You’re Not My ’Partner’
June 18, 2009
By Sari Edelstein
Lately, something confusing has started to happen. I’ll find myself at a wedding or an academic conference or a dinner party and I’ll meet a heterosexual who invariably makes reference to his or her “partner,” a term once employed mainly by gays and lesbians to refer to same-sex significant others. Now, in what seems to be the spirit of political correctness, well-intentioned straight people have co-opted the term and made a mess of its former status as gay signifier. (A recent article on the “partner” free-for-all can be seen here.)
As a Jewish lesbian with a straight past and a feminine appearance, I find this especially aggravating. For me, the term “partner” was a way of casually outing myself to colleagues and new acquaintances. “My partner and I live in Cambridge,” or “My partner is at home grading papers tonight; she was sorry she couldn’t be here.” I relied on this single word to communicate the truth of my sexual and social identity as a gay woman, but lately it’s not doing the cultural work it used to do.