Being inclusive when speaking about significant others, yours or others’, is an under-recognized civility. I have heard many people get very confused when they hear someone say “partner” in reference to a person they are involved with, dating or married to.
First of all, they usually just want to know the gender of the person you are talking about. For some reason, saying “they” instead of he or she really throws people off. After using the term partner for some time now, I honestly find it a little weird that the first and sometimes only thing people care about when I refer to my partner is what gender they are. I can literally watch people become uncomfortable when I or others say the “P” word.
There are many reasons why people might choose to say partner instead of girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife. To be quite honest, those reasons are none of anyone’s business.
If it really grinds your gears to the point where you can’t handle not knowing someone else’s gender, or you get mad because you wish people would just be normal and say what you want, then I would suggest that you re-evaluate your personal priorities in life. That, again, is none of your business.
That being said, if you would like to know more about using the word partner and want to actually understand, then please ask questions. Personally, I have no problem answering questions about this and many other things about me. I know that there are lots of topics that many people have not been educated on, and I feel very comfortable with those that apply to me. However, if you cannot ask me about the word partner without saying something offensive, then for your own good you shouldn’t say anything at all.
Overall, the most important reason that anyone would use the word “partner” is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all people. Besides the fact that “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” become inappropriate after we are no longer boys and girls, there are lots of reasons for people to choose a more inclusive word. But if we are trying to create an environment — and dare I say society — that accepts everyone, we cannot afford to be using gendered words so comfortably without being sure that those words are correct.
One of the biggest reasons this topic is important to me is because I once heard a person say, “I don’t know why he said ‘partner’ because we all know that he is married to a woman.” I feel as if the ignorance in this statement needs no explanation, but to be on the safe side I will explain. The person who said this thought that “partner” is a term exclusively for people in same-gender relationships.
I have personally had the experience of someone asking me what my boyfriend’s name is and, upon finding out that I in fact was not in a relationship with a boy, they started to use the word partner. While I would prefer partner over boyfriend, I don’t appreciate that I only had a partner because I was in a same-gender relationship.
Please, if you are going to use the inclusive word partner, do it in a way that doesn’t point out everyone who has a partner as gay or lesbian. That defeats the entire purpose of using the word. People who are in different-gender relationships and say partner understand that without everyone using a more inclusive word, no one benefits.
I am not going to feel better about telling you I have a partner if from it you assume that I’m a lesbian. Let’s all try to create a better, safer, and happier environment for everyone by making a small change in our language. I’m not saying that it’s super easy because it was awkward at first for me to say partner. But I got used to it because I realize that it is a big deal, if not to me then to someone else.
Michaela Jarrett is a second year ethnic studies student who loves to be inclusive. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.