Monday, 3 June 2013

The Trouble With Ambiguity

Happy Monday everyone!

We say happy, because here in the UK the SUN is shining! And has been all weekend! Hell, it was even warm enough today for Sarah and me to meet halfway between our works for a sunny lunchtime tanning and cuddles session! (sounds great, right?) - we hope you're enjoying June wherever you are!

Before we get onto today's topic, we need to also give a little shout out to the marriage equality debate in the House of Lords at the moment. Think positive thoughts everyone, okay? It's amazing how close we are to being able to be legally married in the UK!

So - today I read a post on our friend Susie's blog, about the use of the 'loaded' term partner. Read it if you'd like, I'll wait!


Right. So Susie says in it that she often uses the word 'partner' to avoid having to 'come out' to people that don't have much to do with her life. I think it's really interesting how different interpretations are of the word 'partner'. So I thought I'd share with you our (well, my) experience on the subject!

Personally, we have never really used the term. I think it's because we don't feel like it's very accurate of our relationship. Before I was with Sarah, I always thought of partner as yes, a term for a same-sex significant other, but also one that an older, unmarried straight couple would use, as 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' seemed too young. Because of this second association with 'partner', and because I was 20 years old when Sarah and I got together, I thought of it as too 'mature' a word for us. Also, we like that 'girlfriend' has more feminine connotations, so when someone thinks of our 'girlfriend' (in my opinion) they're more likely to think of a femme lesbian than if I'd used 'partner'. Which is important to me only because it's the truth!

Does that make sense?

Besides that, I quite enjoy the 'coming out' dance. I like saying 'girlfriend', and seeing if the person I'm speaking to has picked up on it. Of course, I still have the odd issue coming out like when I kept trying and nobody quite 'got' it at my last job, but mostly I enjoy seeing people's brains working as I talk about Sarah.

But since we've been engaged, we've encountered a new issue - the term 'fiancée' is very gender neutral, much like 'partner'. Sure, when written, there is an obvious gender-telling difference between 'fiancée' and 'fiancé' (though a lot of people don't seem to realise the female version has two 'e's, which KILLS me, but that's another story for another time), but when said, of course people assume my fiancée is in fact, a man.

So as much as I love showing off and calling S my fiancée, it's much less fun to do it with new people. And makes for super awkward 'coming out'-ness, like the below a few weekends ago.

- I was sharing a room in a hotel with another crew member during an event my company held the other week, and as we were chatting and getting to know each other, I mentioned my fiancée. She squealed with excitement, and asked me about my engagement - where and when I'm getting married, etc. She automatically referred to S as 'he', which I would usually correct off the bat, but decided to just let slide, and try not to point out a gender in my replies. 

The reason for this out-of-the-ordinary reaction was that, it sounds bad, but I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable that she was sharing a room with a lesbian. This is quite embarrassing to admit, because obviously we all know there is no difference between me sharing a room with her or a straight engaged woman - but it was late, I hadn't pre-thought about it, and it was my first time in this situation.

So I glazed over it, but when 5 mins down the line she asked if 'he had surprised me with the engagement', I couldn't think of a way to accurately describe our engagement (got the rings first, then each proposed) without giving it away, and I thought how much worse it'd be if she spoke to someone else at the event I knew and they told her instead of me... instead of just working it into conversation, I stopped, and went - 


Smooth, Laura, smooth. 

She was of course fine with it, and I was just being silly, but it highlights for me how awkward gender neutral terms are for the lgbt community. I learned from then to interchange fiancée and girlfriend... and it makes me even more excited to be able to say WIFE in just over a year!!

What is your experience with the word 'partner'?


  1. I think honesty is the best thing... even when it's hard. You find out as you did, most people are not there to judge... :)

  2. gahhh, there is NO fail-safe word, except wife. Sometimes me and Katrina joke that we'll introduce each other as "my lesbian lady lover" (from The L Word... ). I think Susie's right, we just need to work towards a future when we can say girlfriend and wife just like anyone else.

  3. I'm happy you posted about this - I think about this a lot! I LOVE the term partner! Most (well, many) serious couples I know use it, whether they're in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship, and whether or not they're married/legally/symbolically hitched. I feel like it captures what I want from my person - the togetherness and unity of a strong relationship.

    It does totally carry the connotation of a same-sex couple, though. But I am all for making it a catch-all term for a committed, loving, respectful relationship, regardless of legal status of the relationship, sex/gender of the parties, etc.

  4. Ok, I'm embarrassed to admit this as I like to think of myself as a bit of a wordsmith, but I had no idea the female version of fiance was fiancee! I totally missed out on that for the year I was a fiancee to my fiance! Anyways, although I'm straight, I totally get what you're saying about the ambiguity of words like partner or fiance(e). Personally, I like to flaunt my hubs (as we're still technically newlyweds-- for one more week), as I'm sure you do too with the wifey! :)

  5. A friend of mine is nonbinary. Doesn't associate with either pronoun. Made for slightly strained conversations initially, but I've since expressed my gratitude for expanding my worldview.


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