The word “partner” makes me feel sick. Let me tell you why…
I don’t make any secret out of the fact that I’m in a relationship with a woman. Yet “partner” is the word I choose to use when I tread neutral ground with someone I don’t know; when I want to talk about my relationship without outing myself or saying girlfriend. Sometimes I just want to get on with business without rubbing private information in people’s faces and the fact is that no matter how often I do it, the act of coming out to someone never gets easier or less nerve-racking – so I say “partner”.
The word to me has a mature yet cowardly feel to it, I know I’m using it to avoid revealing my sexuality. And although I use it, it makes me feel a little queasy.
It was one particularly awful experience with the word “partner” that first scarred me. I was setting up a bank account after moving to the UK from Sweden and the guy helping me was not only a terribly sleazy bank employee, 30-ish with a bulging belly and peering eyes, but an absolute “lad” trying to be all “matey” with me too. The worst.
As he was processing my application on his computer, something that felt like it took forever, he asked all sorts about me and my life. I couldn’t help but feel that I was being interrogated. While that might have been the case (I was a foreigner wanting a bank account after all), I also felt he wanted to get flirty. So I mentioned my “partner”, hoping he’d stop asking about my house, my career and my weekend plans. But no. Instead he continued by dropping my “boyfriend” into conversation, asking where me and my “boyfriend” might want to move next. Did we also plan on getting a dog? What did “he” do for a living? Etc, etc, et flipping cetera.
I pretended I didn’t hear the gender specific pronouns and continued to carefully refer to my girlfriend as “they”, feeling myself die a little inside each time as I crept further and further back into the closet. Of course I could just tell him that I’m a raging lesbian but then I had no real interest in sharing such information with this “top lad” who I intended on never seeing again. I knew how he’d react. And he did.
Because eventually I broke down.
“Eh, it’s actually my girlfriend, and no, she doesn’t watch football.”
His face dropped and a look of confusion was soon swapped for total glee. He continued the rest of the interrogation with telling me that I didn’t look like a lesbian – meaning this as a compliment, how sweet of him. And what did I think of that other bank employee over there, would I ever have guessed that he (who coincidentally had refused my application the week before) was gay? Yes. And of course now bank lad had some fuel on his fire he continued to excitedly quiz me about my girlfriend, proper “bonding” with a real life lesbian – I could tell how he was bursting to get down the pub to the tell the boys.
As I finally left, bank account papers in hand, I felt strangely in need of a shower, like someone had seen a bit too much of me. It wasn’t pleasant.
Every time I’ve used the p-word since, my mind remembers this.
Almost two years on I was serving one of my favourite regular customers, a 40-something academic, in the café that I work. When he asked about my future plans I, without thinking, revealed I would be staying in the city for some time.
“Oh really, why is that?”
“Well, my (here we go) partner got funding for a Phd,” I said, fear growing over what would come next.
“Ah cool, what does he or she do?”
The physical feeling of relief was immense. He hadn’t assumed I was heterosexual, he hadn’t assumed that I had a boyfriend and he, in fact, left the gender of my partner completely open. I could hardly believe it and so I hesitated before answering him with a big smile, happily telling him about what she does. He had no interest in her gender, he just continued asking about her research – and the feeling was phenomenal. If coming out was this easy, I’d do it all the time.
I made my customer a pretty, heart shaped late. He deserved it.
Categories: Bella's Blog