Is ‘Partner’ A Better Word Than ‘Girlfriend’ For Describing The Person You Are Romantically Involved With?

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Girlfriend or boyfriend has always been used to describe our other halves, but sometimes members of the LGBTQ community are not comfortable with using these terms. It’s easy to understand why.

For example, girlfriend or boyfriend is the generic term for heterosexual couples to use for each other which implies a strict gender identity. Many people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer the terms boyfriend or girlfriend is a constant reminder that society only views gender as man or woman and there is no area in-between. It pushes trans people out of the romantic language completely.

That’s not comfortable for transgendered people so they tend to prefer the term partner which doesn’t identify a gender.

The other issue is what the word girlfriend or boyfriend implies. To heterosexual couples it simply means you are dating and in some kind of relationship, whether it is serious or not. But for lesbians that’s not so straightforward and it’s hard to explain to people outside of our own community.

For example, if you are in a casual fling, is the other girl your ‘girlfriend’? Are you ‘girlfriends’ if you occasionally hook up romantically but both agree not to date? In the case of lesbians and the complicated structures of our romantic status, the term girlfriend implies a relationship whereas the term partner doesn’t hold these connotations.

Another thing to consider is for those who are perhaps not out to everybody or are not comfortable telling people about their sexual identity. For example, using the word partner won’t bring unnecessary attention to your sexual orientation. When we meet someone for the first time it’s hard to tell if that person is homophobic and it might cause you problems if you out yourself to them straight away, especially if you are meeting new colleagues at work or are surrounded by a group of people you don’t know.

In situations like these, using the word partner can protect you in uncertain circumstances. Of course, some people don’t care what others think and will use the term girlfriend or boyfriend whomever they are talking to, but not everybody is comfortable doing this.

Some people in the LGBT community are very happy to use the term ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ and that’s fine. It is a case of what works best for the individual. But it seems that many of us are now using the word partner a lot more simply for the fact that it doesn’t imply things we don’t want it to imply and it’s a way of avoiding labelling, gender identity and homophobia.

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5 thoughts on “Is ‘Partner’ A Better Word Than ‘Girlfriend’ For Describing The Person You Are Romantically Involved With?

  1. B

    Nah. I respectfully disagree. “Partner” is kinda boring and unsexy. Straight unmarried ppl in long term relationships say “partner”. Similar to “business partner”. And trans ppl usually identify as man or woman so “[trans*] girlfriend” or “[trans*] boyfriend” ain’t a problem. N most ppl I know dont have “complicated” relationships. And if they did then they would say “friend [with benefits]”

  2. A2

    Queer folks invented “partner” as a gender neutral term signifying someone with whom we were in a significant committed relationship in the decades before same sex marriage was legalized. It has a history and power signifying equality that heterosexual terms do not. Straight people have adopted it, sometimes as a way of masking their marital status in an environment of inequality, sometime to endorse the idea of a balance of power in intimate relationships, sometimes to signal solidarity with us. Unlike the author, I see “partner” as signifying a person’s status in a serious, committed relationship. “Girlfriend” is a lot more ambiguous and provisional — there’s some romantic connection, but not (yet) a commitment to creating a life together.

  3. Rachel

    I find it strange to be referred to as girlfriend, purely because at 45 I don’t feel like a girl any more I am a woman. I tend to refer to my partner as partner for specifically that reason, it seems more grown-up. Yes it is a bit boring, but until she is my wife, it just seems to fit better than girlfriend which I just associate with people under 21. Also she is much more than a friend, she is my lover, my friend and my life partner, girlfriend just seems to inconsequential and juvenile a term.

  4. Layla

    I absolutely agree with you on the designation of using partner for something completely meaningful and serious….

  5. Partner

    People in homosexual relationships have been using partner for YEARS…we used (some still do) partner to be ambiguous. I like that I live in a climate which allows me to “finally,” say girlfriend. I understand the desire to be more inclusive but let’s not deny our own history. I think you should refer to your partner, as whatever they prefer. If you are referring to a group of people’s significant other such as “what’s your boyfriends/girlfriends name?,” then you should use inclusive language.

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