Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If she's your wife are you her husband?

Recently, BP and I suffered a broken pipe in the bathroom of our new (to us) house.  This  has required demolition of much of the shower, loud blowers , insurance negotiations, and so on.  The contractor in charge of restoration is a nice young man who has been very patient and helpful.

As we were working on plans with him, he said "Can I ask you a question?"

Of course.

"What do you call each other? Partners, or…"

Wives, we said.  We call each other "wife", which is what our society  calls married women. We are wife and wife.

He nodded, and explained.  "One of the gay couples I work with, they won't use 'husband'.  The one guy said, if one is a husband people think the other one is the wife."

This is very familiar.  I have had a number of people (including my own mother!) ask, when I refer to BP as my wife, whether I'm the husband.

No, I say.  There is no husband here.  We are both women.  We are both wives.

Part of straight America has a need to see things as a gender-binary. If there's a girl, there must be a boy.  If there's a wife, there must be a husband.  They assume that as a lesbian couple we must still fulfill gender-binary roles.  They have rude slang for it. Goy and birl.   And, it  is true that some lesbian couples do recapitulate aspects of those roles (at least superficially), with their own slang, like butch and femme.

But many do not.  We do not.  BP and I are both happily women, typical suburban professional women of certain age.  We like to wear jeans on weekends and we also like to dress up for church. (We don't wear makeup, however, so you can't call us lipstick lesbians ;-)

The assumption that one of us "wears the pants" or "is the husband" is quite tiresome. Ours is not a gender binary relationship.  It's a same sex partnership.  We both cook, we both clean up.  We split up other tasks as needed.  I do the laundry.   BP handles the power drill and builds things.  I do the electrical.  She does the mending.  We aren't aping gender norms.

And actually we aren't that different to many straight couples we know, particularly younger folks, where both husband and wife have busy careers and have to coordinate to manage the house and do the chores.

I think it is no surprise that many of the opponents of marriage equality believe in "traditional" roles for women.  Brian Brown, for example, who is president of NOM (the National Organization for straight-only marriage) has 8 children and a wife who home-schools them.  Scratch under the surface of most of the arguments against marriage equality and they are arguments against women's equality.

They blame us, but modern marriage is already de-gendered.  Women have equal rights, and are no longer subservient to their husbands.

Complaints about gays changing marriage are missing the point that society has already changed marriage so much that it no longer makes sense to keep Teh Gay out of it.

And so, yes, I have a wife, and so does my wife!


Glenn Ingersoll said...

I said "husband" just a few minutes ago at the dentist's office - and I still stumble over the word. Calling the veterinarian I used "partner" - yes, within the hour.

My husband began using "husband" when he got diagnosed with a serious medical condition as "husband" is unambiguous. You don't want ambiguity when life & death consulting is going on.

As to changing the institution of marriage - there wouldn't be much interest in the lgbt community in marriage if it were the old version, the kind where one of the persons involved was legally subservient to the other and had fewer rights. Marriage is attractive as a partnership of equals - and, of course, as societal and governmental acknowledgement of family status between non-blood-related individuals.

I haven't yet had anybody ask me "who's the wife?" Closest to that was when a commenter in an online discussion asked it, tho not of me. Someone else answered just as you did, and I thought that was fine.

IT said...

Hi Glenn,
I agree--serious stuff like doctors makes it clear why the word matters. Thank you for stopping by.

IT said...

PS Glenn I like your cat. we also have a big orange cat.

JCF said...

"They have rude slang for it. Goy and birl."

Never heard that one before.


And, it is true that some lesbian couples do recapitulate aspects of those roles, with their own slang, like dyke and femme. But many do not. We do not. BP and I are both happily women

I'm not entirely comfortable w the above---I'm also not sure I can articulate why.

We speak of "gender identity" in common LGBT parlance, but we're usually (well, often) talking more about sexual identity (in the sense of "M" or "F", and Trans people who transition from one to the other). This kind of identity is deeply internal, but then extends to the external (how one presents). Gender identity is definitely related---it can be seen as the external aspect. But it can also be deeply internal, as well.

What I'm getting at, is that the gender continuum of Masculine <---> Feminine (or, Butch <---> Femme) are more than just to "recapitulate aspects of those roles", in the sense of traditional cisgender* heterosexual roles. Moreover, those who ID and/or present as Butch/Femme, Masculine/Feminine ALSO "aren't aping gender norms". Finally, probably most people (not necessarily gay) who ID as Butch or Femme ARE cisgender (that is, a butch woman IDs as a woman, and a man who acknowledges a femme-y side---including drag queens---readily IDs as man).

It's a very complicated subject. There's no one way to (for example) be an XX person in a spousal relationship w/ another XX person. Assuming love&respect between the spouses, there's no wrong way!

[* Cisgender: those who ID as the gender they were assigned at birth. Which is to say, the vast majority.]

IT said...

JCF you are correct, of course. But to the confused straight person, a lesbian couple where one is butch and one is femme looks more like a gender binary. They (the straights) WANT one to be more masculine, and one to be more feminine. Because they think that "one of us needs to be the man".

The whole point of what I'm saying is that we as LGBT DON'T, and we AREN'T aping their gender binary.