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 cliche 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, fiance, 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.