My partner and I are not friends.
She may be my best friend but that is not an accurate way for you to describe her.
You may think you’re being tactful. You may simply be prudish, raised during an earlier generation, or old fashioned. To suggest that she is anything other than my fiancée, my love, my significant other is rude. It’s offensive and hurtful. It suggests that you find us to be “other.”
Less than. Distasteful. Shameful.
“Friends” is not an appropriate euphemism for “gay.” It implies that you do not think you can talk about our relationship in polite company.
This is the more subtle side of discrimination and it happens more often than you think. It doesn’t seem to matter how close people are to me. How old or young, open-minded or accepting.
Two years ago I was at a seven-person Thanksgiving table with very close family and friends and someone whom I love shared a story about another lesbian and her “friend.” She even dropped the volume of her voice when she said it. She looked me right in the eyes, told the tale, and seemed to forget that I am one of “them.” But, she was referring to me, whether she realized it or not.
A very nice, very nosy, coworker consistently asks me about my “friend.” She cares about my relationship enough to ask about it but still can’t bring herself to name it.
It may seem harmless to refer to same sex partners as friends but that’s not how it feels. Let me give you an example: you may be “friends” with your parent, your sibling, your child. But, you do not introduce yourselves as such and no one else will introduce you that way. Why? Because it unnecessarily diminishes your relationship. Your first and foremost relationship. The most important tie you have with that person.
I realize that, from time to time, older folks may introduce heterosexual, unmarried couples in a similar manner. Yeah, it happens to straight people, too. But, as a person who has spent their life straddling the sexual preference fence, I can tell you that the frequency and intent is different. It happens all the time to my partner and me and the look that people get when they say the word, “friend,” is off. There’s a hiccup to it. It’s meant to obfuscate.
Two months ago, Caroline accompanied me to a birthday party- an impromptu family reunion, really. We entered the gathering room and there were almost 30 people already there, sitting down, talking quietly and…I fumbled it. I came in with Caroline, my sister-in-law and my brand-new new niece, Sweet Pea. When we entered everyone got very quiet. Then, people started saying ‘hi,’ squealing over the baby and there was this moment- I had to choose between shushing everyone and introducing Caroline to the group or walking her around the room and introducing her privately. I chose to introduce her one by one. Because I was afraid, nervous, and don’t like being the center of attention. A heartbeat later, the birthday girl, 97-year old Harriett, asked “who is that girl?”and took the decision out of my hands. Someone that I’ve known for almost 25 years and who is well aware of our relationship immediately jumped in and referred to Caroline as my “friend,” to explain to Harriett.
I made a decision to let it go. Apparently, this person felt that there was a need to either spare poor granny the shock of being in the presence of a scary lesbian couple or to spare the poor lesbian couple from the acid tongue of a less than accepting granny. To accomplish this, we needed to sacrifice the right to claim our relationship. And I allowed it.
I am a polite person and am very aware of social graces but, it felt wrong. It was such an awkward moment. I realized almost immediately that I had disrespected my partner in the same way that I had been disrespected. Because it is as rude to let open discrimination go as it is to be the discriminator yourself.
After we left, I brought this up to Caroline and made a promise to never allow it again. I know that she would have done the same thing as I (we’re both wary of calling attention to ourselves) but it’s still not right. It made her uncomfortable to even contemplate having handled the situation more aggressively. In the end, however, she agreed that we should correct people in an effort to stand up for ourselves.
I had an opportunity to make good two weeks ago. We stopped by another family member’s office and that person chose not to introduce Caroline as my partner to coworkers. My family member has been very accepting behind closed doors but, I believe that this person was embarrassed to recognize our relationship in front of others. My family member never said that, of course, but I know for a fact that my brother’s fiancée would not have been referred to in the same manner. I know that she was introduced as either his fiancée or girlfriend before their marriage. Never, “This is Julie, Matt’s friend.”
I didn’t bring it up in the moment, because we were at a place of business and it would have required embarrassing this person in front of subordinates to make my point. However, I did mention it privately the next day and, though it wasn’t easy and we were both a bit uncomfortable, it was worth it. I stood up for myself. More importantly, I stood up for Caroline and all the other lesbians, dykes, gays, trannies, fags, queers, and “others.”
Caroline is not my “friend.” I don’t sleep with my friends. I am not marrying her because she is my friend. And, I won’t introduce the (future) mother of my children that way.
Caroline will be my wife next June and I demand respect for her. For us. For everyone who has ever been made to feel as if their relationship wasn’t good enough to be named aloud.
Caroline is not my “friend.” She is my love.