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It's Time To Stop Presuming That Same-Sex Couples Are 'Just Friends'

31/08/2017 14:00 BST | Updated 31/08/2017 14:00 BST

The other day, I was in a popular retail store, collecting an item that my partner had bought online. To receive the item, I had to speak to a retail assistant, and show them an email confirming the order. When speaking to them, I repeatedly used the phrase 'my partner', and spoke about her using female pronouns (she/her). However, despite this, when it came to receiving the item, the retail assistant handed me the parcel, and asked: 'wait, who is this for? Your friend or your family member?' After telling them, once again, that it was for my partner, the shop assistant looked at me blankly, clearly confused that I was referring to my partner using female pronouns. I thanked the shop assistant for their help, and then exited the shop, feeling pretty annoyed.

You may think I'm overreacting. You may believe that it was an 'easy mistake' that 'anyone could've made'. Let's face it, it was someone who'd just met me in a busy retail store, halfway through a Sunday afternoon. Surely, they shouldn't be expected to remember every detail of my life, right?

Well, let me ask you this: can you remember the last time that your female friend referred to her partner using male pronouns (he/him) and somebody presumed that they were talking about 'their friend' or 'their family member'. I know I certainly can't. So, why is it acceptable to presume that my partner is simply a 'friend' or a 'family member'?

Being LGBT+, we're repeatedly told that we have 'equal rights'. On almost every article I've seen about Pride events, I've witnessed countless comments from people, who have told us we need to 'stop complaining'. We're told that we need to stop 'drawing attention to ourselves', as we really don't have any problems 'anymore'. I mean, we have same-sex marriage now - surely that means all of our issues are solved?

Except our problems aren't solved. Sure, we may be able to walk down the aisle with our same-sex partner (as long as we're not in a church) but that doesn't get rid of the casual homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that we encounter in our everyday lives. Take my incident with the shop assistant - this was far from unique. I can recall countless times where I've used female pronouns when talking about my 'partner', or 'girlfriend', or 'fiancée', and the person I've spoken to has responded in a way that presumes I'm talking about a 'friend' or my 'sister'.

I know this situation isn't unique to lesbians. I have spoken to so many gay male friends, who have encountered similar situations. I've spoken to bisexual, and pansexual people, who have faced the same issues when talking about a same-sex partner. For people who are in a relationship with a person who identifies as 'non-binary', this is also a problem. Their partners are constantly misgendered, despite them using pronouns, such as 'they/them' when referring to the person they're in a relationship with.

It's got to stop. Being put in a situation where it's presumed that your 'partner' is simply a 'friend' or a 'sibling' is deeply uncomfortable. When a stranger presumes that my partner is my 'friend' or my 'sister', it makes me feel as though being a lesbian is still not acceptable. It's further frustrating because I know that, if you asked the majority of those 'strangers' if they're in favour of same-sex marriage, they'd declare their support. If you asked them if they were 'homophobic', they'd shake their heads immediately. If you questioned them about whether they believe that same-sex couples are treated equally to heterosexual couples, I can imagine most of them would quickly say 'yes'.

However, same-sex couples aren't treated as equals. Sure, we can get married now. But we also live in a society where people would rather presume that people are related or 'just friends', than in a relationship. This isn't okay.

If you truly believe in equality for all, don't presume that tweeting your support for same-sex marriage is enough. Don't believe that whacking a rainbow filter on your Facebook profile picture, or buying the 'Pride edition' of your favourite beverage is an acceptable way to show your 'full' support for LGBT+ rights.

Instead, be careful when speaking to others. I know that people make honest mistakes but please, when a person uses the word 'partner', don't presume that they're talking about a pal or a parent. Instead, respect them: if they use the word 'partner', use the word 'partner' too and, if you can, please encourage others to do the same.