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What's in a Name?

By Kevin Isom

I pity straight people sometimes. Even the name is boring. "Straight." We, on the other hand, are "gay," "queer," "lesbian" (don't you just love the way that word rolls off your tongue?), "bi," and even "trans."

Makes you pity the straight folks, doesn't it? But it doesn't end there. Breeders (now there's a colorful name, but I'm not sure I'd want to be thought of as livestock--besides, it brings back those traumatic childhood memories of learning to milk the teats of Bessie the Cow with Granddad) are limited in other ways, too.

What are the stages of straight people's relationships? Simple. There's boyfriend and girlfriend, fiance and fiancee, bride and groom, husband and wife. Slam, bam, thank you, ma'am. Time honored conventions that pretty much describe the arc of their relationships. Except, of course, for the divorce and divorcee status where about fifty percent of the husbands and wives end up.

So isn't it clear? Doesn't it sound like straight people are all, shall we say, in a bit of a rut?

When you look at homo folks, by comparison, it's a whole new world. The love that dared not speak its name--at least, not very loudly--since the Greeks has kept its conventions fairly quiet and flexible. After all, death sentences and labor camps for homosexuals at the hands of the straight majority were pretty much of a downer.

As a result, when it comes to names for the persons involved in gay relationships, there is plenty of choice, along with a little bit of confusion. After all, the names we choose are entirely up to us..

I, for instance, tend to break it down this way: if I am "dating," I do not have a particular counterpart. If I am seeing someone regularly with the potential of something more, only then does he become "a boyfriend." After a non-specific amount of time, which is totally dependent upon our respective mental states and interest in dating at all, he can become "my boyfriend." Then, after much more time, he becomes my "P.S.B.," or "potential serious boyfriend." Teens and early 20s gay people don't take this long--but they'll learn. Unless of course they're lesbians, where every relationship seems to last forever. I'm watching Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche closely to see if there's a Hollywood exception to this general lesbi-stability rule.

The next step in my personal terminology would be "engagement" followed by "commitment," but I haven't been able to decide on the appropriate people terms for those stages. Heck, I can't even decide whether I want to call it a marriage, out of concern that the name might inadvertently demean the relationship. (No offense, straight folks.)

But those names are just my choices. With other people, I've seen boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, lovers, partners, pardners (in Texas), husbands, wives, and--my favorite--life mates, which sounds like a title from an episode of Star Trek.

And it doesn't stop there. It can get even more specialized, if you let your imagination roam a little.

For instance, if I were into M & Ms--sorry, that's S & M--I guess the appropriate names would be "master" and "boy." And instead of a "marriage," I'd have a "bondage."

If I were over 70 and dating a 20 year old, I'd be a "daddy" with a "twinkie."

If I were a lesbian in prison, I'd probably have a "bitch." Or two.

If I didn't believe in the whole commitment thing, I might have a "long-term room mate." Sort of a tenant with perks.

As a gay man in military basic training, I suppose I'd have a "drill sergeant."

And if I were a party boy, I'd probably have a "clone."

The possibilities are practically endless. Which leads me once again to realize that sometimes the shoe is on the other foot, and I just have to feel a little sorry for those unfortunate, limited-option straight folks.

We may be in a minority, but we've got a whole lot of diversity within our number. Besides, we're just too darned interesting for any one-size-fits-all labels.

What's in a name? A beloved by any other name is just as sweet.


Kevin Isom is a syndicated travel writer and humor columnist. His short story "The Brothers Mangrum" appears in the Spring 1997 issue of Paris Transcontinental.


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