There’s a guy in my life. We sit next to each other and watch TV. We share a house, share a bed. We share some of our money. We’re invited to parties together. Sometimes we fuck. We report each other’s incomes on our tax returns. We reported every last detail of our relationship to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that I could come and live here.
But I don’t know what to call him.
It’s a strange thing, not having a go-to word for that person; I think it comes from a few places:
Heteronormativity means that unless I make it explicitly clear, most of society will assume that the person I’m talking about is a woman. Sometimes this will be because, well, society just assumes people are straight, but bizarrely this will often be out of some strange, misguided ‘politeness’ where, based on gay stereotypes, they’ll assume I’m gay but pretend to assume my [whatever we want to call them] is a woman so as not to offend me.
(To be clear: this offends me.)
Internalised homophobia contributes to this dilemma in a huge way too. And it is, in a way, working with heteronormativity but in the opposite direction. Not always, but sometimes, I feel the desire to hide, and to keep the gender of him as ambiguous as possible. It’s absurd, and as I’ve discussed before I’m very much “out”, and it is a very rare thing that I feel a need to actually hide my sexual orientation out of fears for personal safety etc.
Put these two things together, and combine them with a desire for honesty as well as warmth, and I’m left with essentially zero good choices for what that guy actually is.
Partner is the one people like to use to sound inoffensive, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily offend me, it does make me want to vomit. It’s so sterile and bland, makes our relationship sound like a business arrangement, transactional. It is totally unrepresentative of a relationship based on love and mutual admiration.
Lover. Fuck off.
Spouse crops up on forms and official documents. The Immigration Department uses spouse and I don’t like it at all. Partly because it’s incorrect (yes, de facto spouse is correct I suppose, Border Force), but we’re not married, we have decided not to get married, and we don’t like the idea of marriage. Our relationship looks a little bit like a marriage, at least from the outside, but that is certainly not what it is. (I also really dislike the word, aesthetically.)
Husband is a word I sometimes use to piss people off, but mostly I don’t like it. Again, it’s too marriagey for my taste, and if I’m honest it makes me feel subordinate.
I sometimes use Other Half but I don’t like it all that much. It implies that people are not complete unless they’re in a relationship (and note the “half” – it could never be “he’s one of my other thirds”, which is another reason – even though I personally am not polyamorous – I dislike it). It’s slightly better than Better Half though, which makes me see red.
Related is Significant Other, which I suppose isn’t too bad, but it feels a bit glib. He’s more than just “significant”, but like other half, I feel it does downplay the significance of myself in my own life.
I used to dislike Boyfriend intensely. It seemed okay for young people, or people who hadn’t been in the relationship for a very long time, but for a co-habiting couple in a stable, long-term relationship, it always sounded a little immature. My feelings on that have changed a little now. Using boyfriend feels like a rejection of societal norms. It feels like an acknowledgement that marriage is not some ideal or a goal to aim for. And I like that it pisses some people off or confuses them (as I’ve said before, I’m over caring whether people are confused or not).
Still I don’t call him my boyfriend nearly as often as I’d like. Maybe it’s a feeling that I ought to hide something about him, maybe it’s a desire to be taken seriously. It’s all indicative of an urgent need to unlearn all this rubbish that surrounds relationships and society’s ideals when it comes to talking about them. But I’m working on it.
I’d be interested to know what words you like, dislike, use and avoid. Let me know in the comments or in a tweet!