Most people don't really have a problem with what name to use when introducing the person they are with. For most people it's as easily solved as "girlfriend" or "boyfriend". Seems simple enough, right? I wish it was. I've just spent the last 5 minutes trying to phrase the first sentence of this article in a gender neutral way that doesn't sound ridiculous. You see, when you don't identify with the rigid categories "man" or "woman" and all that is associated with that, you will have a problem on your hands. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of sweet, cute and adorable gender neutral terms to use for one another; bae, sweetheart, honey, honeybee, pumpkin, pudding - all that jazz. But when you are in a situation where you are actually introducing someone (for example to friends or family) that is non binary and with you it becomes a bit more challenging.
"Hi, this is Fox. They are my [insert term here]".
As I am non binary and in a relationship with a non binary person, we decided to make a youtube video where we'd discuss this and try to find out what to do. There are a few suggestions out there and people were really helpful trying to come up with terms but there wasn't really anything that we felt was substantial enough or something that didn't have some weird connotations to it.
We had terms like feyfriend, birlfriend, girlboyfriend, boifriend, better half, significant other, paramour, my love, lover, date friend and plenty of others. These all just sound a bit like a weird cocktail of random terms, something that belongs in a 80's romantic movie or someone you're just totally casual about. The only term that I feel semi-okay with is the term "partner", but even that sounds a bit off. To me it sounds a bit like this same-sex couple that have been together for 40 years and finally were able to be open about their relationship and get married. Or just a very established same-sex relationship. Which doesn't really describe our relationship at all since we've been together for a matter of months.
I feel like language is in many ways lacking gender neutral terms. In my native country, Iceland, just like many other countries, the language is so gendered that even a table has a gender. Like honestly, why the hell would the table have a gender? It's a bloody table. You also have to constantly gender yourself or other people, so basically, in order to be able to talk to someone or about someone you need to know their gender. And in our society, we usually just go by a person's gender expression or whatever, which is really limited and somewhat bizarre, especially in a queer setting where you just know that won't fly, nor should it even.
(One of our biggest issues is how people always assume we're straight and cis - maybe I need to shave my hair or something).
One of the first things we think when we meet someone is whether they are male or female - and when language is so extremely gendered, it almost becomes a necessity so that you can refer to people. So it's like a constant pit of enforcing specific roles, expressions and identities on to people and not having any idea or words to use for people that don't fit in there. Admittedly, English isn't quite as bad as many languages, but it's still very insisting on assuming someone's gender or identity in order to refer to them.
I can't help but to feel a bit helpless. Language has a huge impact on enforcing or creating values and norms in societies and I feel like the idea of gender and sex as a binary is so embedded into our culture that even language is a tool to enforce it. We are constantly creating and enforcing a discourse and ideas that don't encompass the reality out there. Language needs to move on and we need to come up with new ways, new words and new values that everyone can feel included in. It's not enough to have to settle for something as a lack of a better term. I want something substantial and I want to feel included.
Do you have any ideas for better terms? Please leave a comment below or tweet me at @uglastefania with your ideas!