What about your other half? Some thoughts & advice from a married LGBT diplomat
Constantly moving around defines a career diplomat. This is not only a part of our jobs, but literally our life. These transitions not only impact, us the diplomats, but also becomes part of the reality of our spouses & partners. Like many of my colleagues, I met my partner when I was stationed in one of my posts in the United States. He had his own professional career, dreams and aspirations. However, we both knew that at a certain moment, we would both need to make a major life decision: choosing a common path that would allow us to be together, and the realization that my spouse would need to create his life again, both personally and as a family unit.
In this transitional process, I’ve been witnessing how our partners should have the ability to reinvent themselves, if possible, finding a new and challenging job as well as adjusting to the new circumstances in a way that honors their personal and professional ideals.
So, what are the questions we need to consider as career diplomats that can help in this process? Particularly, when we may have limited power in determining where we will be transferred. And, as LGBT members, we may have other issues to consider.
Based on my personal experience I have the following 6 items to consider before assuming a new post:
1. Never take your relationship for granted. It’s common to hear among colleagues; “he/she knew that you were a diplomat when he/she met you” yet the reality is very different than theory. Indeed, your spouse has accepted the fact that you are a diplomat, but nonetheless you can’t fully place the responsibility to adjust on your spouse/partner. It is always worthwhile to take a pause and assess the entire situation, and to think about what could be best for both parties involved and to consider if there may be more than one option. If so, which one best helps meet the needs of both individuals, and if it doesn’t meet the needs of the trailing spouse, how will the decision better position the other to advance?
2. Same-sex marriage status. Does the host country recognize same sex marriages? This always needs to be considered as it will ensure your partner has the same privileges as any other diplomatic married couple. There are some countries that do not recognize same sex marriages, but may issue a visa allowing your partner/spouse to live in the host country. However, there are limitations and it doesn’t always guarantee the same privileges that heterosexual spouses may receive.
3. Working permit. It is important to note that this depends on the established reciprocity between the two countries. There might be some countries were same-sex marriages are recognized, though diplomatic spouses are not permitted to work in the host country. And, in those cases where same-sex marriages are not recognized the working permit will not be possible through the reciprocity process. By this I mean, that perhaps the spouse will be able to obtain a job by being sponsored by a hiring company. Though it can be a long process it is a viable alternative.
4. Understand each other’s needs. In those cases were same-sex marriages are legal and working is possible for the partner in the host country, it certainly provides the opportunity for a more stable environment. Nonetheless, regardless of the situation the spouse and diplomat needs should be considered. Is the non-diplomatic spouse/partner ok with “letting go” and being open to trying something new in every place? Or, is commuting and living in different places a better choice? Being open and honest about what will work best for each individual and the relationship is critical to managing a long and healthy relationship.
5. Coming-out. Coming-out might be more than a one-time experience, particularly for those colleagues who are married. Simply by presenting the documents requesting the visas for one’s partner/spouse, or common questions about your family, or small details as wearing a ring, everyday situations can result in having to come-out repeatedly. I believe that being married is not a part of my private life. Based on my personal experience, in a work situation I prefer to be open about my relationship and make it a non-issue. Though, I understand that every individual or couple will need to decide for themselves how open they want to be based on their personal circumstances. This is a fact that same sex couple will have to deal with constantly.
6. Embrace the moment. Moving around can be a once in a lifetime experience. During the highs, lows, and everything in between couples/spouses will grow exponentially together, and have the unique opportunity to enjoy amazingly diverse countries and cultures as well as establish new friendships. This is the real beauty of this career and, although it may not be for everybody, those couples who embrace it and support one another result in many precious memories to last a lifetime.
Written by Jonathan Chait Auerbach, Mexican Foreign Service