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Can’t Get Used to It

The gay-friendly social shift is still clumsy

Marriage apartheid’s over in our state (woo hoo!) so there’s no reason to continue referring to my lawfully wedded wife as “my partner.” I should call her “my wife,” but I still catch myself saying “partner.” I did it just the other day when I was explaining why I needed my laptop screen replaced and told the tech guy that my partner stepped on it. I gauged the situation in that second-nature queer safety-check thing we do, and added, “She feels pretty bad about it.” 

This little coming-out moment could easily have been glossed over, but techman picked up on it. “My partner’s the same way,” he said. “He’s awful clumsy.” Family!

Homo-connections like that are little high points, affirmations of who we are, like finding out someone went to your old high school or your grandparents all came from the same village outside Kiev. It was a sweet little kinship moment and I wasn’t going to spoil it by arguing that she is not, in fact, clumsy, it’s just that it was dark and I’d left the laptop on the floor. In any case, “my partner, she” and “my partner, he” conveyed our identities just fine. 

I could’ve said “my wife” but I’m used to “partner” now. At some point “partner” became the kinder, gentler term because “lover” felt too brash for mixed company, “girlfriend” didn’t translate from lesbianese and Wifey and I were way beyond “roommate,” although my mother, rest her soul, never did stop referring to her that way. “Partner” sounds cartoonish to me, as in Yosemite Sam’s “Howdy Pardner!” but I caved. I got used to it, like I got used to wearing a swimsuit — I’d rather skinny dip, but now that I swim in a public pool I make the concession.

It’s officially acceptable — in Oregon and 18 other states, anyway — for two women or two men to be spouses, but it’s still new. “My wife” comes off a little pushy and in your face when I’m not necessarily in a pushy in-your-face mood, which, believe it or not, I often am not. Sure, I call her Wifey in person, but referring to her as “my wife” to anyone who doesn’t already know us feels awkward. As out as I am — and I am WAY out — I feel weird calling my wife “my wife” to, say, the letter carrier or my dental hygienist (not that I can say much of anything when my mouth’s loaded with cleaning accoutrements). 

Can a woman say “my wife” or a man say “my husband” with the same neutrality as a heterosexual mentioning their husband or wife? We’re working on it. Our marriages are legal, yes, thank god(dess), and more than half of the U.S. population supports our right to marry, a hard-fought victory. But this new social shift that we’ve pursued for so long is still fresh. Most people I talk to are accepting and even congratulatory, which is lovely, but it makes me feel self-conscious, like I’m announcing something personal when I just want to tell Comcast that the account is in my wife’s name. 

Oh, well. We’re here, queer and married. I guess we all have to get used to it.