As a queer non-binary person, I am still figuring out my identity. One day I may feel confident enough to express how I feel openly, I might feel brave to speak out about my gender identity or how I want to be addressed, but then the next day that feeling can all just disappear. I am not so open or forthcoming about my identity or pronouns (they/them) with every person I meet — I typically only open up to those who ask, or those who are in the queer community. This mostly comes down to not wanting to answer potentially intrusive questions about my identity, whether it be gender or sexuality. Sometimes it is just easier for me to avoid the whole thing altogether.
As I have started to feel more comfortable and open in exploring my gender, I realized something nagging me in the back of my head. Hearing myself constantly being referred to as “girl” or “wife” just didn’t sit right with me, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that I wanted to be called, or how to approach the topic without making too much of a fuss, or offending people.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the terms “girl” or “wife” may be totally fine for some non-binary people. But for me, it’s enough to make my insides feel like the equivalent of a human chalkboard being scratched at with very sharp nails.
So, what is the best term to call your non-binary partner?
This is different for everyone, and I have written this guide based on an amalgamation of my personal preferences, as well as some community research.
Note: The majority of these gender-neutral terms don’t have to be restricted to non-binary and genderfluid folks, they can be used for everyone. As a society, I believe we should be making moves towards altering the English language to be more inclusive and degendered. And remember, when in doubt, just ask.
Check-in With Your Partner
To make sure you and your date are on the same page, and to respect their boundaries and safety, check in with them prior to going out to events, or introducing them to friends and family to see how they want to be introduced to others. Make sure that you have their pronouns right, as well as the terms that they want to be used.
What Not to Do
Don’t assume that everyone is comfortable with the same terms. There is no “one size fits all” answer here on what to call your non-binary partner. Some non-binary people may be comfortable with the terms “girlfriend’, “boyfriend”, “wife”, “husband”, but for me personally, I am not. I like the terms “spouse” or “partner” to refer to myself, as these terms are much more genderfluid and all-encompassing.
Some Terms to Try Out for Your Non-Binary or Gender Neutral Partner
Wanna be my lover? This slightly risque term is commonly used among those who may be on the casual side, or may just be exploring each other intimately (physically or not).
This term has grown in popularity in non-binary circles, with “enby” being short for Non-Binary, derived from the sound of the letters NB. The term “enbyfriend” is a gender-neutral term for those in a relationship. In some discussions, members of the community have noted that this term could be problematic if your date isn’t out. Always, check-in first to make sure you avoid accidentally outing anyone.
Datemate or shipmate is a cute way to refer to someone that you may be casually dating. This is great for when the relationship is new and things are still pretty open.
Spouse (Married or Not)
I like the term “spouse”. I have asked my partner to refer to me as his spouse, and I use this term in general conversation when referring to genderfluid partners (with permission granted). “Spouse” can also be used for people who aren’t married; they may be in a long-term committed relationship and feel this best describes their bond.
This term is typically used for people in a romantic relationship, without having to disclose anything about their marital status, sexuality, or gender identity. This is a fun one as it has much more of a fancy formal ring to it, yet can simultaneously show care and the importance of the person to you.
This is a great term for those who may be in a long-term relationship, but don’t want to take the spouse route. A less serious version of this can simply be “partner”.
You will always be my boo *serenades in Alicia Keys*. Boo is a term of endearment with its origins linked to the French word “beau”, meaning beautiful. Over the years it evolved from simply meaning admirer to someone you adore.
This may be my new favorite. Honestly though, who doesn’t like being referred to as someone’s “number one”? Other comparable suggestions could be “My World”, “Light of My Life”, or “My Whole Damn Universe.” Try any of these with your partner in an intimate space and who knows, you just might get very lucky.
Once the two of you have reached the stage of proclaiming your love for one another, this term is a great alternative to “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. Imagine screaming at the top of your lungs “THIS IS MY LOVEPERSON!” Can you imagine anything cuter?
Any Star Trek fans out there? This adorable gender-neutral term was used on the show by people who lived on the planet Betazed, meaning something similar to “beloved”.
Shakespeare had the right idea when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” If not, sweeter. The most important thing when figuring out what to call your non-binary partner is to make sure that they are comfortable with the terms you decide to choose. Share this guide with them and make a fun exercise out of testing and trying different terms to see which one/s feels right.
Remember, no one term fits all, and ask when in doubt!
Written by Sahar Nicolette
Images by Gustavo Oliver
Designs by MMERAKI