Terms of Endearment: Not Just Semantics

With valentines day on the horizon, it is a good time to consider terms that translate to LGBTQ experience!  The short totally non-scientific survey I posted here a couple of weeks ago was intended to explore the tensions involved in the terms we use, many inherited from “hetero” experience.  The responses to the survey do support one fact: we are living in one of the most historically significant times in LGBTQ history!

In that survey I asked people to share their preferences related to the terms they use to WCS logodesignate their intimate relationships.  We are just six month away from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage for same-sex couples, and suddenly the terms, even on marriage licenses for all people, had to shift.  But long before this benchmark decision that instantly opened the doors for marriage for all, LGBTQ people have struggled with terminologies to declare to each other and to others the nature of their important relationships.  Some people used the traditional  terms “husband” and “wife” long before legal marriage, partly as a way to acknowledge their same-sex committed relationship, often involving a certain degree of playful gender-bending!

The tension around terminology is what inspired my little survey.  Since it is totally non-scientific, I will refrain from drawing any conclusions, but will share some of the interesting comments and descriptions that illustrate that we are dealing with significant meanings – not just semantics!

On preferred terms for your intimate relationship:

  • None of them are great, but I prefer the ones that are the most gender-neutral
  • Spouse, because it conveys that we are married without gendered baggage. I particularly prefer it in situations where I want to avoid people jumping to the, “Oh, so you used to be bi, but now you’re …” conclusion.
  • Wife. Although I prefer to not use the term “belongs” as a possessive, we belong with each other and fill the role of wife for each other. Those roles may or may not match traditional meanings of the word wife, but it works for us on a personal level. Publicly, we may also use the term partner out of habit. Since we are now legally married, I (and as far as I know, we) prefer “wife.”
  • Partner. I’ve used it for the 30+ years we’ve been together and is most descriptive of how we “do” our relationship. I use wife when I want to make a point — that we are legally married. I use “other mother of my children” when the conversation has to do with the kids are when I want to watch how people cope with our family definition.
  • I prefer partner because this implies a more shared experience and less role definition than others. Husband or wife provides a more recognizable foundation and commitment.
  • It depends on the commitment level in the relationship. Once a serious relationship, I prefer Partner. I do not like the historical connotation of “wife”, and although I grew up with “lover” that now seems way too personal! I like “partner” because it describes to be the interdependence in a committed relationship. I do also use “spouse” when I want someone to know that we are married.
  • Partner, Spouse, Hubby are preferred because they are gender neutral. (I am a cis-gender bisexual woman. My partner is DMAB, identifies as non-binary/gender-fluid)
  • I call my partner “my person”. I feel like it best expresses our relationship to each other–he is my special person who shares my life.
  • partner – its not gender based
  • Date mate, I’m not a boy or girl so I would want neutral terms & mate is a more friendly term & your “lover” should be more like a friend.
  • Partner….just seems the best to me…..sometimes wife….sometimes SO
  • partner or significant other; I don’t like the traditional heterosexual options of wife or spouse, and girlfriend doesn’t seem appropriate for mature women.
  • Lover; because that’s the core of the relationship
  • I like partner and soon, I will be a wife (to a woman). She prefers to be called spouse after we are married.

On terms you prefer not to use, and why:

  • I prefer not to use “wife,” although there are situations when it comes in very handy – sometimes for the shock factor alone! Nobody expects a woman to refer to her wife .. and it is a handy way to come out very specifically. But I do not like it because of the traditional connotations of someone who “obeys,” who “submits” and who has very few rights in a relationship.
  • Girlfriend. Unless we are “playing”, it is a bit condescending to us.
  • Lover. That’s no ones business.
  • I cringe at the word lover, because this gives me a sense of a physical relationship only without the emotional and spiritual connection I associate with intimacy.
  • “Lover” because I find it makes some people uncomfortable. I think it makes some people think that our relationship is only about sex and that creates an awkward, “ick-factor” for some less enlightened people. I already have enough issues when talking to some people about my relationship without adding that.
  • boyfriend or girlfriend—I avoid the use of boy and/or girl for adults. I raised my son that way.
  • Girlfriend. Yuck. High school
  • I don’t use gendered terms. I am genderqueer/nonbinary and he is also nonbinary, so gendered terms don’t apply to us. Beyond that though, gendered terms of endearment carry with them the cultural connotations of that role–being a “girlfriend” or a “husband” has historical and commercial connotations. Best to just transcend that shit and be a person, no?
  • really just stuff like ‘lover’ & gender orientated terms
  • Husband and bf wd just not work
  • wife–too close to heteronormativity
  • Wife—has too many negative connotations for me of the old heterosexual model of “wife and mother” taking care of the house.
  • Wife. I never married and don’t expect to. The term has connotations of subservience.


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Transgender Care in Sacramento


Following is a link to the Sacramento Sierra Valley Medical Association January/February publication. On page 16-17 is a small opinion article I was asked to write about primary care and transgender health in Sacramento, CA.SSVMA magazine

It is brief, but I feel a good start.

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Trans Accessible Practice: An Introductory How-To

This is my second blog post in a series regarding transgender health and it is admittedly something that I knew very little about until I started doing my research. I was simply given the Rainbow Health Ontario website as a reference to find trans specific health resources. So I sat down and started going through the materials and was floored by the diversity in rad resources that were so readily available. My astonishment at the sheer volume made this a learning experience that required me to decenter myself prior to proceeding any further if the goal was to understand the challenges of those who are more marginalized than myself.

As a white queer cis woman who has a very feminine presentation, I am able to pass through space much like many other very feminine presenting white women do. The usual cat-calling and leering and feeling unsafe in (or avoiding) certain spaces are an obviously unpleasant aspect of the patriarchy for people who present like me. However, the microaggressions that I experience (as a person with much privilege) are insignificant in comparison to the challenges that many other people face.

Institutional settings present a unique set of challenges. If I am accessing health services, I may walk into a clinic and see a pride flag and feel that feeling of acceptance and safety. I will even see posters or resources that are reflective of some aspect of my lived experience (specifically my whiteness or being cisgender). Even if my sexuality is not reflected back to me, I embody the binary and an acceptable presentation of the social construction of a woman so I’m not likely to experience any barriers until it’s assumed that I’m straight and I have to out myself to the care provider. So what if I were trans or gender non-conforming? Would I feel safe if I saw the pride flag? This doesn’t necessarily rule out the risk of assumed or enforced gender binaries or the threat of healthcare professionals saying harmful things such as, “If you really want to start HRT, you may want to start dressing more like a woman.” (C. Farahbakhsh, personal communication, January 11, 2016)

I understand that it is important that practitioners consider the barriers that trans and gender non-conforming clients face when accessing healthcare and begin to take steps to ensure that they are represented within these spaces in the form of policy, practice standards, imagery and other resources (RHO, 2007). These acts of solidarity open up institutional medical spaces and welcome difference.

Perhaps most importantly, trans accessibility must be understood to be one of many components within a larger anti-oppression framework which also aims to center other vulnerable populations (RHO, 2007). This can include integrating policies and training workshops for staff that specifically center trans and gender non-conforming persons and the challenges they face with regards to discrimination and oppression (RHO, 2007). Similar to other inclusive policies that include through representation, mandates must deliberately present trans and gender non-conforming experiences in their marketing and outreach material (RHO, 2007). Additional policy recommendations can be found here .

Best practices could be developed and part of ongoing training programs for existing and new staff. Seeming quite obvious, these best practices are what centered clients would typically take for granted which would suggest just how marginalized trans and gender non-conforming persons are in medical spaces. These include respect, confidentiality, advocacy and collaboration with other healthcare professionals for continuity in (trans inclusive) care (RHO, 2007). (see link at end of previous paragraph re: policy recommendations for more information of best practices for trans accessibility)

You can post a transgender flag in addition to the pride flag.


Imagery beyond the flag is important insofar as it conveys a deeper sensitivity toward the barriers experienced by trans and gender non-conforming clients and there are many resources available. Ensure that there is a diverse representation of intersections such as race and ability. For example, Rainbow Health Ontario has posters available to order or download for free.


Gender neutral washrooms are incredibly important for trans and gender non-conforming persons. Click here  for a guide in creating gender neutral washrooms (and policies including training of staff) as well as a list of signs for posting which are also available to download.


It is also recommended to have information resources that are available for people to take with them. Have a section of resources for queer clients and ensure that some of these are specifically for trans and gender non-conforming persons. Rainbow Health Ontario has an extensive selection of resources for queer  and trans  clients that cover a variety of health concerns and are also available to order or free for download.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of steps that can create more inclusive spaces clients however it is a fantastic start. Take a look through the Rainbow Health Ontario site. If your surprise as to how easy it is to access these materials is even a fraction of what mine was, I imagine you too will be wondering why more practitioners have not yet started the process of making their practices more accessible as an act of solidarity with queer, trans and gender non-conforming clients.



Rainbow Health Ontario (Oct. 30, 2007). Policy Recommendations and Best Practices for Agencies Working Towards Trans Accessibility. Retrieved from: http://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2014/08/Trans%20Policy%20Recomendations.pdf




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The LGBTQ “quit smoking” challenge


Get the app to design your own plan!

January is the first month of a new year – a time when many of us either make resolutions, or think about goals for the year, or at least think in terms of new beginnings.  So I am inspired to share one of the most difficult “new beginnings” for anyone, but especially for those of us who live within LGBTQ communities – the intention, resolution, goal to quit smoking.  I know how hard it is, because I quit over 20 hears ago after smoking for only about 10 years.  I have to say it was the hardest thing I have done! I have to admit, often if something is terribly hard, I tend to re-evaluate whether or not it is worth it, so perhaps I have abandoned challenges that are even harder!  But for this one, as a nurse I knew full well all the reasons I needed to quit, but that was not enough. In fact I would have never started smoking if the facts held any influence in my behavior!

I honestly cannot tell you exactly what carried me across the line to be able to say with confidence that I had quit.  Like most others, I attempted this at least 3 times before it actually “stuck.”  I do know that many of the barriers in my attempts to quit were related to my experience as a lesbian.  I won’t try to over-analyze this, but the fact is that most of the circumstances that drove me back when I was trying to quit had to do with what I now realize is “minority stress.”  Of course anyone who tries to quit, regardless of sexual or gender identity has more than enough stress that gets in the way of quitting.  But awareness of the particular challenges of LGBTQ experience can hold a clue as to where to turn when the going gets tough.

The smoke-free.gov website that focuses on Breaking the Cycle of LGBT Smoking fits my experience almost perfectly!  I was not (to my knowledge) subjected to direct tobacco marketing to the LGBT community, but I do know that the factors of stress relief, expressing myself, and fitting in exactly mirror my experience!  I have often related to my post-smoking friends that the one thing I miss the most about being a smoker is the social interaction that smokers share during breaks at a professional meeting.  This was my attempt to “fit in.”  Yes, I have always had sufficient professional connections that I could rely on for social connections in a situation like a professional conference.  But the reality was that in most of those situations I had almost nothing in common with other attendees,  whose social chatter would never have accommodated casual sharing of my experience,in the context of their chit-chat focusing on husbands, children, churches, etc.  In the company of smokers we at least shared a common identity as smokers (lame, but anything helps!).  Yes, the banter still had a predominant hetero-relational tone, but in the context of smokers, I found a bit more courage to dare to mention a holiday with “my girlfriend,” and even some talk about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival!

Eventually I began to do what the “Breaking the Cycle” webpage recommends .. I found LGBTQ  friends, as well as straight friends, with whom I had enough in common to be more real, and with whom I could freely banter casually about my life with a level of comfort.  And, I made a “turn” emotionally/mentally – I really wanted to quit.  I did rely for a few weeks on nicotine gum, and used it in line with the instructions to gradually reduce my physical craving for the stuff.  Yes, I fully acknowledge that I still value the social upsides (for me) of smoking!  But I now have a more sustainable social environment, a greater appreciation of my own physical and emotional vulnerability, and a strong commitment to my longevity!

If you are struggling with this challenge, and some discussion here might help, please leave us your comments!  We will respond!

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What terms of endearment do you prefer?

When my granddaughter Sophie was 6 years old, she asked me one day: “Mémé, is Karen your husband or your wife?”  She had been present at our marriage ceremony in 2008 when she was 4, and was now trying to sort out what this all means!  I know she is not the only person in the world who has ever asked a question like this, and the question still persists!

So to celebrate Valentine’s Day in February, I am planning a post focusing on the various terms of endearment that we use, and what they mean to us.  You can be part of this by completing the survey below!  This is not a scientific survey – it is intended to share a bit of the vast range of experience in our very diverse communities!  So share your experience, and any reflections about our language!  And please feel free to pass this survey along to any of your friends … we welcome anyone’s ideas!

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