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Danielle Ariano Headshot

Whatever You Do, Don't Do This

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Alamy
Alamy

Just for the record, folks, she's not my friend. She's my partner, my lover, my other, better half. She is the love of my life, my lady, mi esposa, mia moglie, ma femme, my everything, my heart, my soul, my joy, my happiness, my mate, the woman of my dreams, the light of my life. She is my wife.

You may use any of these terms when you introduce her, and you will not offend me, I promise. Just don't say that she is my "friend." Do not say, "This is Danielle's friend, Lindsay." Do not say, "This is Lindsay's friend, Danielle." Do not ask, as my mother did for years after I came out, "How's your friend?" when she was referring to my girlfriend.

If you've done this in the past, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I won't assume that you had any malicious intent. Perhaps it was because you were not used to introducing gay couples. Perhaps you found yourself standing in some unexpected social situation with your gay son/daughter/cousin/nephew/friend and his or her partner, and you suddenly realized that you hadn't considered what term to use when making introductions. You might've stumbled. In your haste, the word "friend" might have slipped out.

I understand. I admit that as a newly married gay woman, I sometimes find myself tripping over the word "wife" when I introduce Lindsay to someone. It still sounds strange to me, gets stuck in my throat. I mumble it, or, more often than not, I simply opt for the more ambiguous term "partner." So I'm not judging you or assuming that you intend to insult me when you say the "F" word. Maybe you just don't know what else to say, but will you quit it already?

I'm not really the type to get upset over small things. A co-worker once described me as duck-like. "Nothing ruffles your feathers," he said. "It all just rolls off your back."

This is a fairly accurate assessment. When a guy I know tells me stories about the other two women he knows who are also "of the gay persuasion," I do not get upset. I do not take offense at his word choice. I know that he is trying to relate, to break things down, to be real. I could be insulted, but I'm not. I appreciate his efforts.

Likewise, I do not blow up when people make comments about "who the man in the relationship is," or when they assume that I hate men or penises, or the way that they wonder how I could know that I am gay when I have never had sex with a man. I am patient with people. I smile as I explain to them that 1) clearly, there is no man in our relationship, and assigning gender to a specific trait only serves to reinforce harmful stereotypes; 2) while I do not find penises particularly attractive, there are legions of straight women who feel this same way, and no, I do not hate penises or the men they are attached to; and 3) I didn't need to sleep with a man to know I was gay, just as that they didn't need to sleep with someone of the same gender to know that they were not gay.

I remain calm. I do not get huffy. I know that people are genuinely trying to understand something that is quite foreign to them.

But when it comes to being introduced as Lindsay's "friend," I can no longer control my feathers. They are seriously ruffled. I have lost my patience, because it is a big deal, and it does matter. We have words in our language, words that we use to define relationships: "parent," "sibling," "wife," "husband," "boyfriend," "girlfriend," "uncle," "aunt" and, yes, "friend." They convey a very specific meaning. They help us understand how two people are connected. We don't introduce our uncle as our sibling. We don't introduce our aunt as our cousin. And we sure as hell don't introduce our sister's husband as her "friend." So please don't do it to me. When you do, you are ignoring all the other aspects of my relationship. You are diminishing, demeaning and desexualizing what I have with my partner, and it really makes me mad.

The next time it happens, I just might become an angry gay woman. My blue eyes will grow big and wide (which will be terrifying, because they are quite big and buggy on a normal day), my nostrils will flare, my face will grow red and my arms will flail. An "F" word or two might slip out of my mouth, but it won't be "friend," and it won't be pretty.

So practice if you must. Choose any term from the list I've provided, and practice. It might even be fun to say something like, "This is the light of Danielle's life, Lindsay." You might even make me blush.