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.