Howdy, partner

12 Aug

Language has the power to shape our perception of the world. Using the word “fireman” has a different effect from using the word “firefighter;” people who want the world to be a more inclusive place should use language that reflects their values.

So what word do we use for our romantic relationships? I’ve always used ‘girlfriend’ as a term, but that doesn’t work for the genderqueer people I might date, who would be neither girlfriend or boyfriend. The people who surround seem to have embraced the word ‘partner’, and to some extent I see their point. It’s gender neutral and it gives the same significance to all romantic relationships, regardless of marital status — a useful term to have when accompanying someone to the Emergency Room.

But I hate the word partner. It evokes kindergarten class trips and law practices, with no room for romance or sexuality or even friendship.

Using the word partner makes me feel like I’m taking the romance out of it, making it g-rated so my small-minded distant relatives can understand what I’m talking about. My sister and her boyfriend are free to go on dates, move in together, have sex. If I were to refer to a “partner” people wouldn’t have to think about the fact that our relationship is romantic and every bit equivalent to what my sister has.

I like the word “lover.” No confusion there as to what you’re doing, no reminders of elementary school, and it’s a gender-neutral term. Unfortunately, it was also bastardized by the L Word (if you haven’t seen it, I can’t find a youtube video of this part, but the irritating and downright mean Dawn Dembo would introduce herself and then her lover, always speaking for Cindi in such a way that Cindi is now only known as “loverCindy”. There’s even lover Cindy merchandise). Now when I bring up the word “lover,” everyone says “But you don’t want to be Dawn Dembo!”

No, I don’t want to be Dawn Dembo, or a law partner, or my grandmother referring to her “girlfriends.” But I do want to use the term that was proudly chosen by the first wave of gay rights activists. The word ‘lover’ was like a mini Pride Parade — a chance to stand up, come out of the closet for the first time and proudly proclaim your same-sex relationships. The word lover was radical; it said, this person is not just my friend — we love each other and we fuck each other. It sounds awkward, but stilted terminology always becomes more natural the more it is used.

And anyway, how much Rumi poetry will you find that uses the word partner??

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.


One Response to “Howdy, partner”

  1. thoroughlymodernmillivanilli August 15, 2011 at 4:25 am #

    Thought-provoking… thanks RayRay! -Sam
    Also interesting: Kate Swift, a major pioneer of gender neutral language, recently passed away

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