On a Plea to The Times: Please Please Please Stop Using “Longtime Companion”


In which The Gay Recluse is like wtf.

Ok, The Times has been on board with gay marriage for a couple of years now. Great! What’s not so great, however, is their continuing use of the term “longtime companion” to describe long-term gay relationships, e.g., the following quote in an article about Russell T Davies (Torchwood!) that appeared in today’s Arts Section:

He lives partly here and partly in Manchester and has a longtime companion who works as a customs inspector for the British government. (Ital ours.)

OMG! Barf! New York Times, please please please use “partner” or even “relationship partner” but not “longtime companion” with its echoes of bachelor/spinster closet-cases and a type of friendship that really has nothing to do with romantic love (or at least takes a way-back seat to it).

Nor can we advocate the use of “husband” and “wife,” as The Times attempts to do in its rather ridiculous and filled-to-the-brim-with-stereotypes front-page shocker “Gay Couples Find Marriage a Mixed Bag“:

Ms. Bullock, who is dating another woman, is buying a duplex with her former wife so both can see their son daily.

The problem with “husband” and “wife” is that — in case it’s not obvious — the terms will always be gender-specific, which in addition to being very last century constrains the institution of marriage, which (and we’re not debating this) should be between two people without any regard to how they want to define their gender.

So get with the program, New York Times! If you’re really serious about changing attitudes toward gay marriage, stop using “husband” and “wife” in any context and replace these needlessly archaic and restrictive terms with either the gender-neutral “spouse” or “partner” or — if there’s any confusion at all — “relationship partner.” And yes, this goes for all couples, including the heterosexual ones! At a minimum, “longtime companion” needs to go on the garbage heap.

If we’ve learned anything in the history of our country, it’s that separate-but-equal treatment is never fair, and as much as that applies to the laws, copy-editing policies should reflect the same.

4 Responses to “On a Plea to The Times: Please Please Please Stop Using “Longtime Companion””

  1. 1 c.

    This is philosophical, rather than an actual argument.

    The movie “Longtime Companion” remains a daunting and potent snapshot of gay, white, bourgeois life, love and loss during the climax of the AIDS crisis. Does the film use its title romantically? Or does it underscore your own perspective, exposing the phrase as euphemistic and trivializing? I think, heartbreakingly, it does some of both.

    I don’t approve of closeted fakeness either, nor of heterosexist attempts at finding “comfortable” labels for my life. Your suggested alternates for the Times article are more logical and more contemporary, though they still fall short in some way. It’s hard to distill true connection and commitment into a single word or phrase. Still, I have to say that companionship is, in my opinion, the crux of a romantic relationship. I wouldn’t describe even my closest, platonic friends as “companions” (though maybe that would have been correct in Jane Austen’s circles). So, I remain a little ambivalent about your assessment that “companion,” longtime or otherwise, delineates only “a type of friendship that really has nothing to do with romantic love (or at least takes a way-back seat to it).” One synonym (of many) for “companion” is “counterpart” — which at least begins to get at the heart of the matter.

  2. Hey C., thanks for the comment, as always! I understand what you’re saying about the movie, but I still don’t like the word/phrase, which is too ambiguous for my taste, particularly when compared to “relationship partner” or “spouse,” which are 100-percent clear. Ultimately I think we need a word/phrase that would be interchangeable without regard to the gender/s of the couple in question. I just don’t see that happening with “companion,” which is too closely associated with the gays (much the way husband/wife is so closely associated with the straights). “Counterpart” is great, but it’s not something I’ve seen used in any official capacity (it’s almost like “my better half,” but I do prefer it to companion.

  3. I think long term companion is out-dated. It implies something which is hinted at almost in a shame-based way. The word partner seems more fitting in my opinion.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Steve–I agree with you.

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