acknowledge the ways in which he makes both of our lives brighter as the single most consistently positive force in my life.

One of the first things that strikes me when Nick enters a space is the easygoing warmth he exudes. Anytime he’s even reasonably content, it shows up. In most cases, that warmth extends into conversation—he’s a sensitive listener and always has a quirky, endearing, or nostalgic anecdote on hand. He could pontificate about his favorite games and shows endlessly, but oftentimes he’s just as content to curl up with me on the couch and enjoy the silence. He’s the reason I fell in love with Rocket League (and a host of other games), and by advocating to get me on the CBSS server before we had any formal policy on non-brothers, he made space for me to exist among the folks we now both call family. That space has been a source of crucial friendships and connections for us both throughout the pandemic, and his advocacy made me able not only to exist within the server but fully engage with it.

Nick shares his compassion freely, but he’s also fiercely protective of himself and others. When boundaries need to be established, they are. When boundaries are ignored or otherwise violated, he reacts accordingly. One of the things that’s been most important in our shared life over the past two years has been understanding that the journeys we take together will not inherently look like we’ve been told they should; forces beyond our control have meant that our definition of “family” and even things like relationships generally can look pretty radically different, sometimes for our own protection and sometimes because it enriches our lives. Even though there are paths we long to walk down but know we can’t, Nick is as committed as I am to putting our safety and happiness above others’ expectations that we tolerate abuse, compromise our morals, or otherwise allow others to take advantage of us. Even when holding these boundaries means mourning things we thought we could have, we stay standing together.

This alignment in our values and goals—plus a shared willingness to talk it out when something doesn’t go as planned—underscores Nick’s commitment to doing right by others, which extends well beyond me and into the rest of the world. Even when his personal impact is limited, Nick is constantly learning and reevaluating how he can best help those around him. It’s one of the things people who don’t know him well constantly dismiss about him, often because it’s inconvenient for them or demands they reflect on things they’ve done in his presence. But even though not everyone gives him the space to speak about it, Nick’s commitment to doing what he can in his daily life to push back on continuing marginalization and abuse in all its forms is one of my favorite things about him—and something I noticed long before we started dating. Every day, he pushes me to be a better version of myself even as our mutual growth steers us further off the beaten path.

And now, he’s completed another revolution around the sun. Happy birthday, sunshine. Thanks for building a better world with me.

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