Alex Blaze

Monday morning open question

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 19, 2007 7:36 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: partner, relationship

I haven't done one of these in a while....

I was talking with an old college friend of mine the other day and was reminded of a conversation we once had. He's been in a relationship with another man for 3 years now, and when visiting his parents, his mother asked him how to introduce his... significant other. He told me that he thought "husband" was too domestic, "partner" too cold and formal, "boyfriend" too frivolous, so he told her to introduce him as "The man who's fucking her son."

That doesn't sound like the right answer for everybody. So I'll put the question to you all: if you are, plan to be, were, possibly might be, or just want to think about being in a long-term relationship, what would you call your significant other? Wife, husband, partner, companion, boyfriend, girlfriend? Significant other, better half, ball n' chain? Something else?

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 19, 2007 8:09 AM

Jerry and I have used the term partner all during our nearly 14 years. When I first came out in the late 70's the term "lover" seemed to be the term of choice, but seemed to have a flavor if naughty illigitimacy to it. "Boyfriend" is, as your friend said, too frivolous. I'm not sure that "husband" sounds too just doesn't seem correct for reasons that could betray some vestigially internalized homophobia that I'd rather not probe this early in the week.
I think "spouse" would be a good second choice, though, especially if full marriage equality or maybe even civil unions were to be achieved.

The "partner" thing has its moments. We've lost track of the times we've heard "what kind of business are you guys in?", and the fact that I'm a retired lawyer doesn't diminish the occurrences. I know some think it sounds too businesslike and non-romantic, but for us it's comfortable, an abbreviated version of "partners for life", which says it all, twenty-four-seven.

Jerame and I use "partner" too. We are always together pulling at the yoke of life so I think partner is perfectly acceptable. I agree that "boyfriend" is too diminished for what we are - after 9 years I'd like to think we mean more to each other than a 2 week relationship. :) "Spouse" or "husband" doesn't seem truthful since we're not married.

My mother seems to have some issue with calling my significant other anything other than her name. The last time she was introducing us to someone, she said "This is my daughter, Kelly, and this is Allison." Drives me batty, but I keep reminding myself- small steps are better than none at all.

We call each other partner, but I'm not particularly fond of that label simply because I tend to associate that word with business, which further makes me think of office environments and backstabbing...I do however get some pleasure from telling someone that I have a partner, because the non-verbal responses can be interesting.

I would never think to say girlfriend, because we're not dating, we are a family... dammit!

i have used Partner, girlfriend, and friend.
Depending on the situation.

Sue Robins

Partner is just so capitalist. But I don't really have a good alternative.

Rob and I were married at San Francisco City Hall nearly 4 years ago and annulled by the State of California six months later.

We've been together for 8 years as of last month.

We refer to each other as husbands in public. If we don't remind people that we encounter of our experience at City Hall, then we are allowing it to be forgotten and dismissed as a stunt.

It feels phony to use the term "partner" since I've never heard anyone that could be married refer to their spouse in that way.

Saying "husband" makes the heteros think. They need constant and repeated reminders of the privileges that they enjoy at the expense of others.

Being out is a life long vocation.

wtf? Husband is too domestic? In that case I suggest he break up and just call him a "friend with benefits" or fuckbuddy. Seriously, what the hell is up with these denialist homos that get into a relationship for 3 years no less and somehow think they aren't domestic (like that's a bad thing)? Ye are Blanche, ye are.

Although, before I got married, I'd introduce my husband as: This is my husband - oh wait, we can't marry legally, so you can just call him my love monkey.

And I'd enjoy every bit of squirming that caused in people.

Haha, BG, but seriously, if you knew them, you'd know that they could live together for 30 years without being domestic. They were a couple of crazy guys.

I was talking about the word "partner" with someone else, and he said he thought it sounded like two people were just entering a contract together. My response was, of course, isn't that the point of the marriage movement, to enter a contract?

I'll never be a husband and I'll never be with one. Sounds like my dad! And perhaps I agree with Don here that it can sometimes be a result of internalized homophobia, that we're trying to be like a straight couple even though we're not and will never be. Hm. That one's complicated.

I've always liked "companion" though, especially since it translates easily into the accepted term for same-sex LTR's in Argentina and France.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 19, 2007 11:02 AM

It feels phony to use the term "partner" since I've never heard anyone that could be married refer to their spouse in that way.

It's really interesting, in modern Ireland heterosexual spouses are most often referred to on the radio (I don't own a TV) as "partners" when in the news, being introduced, talked about, etc. Likewise for gay spouses, although the occurrence is less frequent. I really like it because it feels egalitarian--both vis-à-vis gender and sexual orientation-- and it leaves the gender of the spouse, and thereby the sexual orientation of the person in question, open until revealed.

We have always used partner. I guess you could say "special friend."

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 19, 2007 1:05 PM

A couple of more thoughts after seeing some others and Alex's reference to my talking about internalized homophobia in conjunction with "husband". First, I'm not a Biblical scholar (although I did peek at one at an out-of-the-way Holiday Inn last night), but it seems as if the relationship between Adam and Eve was "helpmate", and not "wife". Putting aside the sexist non-mutual connotation there, I think that sounds a bit like my concept of "partner", with of course the full equality/mutuality it brings.

As to the "husband-homophobia" link, in trying to put my finger on the discomfort, I think it sounds a little attempt to "fit" my relationship into the standard marriage mold, where "husband and wife" connotes certain role stereotypes. "Husband and Husband" brings to mind two guys doing only "guy things", fixing the plumbing, mowing the lawn, etc. (Similar situation maybe with two "wives"). Our own relationship is certainly more fluid and complex with respect to those things. "Husband and Husband" seems like the sound of one hand clapping.

We use "partner". Brynn, we had a similar experience while living in Vermont - the default there, when you said "partner", was for people still to assume you were referring to someone of the opposite sex. It was quite refreshing, actually... there are a ton of non-married hetero folks there, too, hence the common usage, and even some married folks used it as well. That seemed to make for a much more level/egalatarian playing field and for better acceptance/understanding of the word.

It feels phony to use the term "partner" since I've never heard anyone that could be married refer to their spouse in that way.

I know a lot of married folks who prefer "partner," either for the gender neutrality or to avoid emphasizing their marriage. The gender neutrality of partner can make it a preferable term when one or both married partners are trans. Not emphasizing marriage can be really useful for poly folks who don't want to privilege one relationship over another.

I grew up with queer parents and marriage has always been drenched in the negative context of privilege. I don't ever want to be referred to by the governmental stamp of approval that grants me privilege over other people. When I let slip that I'm married in some queer circles, all of a sudden the marriage minded folks started referring to my partner as my wife -- And I hated it! In addition to the fact that she doesn't identify as a woman, the term generally sends the message to folks that I'm male, and if I'm not passing perfectly that can have a big effect. It pushed me back into the closet about being married for a while. But now that we've got domestic partnerships here in Oregon, everyone keeps asking us if we're going to get one and I have to explain that we can't.

Husband. Contrary to what Bil thinks, marriage was neither a religious nor legal concept at its creation; it was a communal concept. Therefore, I don't find it untruthful to call my man "husband" instead of the frigid "partner" or its tacky, euphemized cousin, "life partner." I refuse to let heterosexuals lump me into some newly created category for pseudo-marriage labels for same-sex couples, it's insulting.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 19, 2007 4:10 PM

instead of the frigid "partner" or its tacky, euphemized cousin, "life partner."

Thanks, Lucrece, for being judgmental and dismissive toward the several people in this thread who embrace the term. Or did you even read the thread before posting?

Speaking of 'insulting," there is a way to state your preference for "husband" over "partner" without insulting those who feel otherwise, including our het allies who eschew marriage and the terminology that accompanies it to stand in solidarity with us.

Therefore, I don't find it untruthful to call my man "husband"

Well, it definitely has a legal connotation nowadays. And I think that a lot of people, like me, feel that there's a proscribed gender role that goes with that term.

Wait, Don's changing his opinion? How will I know what to think? Oh, wait, I already agree with the new clarification. Thanks, Don!

(Wait, Don and I agree on an issue related to rejecting heteronormativity and assimilation? Bust out the champagne, people!)

"Well, it definitely has a legal connotation nowadays. And I think that a lot of people, like me, feel that there's a proscribed gender role that goes with that term."

If we go by your line of thinking, marriage also has religious and gender structured connotations, which means we should not seek it. It's an is-ought fallacy; just because something is doesn't meant it is right in being so or ought to be that certain way. As for the prescribed gender role, it is merely projection, in my opinion. It will prescribe whatever you want to perceive in it; I'd personally not let the heterosexuals define it for me, as it's not a concept of only their own, after all. I find this to be one of the areas where I tend to disagree with other fellow feminists. I think that the terms husband and wife can be applied without hint of condescension or expected molding.

Well, then. If language can be deconstructed and reclaimed that easily, I'll say that "partner" isn't frigid or tacky if I don't intend for it to be that way. Saying that it is is an is-ought fallacy!

Oh, wait, I still like "companion". It also looks like "champignon", the French word for "mushrooms". Mmmmmmmmmmmmushrooms!

Yes, Brynn, this thread is full of sensitivity, considering how people already presuppose the calling of one man by another "husband" as "untruthful."

As for my OPINIONS on the other terms, and whatever feelings that are only mine I associate to them, I suppose any sort of critical opinion will be taken as being judgmental and dismissive, eh? My, I can already see all the people I will judge and dismiss when I say I find Danielle Steele novels and the kind thoroughly asinine. Nothing beats a good lecture that has the aim to censure.

"...including our het allies who eschew marriage and the terminology that accompanies it to stand in solidarity with us."

Hahaha, you have one great set of hetero friends. I still find it hard to believe that heterosexuals will forgo their precious ceremonies, bridal dresses, and social celebrations, not to mention legal protections, to stand as our "allies." You've got to introduce me to some of that kind of heterosexuals. Or, perhaps you meant heterosexuals of the Brangelina line who disguise their avoidance of going through potential legal divorces through the facade of gay-friendliness which, what a surprise, might please gay fans and make them appear more socially conscious, putting such public figures at a convenient, even higher public standing.

As for solidarity, you seem to be making the terms not involving the usual marriage-related terms as the cornerstone of our community's identity. While you may find the term as representative of our community, I find it to often be the pet term of heterosexuals to soften our equality to more bearable levels that their lovely condescending and egotistical minds can handle. It is much less shocking and ambiguous, after all, to introduce Jack and his partner to your heterosexual (which includes our ever benevolent straight males) friends over Jack and his husband. I think the sarcastic response that son gave his mother is just appropriate. The fact that someone would ask how you would like for your husband to be introduced to others shows hesitation to peg us down as equals, for they would not even think to ask such a question if the son's spouse had been a woman.

I will not bear for a heterosexual to give me an euphemizing label to my relationship just because he/she's too uptight (talk about the irony of gay jokes coming from straight individuals) to stand the sight that *gasp* there might be another variation of marriage that does not involve his/her particular setup, poor creature!

Alex, I find that last comment amusing and self-contradicting considering the fact that your post asks us for our personal opinions. I find it tacky and frigid, you may not; that is the concept of opinion, isn't it?

By the way, you need work on foreign pronunciation. "Gn" in French and Italian is pronounced like the Spanish "ñ." And, ew, mushrooms, "guacala!"

Thanks for teaching me how to blog and speak French. Those are two things that I need help on from you, Lucrece!

OK, then I find "husband" to be legalistic and prescribe a gender role, and you do not, and that's the concept of opinion.

Apparently, help on my part regarding your lousy French (do it right if at least you're going to join the French expression-using bandwagon) should be the least of your concerns that you should seek assistance on, if I can give my opinion!

"OK, then I find "husband" to be legalistic and prescribe a gender role, and you do not, and that's the concept of opinion."

It may seem legalistic to you, fair enough. What I had a problem with is the conviction upon which people presuppose that the term "husband" cannot be used unless they are legally married. I'm glad we're seeing eye to eye on the concept of opinion, one thing less you will need from me with ;).

Yes, the French expression using bandwagon. I had to jump on it - it's very popular where I live.

Be careful not to fall when you try to jump on as you did earlier, though!

Partner is just so capitalist.
That's a selling point, not a negative.


I won't/wouldn't use "husband" unless and until my boyfriend and I at least go domestic partnership, but absent some kind of legal status which I correlate to marriage, I don't have a problem with "partner". I've used it in hyper-sensitive situations like international travel, immigration, and so on where I don't really want any confusion about who we are to each other and when "boyfriend" sounds stupid.

Very interesting comment I heard from an airline ticket agent:
Her: Are you and [John Smith] traveling together?
Me: Yes.
Her: And what is your relationship?
Me: He is my partner.
Her: Partners-in-life or partners in business?

I had to ask her to repeat that one. :) Oddly, partners-in-life (I always picture it with the hyphens) came across to me as a rather sweet way to put it, and this helps me not think of the term "partner" as sterile or antiseptic.

That's what I'm referring to, torrentprime; the fact that often "partner" is used in "hypersensitive situations," as in toning down the image so as to not send the heterosexuals into choleric fits of outrage.

By the way, I feel it is necessary to apologize to Brynn now that I read another post of his. I had not realized he used partner under a different cultural background. If in Ireland "partners" is the term commonly used for married couples, then I personally don't have any issue with it, as the term is not used as an euphemizing tool.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 19, 2007 7:03 PM

Alex: I just saw where the 26th comment to your open thread was posted? Is this about to set some kind of site record?

As to your comment about my agreeing with you. I agreed with you long before we mutually agreed that we disagreed. Now, what were we talking about?

No, the site record is around 105, and it was set by (of course) Marti. Still, it's pretty good for an open thread.

I don't know from agreeing or disagreeing, but I have a strong urge to go get me a husband right now....

Lucrece, while you're being generous, I feel compelled to point out that Alex lives in France. Hence, the crack about that bandwagon being popular where he lives...

Let's all relax and realize we're talking about ways to say "The person I want to spend the rest of my life with." It's not that deep to start picking at each other. Play nice.

After 24 years, we've gone through several names. For the longest time (prior to coming out), we didn't even call it anything.

Soon after coming out, I went through the same reasonings that others have here: Partner is too cold, Wife is to Hetero, Life Partner too long. We've settled on Partner for the most part, but also throw in wife every once in awhile.

All in all, I believe it was my own discomfort in trying to figure out how to fit my life into the pre-defined terms of the hetero world that held me back. Once I discovered that I could determine my own definitions, it all fell into place for me, and I choose to describe it however it makes the point clear to the person I am speaking to.

I've always viewed the husband status as a legal definition since it encompasses an entirety: a partnership, a sharing of responsibilities, love, sex, caregiving and quite a bit more. The attempt to reduce it to domestication and fixing the plumbing or mowing the lawn may be an indication of your singular association of the husband role with those things from your parents. If that's the case, it's an illustration that despite a certain common understanding of a phrase, it's understanding by individuals leaves so much out due to their prior experiences.

That's how language evolves I guess and it is well illustrated in our co-option of 'gay' and 'queer' to name just two. I doubt I'll ever be popular enough to make 'love monkey' the de facto referral to one half of a gay couple that isn't legally married yet. The terms of partner and companion leave too much ambiguity to find their way into my vocabulary for the role in question.

Thanks, Bil, but I don't think you need to know Alex's living location to know sarcasm is present. Thanks for being generous yourself and enlightening me on such an important detail. By the way, my responses were not being serious, in case you didn't notice; I was merely repaying in the same nonsensical kind of sarcasm that so often serves to divert.

I must admit, though, that I would expect better from someone currently living in France than someone living in the U.S.. The fact that he had to be corrected by someone like me should put Mr. Kinda Hispanic to shame.

"Let's all relax and realize we're talking about ways to say "The person I want to spend the rest of my life with." It's not that deep to start picking at each other. Play nice."

And here I always thought that queen-like bickering among gay men was the best way ever to build up solidarity among the community and our allies!

As for beergoggles, what's so wrong with domestication, out of curiosity? Is the very legal system we developed not born out of our want to protect and ease the processes involving such concepts? I don't know, maybe I'm too much of a historical purist who refuses to accept the warping of terms over time. If a erm is relatively harmless in its pristine state, why accept a change that would make it more restrictive and discriminatory?

Well, I call my lovely bodacious bride sent to me from hell below, the bitch. She in turn calls me her lovely odious bride sent to her from heaven above, the bitchette.

After nearly twenty years together the bitch’s Mom and Dad still haven’t jumped on our bandwagon of love; however, our daughter and grandkids can’t wait to introduce us to all their friends, coworker, in-laws …