I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like declaring and then explaining my sexual identity when it’s irrelevant to the conversation.
I’m in love with my best friend. She’s a woman. So am I.
Sometimes that information is required, but you’d be surprised how often it really isn’t.
If you’re a queer person who doesn’t feel the need to go into details at the moment or a straight person acting in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, using gender-neutral terms of affection can work in your favor.
If you happen to be bisexual, pansexual, or fluid, but currently in a relationship that appears to be heterosexual, a gender-neutral term can prevent people from asking fun questions like, “Wait, weren’t you gay before?”
If you or your partner identify as genderqueer, trans, genderfluid, or otherwise non-binary, taking gender out of the equation can make understanding easier for people less in-the-know.
You are a person dating another person. That’s simple enough for anyone to understand, right?
In addition to the benefits to the LGBTQIA+ community, I find that there are gender-neutral words that better describe the nature of your relationship than “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
Without further ado, here are some gender-neutral choices to say instead:
I’ve heard the term “life partner” used ( usually by older, cisgender, long-term gay couples) as well, but that distinction seems a bit antiquated now that more states have legalized same-sex marriage.
I used to really dislike the term “partner” because to me, it evoked cowboys.
Now that I’m older and in a happy relationship, the term has grown on me because I have a partner in crime as well as a lover and monogamous girlfriend
If you have a flair for the dramatic, this is a great word.
As a lesbian, I personally shy away from it because of its often lascivious connotations (and because certain members of my family constantly referred to my college girlfriend as my “Lesbian Lover,” and it was just as weird as it sounds).
However, if you like the sexiness and melodrama, try calling your GF/BF your lover.
3. Significant Other
I love this term because it is neutral in every sense.
It doesn’t have the intensity of long-term commitment or overt sexuality implicit in the other gender-neutral terms I’ve mentioned so far.
But it also makes a point that this person is someone significant in your life, and that’s charming.
A variation on this idea is “significant autre,” which means the same thing, but the word “other” is in French. I may have only heard that version on an episode of Will and Grace, though.
It’s short, sweet, cute, and a gender-neutral and modernized take on the term “beau.” What’s not to like?
Also, the early 2000s gave us this gem. You’re welcome.
However, if calling someone your “boo” doesn’t really fit into your dialect – or, worse, if it sounds like you’re mocking African-American Vernacular English when you try using it – skip out.
You run the risk of sounding racist, and I won’t be taking credit for that.
If I’m not mistaken, “goyfriend” is a mash-up of the words “girlfriend” and “boyfriend.”
I have only heard it used by Ali Stroker in reference to her Glee Project costar and partner Dani Shay, but it’s too cute and clever to exclude.
If it applies to you, make it a thing!
Obviously, this list is far from comprehensive, but you should really talk to your partner and see how they feel about gender neutrality and dating terminology. Don’t be surprised if the discussion is new territory for your partner.
A question you may encounter is “Why even bother if saying boyfriend/girlfriend works for my relationship?”
Certain gender-neutral dating words connote a more serious relationship than “boyfriend/girlfriend.”
It’s a sweet way to show the world and my partner that I’m in it for the long haul (but allows me more time to save up for an engagement ring!).
Gender-neutrality can also come across as mature, professional, and easier for others to comprehend.
Also, you don’t want to be that person who rambles on and on, repeating “my girlfriend/boyfriend” ad nauseum.
If you’re like me, you may use different terms in different spaces.
For example, when I speak casually with friends or tell jokes onstage or on Twitter, I usually refer to my partner as my girlfriend.
We’re both relatively feminine-presenting cis women and feel comfortable calling each other girlfriends in spaces where we know we’ll be accepted as a same-sex couple.
However, when I speak with my elders, professional contacts, or the devoutly religious, I use the term “partner.”
I really do not want to start a debate on same-sex marriage or make someone supremely uncomfortable.
If my partner comes up in conversation, we’re usually talking about something minor and irrelevant to my orientation, like the cute bracelet my partner got me for my twentieth birthday.
Using gender-neutral pronouns regularly can also be a helpful example to the other people in your life.
For example, if you identify somewhere under the queer umbrella, some of your family may not feel comfortable referring to your boyfriend or girlfriend as your “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
This applies tenfold if you’re young.
Your family may refer to your significant other as your “friend,” even when it is clearly not the case.
It can feel alienating and hurtful.
If this sounds like your family, you might want to have a bigger discussion down the line, but gender-neutral dating words might be easier for everyone to stomach.
I’m not saying to excuse blatant homophobia, but champions of LGBTQIA+ rights cannot expect everyone to seamlessly hop on board with any sort of change, especially one regarding gender and sex.
Whatever your reasons may be, I hope this list helps you.
I know it’s far from complete, though, so that’s where you come in.
Talk to your partners and friends, and see if you can come up with more gender-neutral dating words to add. Let me know in the comments!
Maddie McClouskey is a former Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a twenty-something lesbian in New York City and currently writes weekly dating advice pieces for the LGBTQ event app and website SheSeekOnline and was a regular contributor to the sexuality and feminism site ToughxCookies. When she’s not writing articles about gayness, she’s performing stand-up comedy, singing show tunes to her girlfriend and dog against their will, or making up jokes for Twitter @SoundofMaddie.
Search our 3000+ articles!
Our online racial justice training
Used by hundreds of universities, non-profits, and businesses.
Click to learn more