There is a meme floating around on the internet that questions why queer people call their significant other ‘partner’ because you’re “not doing science projects.” The meme itself is kind of funny, the accompanying gif is of science power couple Cosima Neihaus and Delphine Cormier from BBC’s Orphan Black, a science fiction drama about clones. But when did the term ‘partner’ become synonymous with boyfriend, girlfriend or being in a relationship? After some serious thinking, and reminding myself that I’ve used it before, the real question suddenly became why aren’t more people using it?
Context is key in this sense. Long before marriage equality was won in the U.S., people in the LGBTQ community had been dating and creating successful lives with whomever they were attracted to and chose to spend their time with. To avoid backlash, depending on the part of the country you were in, or possibly making someone uncomfortable the word ‘partner’ was used. The weight of the word showed companionship and seriousness while also applying a veil of ambiguity. The level of implied seriousness also helped to discern long term unmarried couples, such as those that were legally defined under the domestic partnership laws, of any orientation.
As society continues to understand and accept gender identities, sexuality and the spectrums they flow on, we may be hearing the term more often.
This opened up more gender neutral terms, a welcomed break for people who identify as nonbinary or gender nonconforming. Since more thought and acceptance has come to people questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation, gender neutral terms and pronouns are more widely known and used. And again the veil of ambiguity allows for comfort, not of those around but for the nonbinary person in the relationship.
Partner also breaks down the traditional views that terms like boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife bring to mind.
In an underlying sense using partner, in its new progressive context, gives basic information; there is a committed relationship between two people. Frankly, the rest is your business and you can choose what to convey to the rest of the world without letting labels speak for you. A relationship is supposed to be a partnership anyway, right?