My roommate bounced onto my bed one day this summer with the biggest smile on her face. She had spent the day visiting our mutual friend, Ryn* and had some news to share. “Guess what?” she prodded. “Ryn has a boyfriend!”
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about that conversation — people have friends who start new relationships, and are excited for them, all the time. But Ryn’s relationship with this guy isn’t exactly ordinary. Ryn identifies as an agender, non-binary, and asexual person. Their new boyfriend identifies as a cisgender and allosexual (aka, not-asexual) man.
The fact that their identities are so mismatched meant that my friend would have to have some complicated conversations with their new boyfriend. Conversations about sex — he wants it and they don’t — and conversations about recognizing how privilege plays a role in their relationship. But, that summer day, Ryn had one question on their mind.
“What is he going to call me?” they asked.
The question had already come up. When they decided to make the relationship official, Ryn’s boyfriend asked if he could call them his girlfriend. Understandably, Ryn was uncomfortable with him using that word — because they’re not a girl. They’re not a boy, either, so “boyfriend” was out, and since the relationship was new, “partner” seemed too formal and intimate.
Ultimately, Ryn decided that their boyfriend could just call them “Ryn” — because why not just refer to them with their name? Still, the conversation brings up an important point for gender non-conforming people in any kind of relationship — and for people whose gender we can’t possibly know, like children who are too young to express it. The English language may be full of unnecessarily gendered terms — like boyfriend, girlfriend, niece, nephew, uncle, or aunt — but there has to be a gender-neutral way to refer to our loved ones who don’t fit within the gender binary.
And there is. The Tumblr page, Gender Queeries, has crowdsourced words from the queer community that are more inclusive — words so adorable, we should all be using them. Read on for the gender-neutral terms you didn’t know you needed.
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to Gender Nation, where gender is defined by the people who live it. Want to learn more? Check out our Gender Nation glossary.