(As promised, here is a column I wrote in the hopes the Boston Globe would publish it in their “Coupling” section; they did not, and that column remains extremely straight.)
I envy married straight women. Not for their so-called normalcy – I am the world’s happiest queer — but for the security, the breezy insouciance, the endearing sense of entitlement with which they are able, at any moment and in any situation, to utter the words “my husband.” A day doesn’t go by where I don’t hear these two simple words, sometimes dozens of times. They crop up online, on the radio, in overheard exchanges at the grocery store, in conversations with other moms as we wait for our kids to get out of school. “My husband” is everywhere! Women go out to the movies with him, they plan vacations together, he tosses a football around with the kids on the weekend, he embarrasses them at parties with his exuberant laugh, he surprises them with flowers just because, he forgets their birthdays. What a cozy concept he is, “my husband!” And what’s more, everybody knows who he is.
I am a femme lesbian, engaged to be married to my butch lesbian Beau. My Beau and I refer to ourselves as an Old School butch/femme couple. She looks like a guy, I look straight; I love her camo and she loves that I throw like a girl. Please don’t think that we are a carbon copy of the married couple on some fifties family TV show, however – we are both female (and feminist), after all, and everything we do automatically queers the status quo – but we’re pretty happy allowing things to fall as they do, with her puttering in the yard and me doing the cooking. She and I go out to the movies, plan vacations together, and she tosses the football around with the kids on the weekend. Once in a while she brings me flowers, just because, and she has never forgotten my birthday.
But when she and I get married, what will I call her in casual conversation? “My wife?” Don’t make me laugh! In my heart, to each other, to our closest friends and other understanding queers, she will never be anything other than my husband.
But alas, “my husband” is so hopelessly gendered that I would just be shooting myself in the foot if I started using it out in public, selling both of us short as we would immediately be read as straight, and confusing even the most well-intentioned listener. (I have, from time to time, considered using “my lesbian husband,” which is the title of a memoir by Barrie Jean Borich, but somehow I don’t think that would go over very well, either.) I am forced to consider other options.
Much has been written about the inadequacy of “my partner.” What I hate, besides its business-like aroma, is that it’s just a catch-all: “my partner” can be the person I’ve been dating for a couple of weeks, or the woman I’ve spent my entire adult life loving. It has no weight. Oh, and now that straight people are referring to each other as “partners,” “my partner” isn’t even a queer marker anymore. “My girlfriend,” well, although I’ve used that one to out myself in situations where I really needed to be seen as queer, it left the taste of ashes in my mouth. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m the girl in this relationship! “My lover” is a bit too 70s for me, not to mention too sexual for casual conversation. “My spouse” is so blah. “My mate?” We aren’t pandas!
The bitter truth that I must swallow is that there are no words – no short hand – to adequately describe who she is to me. No simple phrase to let the world at large know that I am queer, that she and I are in it together, that we share our lives, our home, our hearts. That she is not just my friend, my roommate, my paramour, my children’s beloved step-parent (she is all that and more), but that she is, beyond a doubt, my husband. My husband.