relationships

‘They’re my main squeeze!’ Telling people about your non-binary lover

thy-page said:

“Hey I really want to ask just out of curiosity do people who use they have a word they get called when in a relationship eg with the biranry gernders boyfriend girlfriend. Is there something like they for people who use they?”

Hi there thy-page!

An excellent question. I think the most common word is ‘partner’ but this can be quite a heavy-duty term implying a primary if not monogamous relationship as well as a particular duration and intent (spouse is similar).

I see queer and/or trans* people around me overwhelmingly using partner language, but I also hear some straight cis-gender (non-trans) people using partner language, too. This has the nice effect of opening up the possibility that their (absent and referred-to ‘partner’) could be of any gender, and makes a little crack in the inevitability of heterosexuality. I often encourage my straight students to try referring to their partners with singular they and partner language in conversation with strangers, and to see what happens. Give it a try, interwebs!

But I digress.

‘Partner’ and ‘spouse’ certainly don’t reflect all ways in which people approach their relationships, particularly more casual, less primary or less durational ones. I’ve heard people use the following:

date

lover

crush

significant other

sweetheart

sweetie

new friend

main squeeze

Of course, some of these can sound pretty cheesey, and might have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality to them. They also may be a bit awkward to use when introducing your person to others: “This is my main squeeze!” or “Meet my crush!” However, I’m a big proponent of embracing and surviving awkwardness as best as we can; but I’m also an extrovert and someone who actively studies awkwardness as a teaching tool…

So another and perhaps more socially seamless option is to use gerunds (-ing words) in the style of ‘person-first’ language popularized by some disability rights advocates. Here are some examples:

“This is Matt, the person I’m dating.”

“This is Phoenix. We’ve been seeing each other for about a month.”

“Juniper and I have been spending a lot of time together recently.”

This is nice because you don’t need a label at all.

So, thanks again thy-page for a great question! Keep asking.

**

Happy new year from TIMP, everyone! Thank you for your many questions, both private and public. Thank you also for your patience with me as I caught up to my new post-Ph.D. defence life and had a big TIMP time-lag this fall.

I love writing this blog, but my only regret is that I don’t usually get to have ongoing conversations with anyone. Please feel free to comment far and wide on my posts, whether you agree or disagree with what I have offered. I would love to hear other points of view, which can only be helpful to people asking questions. I will get back to you, I promise.

My warmest wishes for a gender-inclusive (if not wholly gender-neutral) 2015,

Lee

Fearing partner rejection because of a gender-neutral pronoun request

theleviathanfromhell asked:

“Hey um a few nights ago I sent my boyfriend some pronouns I asked if he can use (xhe/xhim/xir and they) and he got somewhat confused, so I immediately backed out and told him never mind and all that. I’m a bit scared that if I ask him again he might refuse or reject that idea, or i’m wrong and he’ll accept it. I don’t know, i’m just nervous to ask him again. If you can, please tell me if you have any tips on this situation?”

Dear leviathanfromhell,

I’ll start by saying that this is tough. Rejection from the people closest too us – even more quiet kinds like skepticism or fatigue – can be devastating when we are asking for a pronoun change. This might particularly be the case for gender-neutral pronoun users because there isn’t a lot of public consciousness about usage or implications. So we end up doing more education than our hearts or souls can sometimes bear. All this is to say that I feel you.

I think there are two things going on here, based on the information you have provided. What do you think your boyfriend (who I will call B for…boyfriend) was confused about? Was it a reaction to the medium (‘sent’ implies text or email) and the lack of a face-to-face conversation about something pretty significant? Was it about gender-neutral pronouns in general, the particular pronouns you asked for (which are unfamiliar to most), or the implications that B may have presumed based on the request (that you might perhaps transition to some degree – a common assumption – and what this might mean for B or your relationship)? If gender hasn’t come up before in conversation, or if you hadn’t talked to B about your gender until this pronoun request, there may be many reasons for the confusion. (Here I’m making an assumption that your choice to use alt pronouns is connected to gender, which it isn’t always…if this is wrong I apologize.)

For others reading, I’m basically suggesting that a pronoun request coming ‘out of nowhere’ (at least in terms of how it might feel for someone receiving the request) is probably going to cause some confusion. This is basically a tactical issue in terms of how you plan the conversation.

That having been said, it is clear that B’s reaction gave you cause for fear and discomfort. This makes me think that you may have good reason to expect that B’s confusion isn’t the benign kind like being caught off-guard (this is the kind we can kind of manage with conversation tactics) but rather a pattern you are recognizing. While you try to figure out if B might reject you (and/or your request), think about how B generally speaks about pronouns, gender, trans people, etc. OR whether B tends to be supportive or not of new things or ideas you have (or that B’s friends or family members have). These could be equally telling. Alternately, it could be that you have experienced judgmental rejection before from others (friends, family or partners) and this is coming back to haunt you in B’s reaction which – and I know basically nothing here – could be just ordinary and not malevolent or prejudicial. What is firing your furnace of fear and discomfort?

Only you know what’s best here, leviathanfromhell. First, and only if you feel safe at at liberty to do so (like, rejection will not result in losing housing, financial or other support), you can choose to have the conversation again but differently (if you haven’t already…sorry for the lag-time this month). This way you can gauge, in person, the kind and degree of confusion B is having. You could also talk to mutual friends you trust and prepare for the chat. These friends could perhaps also be resources for B to practice or express their feelings about your pronoun change (which do exist, and to deny these just isn’t realistic).

If you don’t feel safe having the conversation again, it would be useful to think about whether you are willing or able to be in a relationship where your preferred pronouns aren’t used, or if you feel like you can’t ask for your needs to be met. It might take time to get it right, but while there is time being taken I hope you can feel like B is trying and being kind. As I have already suggested, though, it would be useful for you to think about whether this is coming from B or if it reflects an expectation that you bring into the relationship from prior experiences.

Hope that helps,

Lee