"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Friday, March 18, 2016

the politics of terminology

Now Playing: Someone New by Hozier (would things be easier if there was a right way? Honey, there is no right way)

I use the word 'partner' to refer to people with whom I've had non platonic relationships with, and it drives people batshit.

The word 'partner' has been associated with the queer community for a long time, when gendered words like boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife either weren't allowed to be used, didn't accurately describe a relationship, or uncomfortably enforced patriarchal, heteronormative, cissexist standards on queer relationships. It's also gaining popularity in the upper echelons of the professional and academic world, especially by professional women, because it's a more egalitarian and less...personal word? It stops one's private life from interfering with public matters.

I like the word 'partner' for several reasons. Firstly, I get judged...a lot...by how I conduct my personal life, so the word 'partner' is a neutral element in what can be quite an emotive discussion; much to my mother's chagrin, I don't have boyfriends. Millennials are great at the non-traditional. 'Partners' is an easy way to refer to a group of people who are or were important to me, but in very different ways; it's a shorthand for referring to all the weird and wonderful things you get up to in your teens and twenties. I also like divorcing relationships from my gender and sexuality, and from the genders and sexualities of the people I have relationships with. I like the gender neutrality of the word 'partner'; I don't want people to make assumptions about my sexuality or the gender of my partners through use of gendered language, because, like many people, my sexuality and experiences of attraction are somewhat separate things right now, and that's okay, but I'm proud of my identity nonetheless.

The word 'partner' is like the word 'relationship' - we define its meaning. People associate the word 'partner' with really serious relationships, but in the context of the study of human sexuality, which is my background, the word usually refers to the people you've had sex with, as in 'sexual partners'. 'Relationship' is sort of the same; any human interaction is a relationship, but we euphemistically use it to refer to a specific kind of ideal, idealized relationship that we bar people who exist outside of the sexual and romantic ideal from using the word. But when we alter words so that people cannot use them, when we limit the lexicon and vocabulary to people because they aren't straight, or they aren't cis, or they aren't in specific kinds of relationships that we deem worthy of the words 'partner' or 'relationships', we ultimately disempower a huge portion of the population from adequately explaining, discussing, and thinking about their experiences of sexuality and human interaction.

Nobody, including myself, has objected to the way in which my partners have referred to me or to my relationships with them; this has included the extremely hurtful way in which my abuser and my assailant has talked about me to other people. Because I've never been in an 'official', serious, long term relationship, my partners usually use more euphemistic or vague terms to refer to me; usually like 'this girl', 'my girl', 'one of my girls', etc. I tried doing this once - I used to refer to a few guys as 'my boys' and let me tell you, shit hit the fan. I don't know whether guys are not used to being referred to as 'boy' in the same way that women are called 'girl' long after childhood and often in a sexual context, or because I used it as a collective and they wanted to be special, or people were uncomfortable with my casual, non-platonic association with people with penises...God knows. But that was definitely a double standard.

People also object to the words 'partner' or 'relationships' because even though they are quite...neutral words, they are associated, especially by younger people, with things that are committed and serious and everything we're allergic to; but I resent that. I think it's a stupid stereotype that women are somehow overly attached to people, especially men, and that we can't relate to men in ways that aren't whiny and clingy, when in reality women get attached to things in the exact same way that all other people do. It's a strange mix of archaic notions of gender, slut shaming, single bashing...whatever. I'm tired of it. I have relationships with partners and nobody's going to change how I discuss them.

Speaking of discussing, people seem uncomfortable with women talking about lovers past, present, and future as a whole; men are constantly encouraged to talk about that broad that they pulled last Friday night, but women are supposed to be very hush hush about these kinds of things. I should know. My abuser was very keen that I did not talk about our abusive relationship.

When I say I'm a writer, I don't mean that I have published books or that I am making any living through writing (or anything at all, really, at the moment). Being a writer is a frame of mind; and it is the profound, life-changing knowledge that words carry omnipotent power. Every day we, as individuals and as communities, define the words that define us; but when we exclude or barre people from engaging in this intellectual activity, because they are insufficiently male, or straight, or whatever, we erase from history huge parts of the human experience, and we disempower people by preventing them from making sense of their own lives and to participate in this exercise of empathy. In my short life I have loved and lost, I have hurt and been hurt. I have woken up next to beautiful people and cried myself to sleep. And I will keep writing and talking about it, because my experiences are valid and even though I live in a world where my colour and femaleness and queerness is not respected or valued, I exist, and my existence is important, and my words are magic.

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