Op-ed: Boyfriends, Husbands, And The 'Partners' In Between

Why the term "partner" is falling out of favor.

BY Tyler Curry

February 07 2014 8:00 AM ET

As a part of the Will & Grace generation, it has been my pleasure to witness the evolution of gay couples in the context of public opinion. From the oversexed stereotypes on Queer as Folk to the Disney-like caricatures on The New Normal, our televisions have been speckled with a variety of examples of what a gay relationship looks like. No matter how cliché our TV stand-ins may be, they have relaxed much of the tension between the homo population and our hetero peers. But there is one term that should have been left in a rerun of the past that continues to get airplay today. In lieu of boyfriend, fiancé, or husband, gay and straight people alike continue to use the word, partner, to reference a homosexual bond.

So why should "partner" be placed in a time capsule? It’s simple.

"Partner" is a vague term that gay people began using decades ago to reference their significant other without making their heterosexual company uncomfortable (or, at least, less uncomfortable). It was a way for homosexuals to speak freely without using the general terms that defined straight relationships, partly because boyfriend sounded silly and husband seemed to offend, nor could it be accurate in most cases. Who knows whether the term originated from the mouth of a straight or a gay because, regardless, it stuck like a son-of-a-bitch.

Even after we've systemically scrapped the idea of a civil union and instead demand full marriage equality, we still continue to use this ambiguous term to refer to our one and only. That may be because there is a significant group of men and women who are safely past the point of a normal engagement but still seek a more reputable title for their relationship. Most gay men feel like "partner" gives their union more validity and maturity than the term “boyfriend” ever could. And most would agree. Calling a man that you have been with for 10 or 15 years your boyfriend does sound a little juvenile.

But for the single fellows of those who have yet to cosign on a mortgage, maybe we should begin using the terms we have fought so hard to have access to. Whether it is your straight friends introducing your "partner" to their parents or it’s discussing your "partner" to a relative stranger, are we doing the marriage equality movement any favors?

When you say "my partner," you could be referring to your business partner, your sexual partner, your dancing partner, or your partner in crime. But if it is, in fact, your life partner that you are referencing, it is quite a disservice to not give him a title that needs no distinction. There is no guessing involved when you use a term that all people understand, regardless of status. And most importantly, it honors the romantic nature of your bond without watering it down for the masses.

But what if he isn’t your life husband just yet? Regardless of age, the term boyfriend isn’t a sign of youth or insulting of your maturity. It is simply a reference to a person who you are committed to but are most certainly not ready to be cosigning on a lease with anytime soon.  

It’s understandable that many people in committed, long-term relationships are more comfortable with "partner," as it conveys a greater commitment than boyfriend ever could. And for those who simply don’t believe in marriage, the nondescript term may be all that they need. But for those who do believe in holy matrimony, get off your ass and put on a tuxedo. It’s time to put a ring on it. If you simply can’t stand the idea of someone mistaking your partner as your boyfriend, than make him your husband. Problem solved.

With a history of government failing to recognize the validity of our unions, we have often done the same. We throw around serious labels as if serious relationships were as fluid as a fast food drive thru. Take, for example, when two young homos who have been shacking up for a little over five months now start abusing the terms saved for those who have walked down the aisle. It happens all the time.

"Honey, I don’t do that anymore. I am married now."

Or:

"Me and my husband can’t attend, we already have plans."

Queue the collective eye roll. You know who I’m talking about. The guy who uses terms of wedlock to appear above the other single folk when, just a few months ago, he was doing Jell-O shots by the pool, and disappearing in the bathroom. It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary, and it’s belittling to the many strong relationships that have lasted beyond the initial throws of lust.

Some may say that using boyfriend, fiancé, and husband is conforming to the heterosexual ideals of what a relationship should be. However, the definitions of these titles do not have a sexual orientation. And I am pretty sure that using fiancé or husband doesn’t make your gay sex any less gay. But these old-school relationship terms do announce to the public exactly what the relationship means to you, without softening the impact for the moral majority.

Whether or not your state has approved marriage equality has little to do with the titles you assume. If you want to be married, then make it official, even if it is only in the eyes of you and your loved ones. Break out some champagne, throw some confetti, and serve your friends some cake already. Marriage is something to celebrate and whether you have been together for two years or 22 years, and wedding rings are ageless.

When someone asks me if I have a partner, my answer is always the same. Of course I do. I have a gym partner, two business partners, and several creative partners. But I only have one boyfriend, though maybe one day he will be my husband.

And I won’t allow you to call him anything else.

 

TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit Facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter at @iamtylercurry.

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