Partner is a funny term. It doesn’t have the warmth of wife, or husband, and it hasn’t the upbeat sound of boyfriend or girlfriend. But it can be useful. Or certainly, my partner and I believe so. What do you call that special someone who is one step beyond boy/girlfriend, but not yet fiancé(e)? To me, partner signifies respect, a mutual affinity. It is of course also, non-gender specific.
And therein both a problem and an advantage may lie. Sadly, prejudice still lingers, and homophobia makes the odd appearance. So, in those occasions of the leering gent on the bus, or the rough-tongued being in the pub, the word ‘partner’ can help to evade a sticky situation or two. It can, however, also highlight prejudice where you didn’t expect to find it. This is something my partner and I have been discovering.
Take, for example, my phoning up the Metro office to arrange collection of my purse (embarrassing to have lost it, but this story serves a greater purpose). As I work outside the city I wanted my partner to collect it for me. And so, on the phone, I enquired:
“Could my partner please collect it for me?”
“He can, if he brings your ID”, the reply came.
Hmm. Somewhat thrown off by the comment I forgot to ask what counted as ID (given mine was in the lost purse). And so, my partner made a phonecall to ask…
“I’m calling because my partner lost her purse, what ID of hers do I need to bring as hers is in her purse?”
“Just bring one of your friend’s bills”.
And on collection?
“I’m here to collect my partner, Amy’s purse”.
“Here’s your friend’s purse”.
All this while my partner stood by an anti-homophobia poster in the Metro station.
This isn’t the sole example, a restaurant changed ‘partner’ to ‘husband’ when we made a birthday booking and needed to confirm there would be a vegan option for me. I imagine they were somewhat surprised to see the very female vegan arrive.
I’ve had this in jobs, in doctors’ appointments, in general social situations. The assumption is always that the partner is male; that is if you aren’t swathed in rainbows – though I think in the case of the Metro, even that wouldn’t have worked. And upon the grand reveal that said partner is same sex? Gasps, supposed compliments of ‘you would never guess’. As though I am hiding scales beneath my clothes. We’re sneaky that way, we committed gays.
I suppose this somewhat rambling prologue is driving towards the question of – Should we embrace or shun the ambiguous phrase ‘partner’? Or, is it not us that should change our terminology, but the eponymous ‘them’ that should change their attitude? I don’t want to return to ‘girlfriend’. I’m not 15, we’re not ‘dating’. Partner sits very comfortably. ‘Other half’ is ridiculous, I was perfectly whole before she arrived. ‘Lady friend’ perhaps would get the point across. But I shouldn’t have to carefully construct my sentences to avoid offending some, and to ensure comprehension of my lesbian-dom to others. Why can’t someone respond to the gender neutral term with the same, and allow the gender to reveal itself over time. Or, not.
Do you have a term you prefer to use? Does what you say depend on the situation? Do you think it even matters? I would certainly like to know. Otherwise I’m just typing into the ether.
This piece was written by Amy Ekins, writer of fiction and non-fiction alike. She is training as a Project Manager for a publishing company, a graduate of English Literature and Creative Writing, and can be found at www.twitter.com/amyeek – She likes being tweeted.