In a 12.1 N.Y. Times piece Maria Bello has announced that (a) she’s more or less bisexual these days, but that (b) currently she’s in a same-sex relationship with a woman she deeply cares for. Terrific. I can’t imagine anyone not saying or thinking the same thing. I can’t imagine any director or casting director for any film or TV-cable show letting this influence whether or not to cast Bello in any kind of role. Nobody cares. It’s all cool like Jodie Foster (or an approximation thereof). But I think that Bello skirts the definition of “partner” in her article.
My understanding (and please be civil if you don’t agree) is that “partner” is basically a gay term for a live-in lover and trusted lifemate — a person with whom you have merged (or are in the process of merging with) in all the usual profound ways but generally outside the legal sanction of marriage. Emotionally, domestically, family-wise, financially, strategically, etc. The real thing. (Married gay guys tend to use “husband” instead of “partner,” right? I don’t know about married lesbians.) Straight domestic home-sharers can use the term also, but they tend to prefer “boyfriend whom I’m now living with” or “girlfriend whom I’m now living with.” The term “partner” might be used by heteros, yes, but this hasn’t appeared on my radar screen too much. Whatever your orientation a pair can be partnered without being sexual (passion wanes, people slow down, the old D.H. Lawrentian current dries up) but “partner” does tend to mean sharing a bed, no?
“It’s hard for me even to define the term ‘partner,'” Bello writes. “For five years I considered my partner to be a friend then in his 70s, John Calley, with whom I talked daily. He was the one who picked me up each time I had a breakdown about another failed romance. Because we were platonic, did that make him any less of a partner?” HE response: Yes, it did.
“I have never defined myself by whom I slept with,” Bello writes, “but I know others have and would.” HE response: You can’t be a real partner unless you at least start out on a sexual basis with your beloved, be they gay or straight or a four-legged sheep. You don’t have to be randy shaggers all the way into decrepitude, but you have to at least start out that way.
“And I have never understood the distinction of ‘primary’ partner,” Bello writes. HE response: A primary partner is someone you share your bed and bedroom with, and with whom you at least began your togetherness with on a sexual basis.
“Does that imply we have secondary and tertiary partners, too?,” Bello asks. HE response: Sure!
“Can my primary partner be my sister or child or best friend, or does it have to be someone I am having sex with?” HE response: A best friend, yes, but, like I said, a friend you at least began on a sexual basis with. Or least have had sex and might occasionally have sex with…oh, at least sporadically. Once or twice or three times a month. Or not at all but you still hug and give each other backrubs and back-scratches and bird pecks before turning the lights off. Sister or child, obviously not.
“I have two friends who are sisters who have lived together for 15 years and raised a daughter. Are they not partners because they don’t have sex?,” Bello asks. HE response: Right — they’re not really partners because sisters don’t have sex.
“And many married couples I know haven’t had sex for years. Are they any less partners?” HE response: The point is that they at least started out that way, etc. See the above definers.