I spent way too much of my childhood
learning not to be my mother. She was a wife and a housewife; I
didn’t want to be either.
Every time I hear one lesbian call
another “wife,” it sends shockwaves through my system. I have the
same problem when lesbians use the term “husband” although it
sounds perfectly natural to me when gay men say it to each other.
In the lesbian feminist movement of the
1970s, lesbian couples were sometimes accused of imitating
heterosexuals. What was then called copping out is now a gay
movement. I’m having a little problem segueing from the old
revolutionary highway to the new, but my sweetheart and I hope to
marry next year so I’d better get with the times.
Heck, the desire to formally, legally,
spiritually and officially marry is pretty much a surprise to me too.
My best friend recently went down to a city hall in Connecticut and
tied the knot with her partner of many years. She seemed a little
squeamish about it, but her sweetheart and mine are both some years
younger than us, and maybe part of the reason we found them appealing
was this new mindset that doesn’t reject tradition and does expect
legitimacy. Yet at Provincetown’s Women’s Week this year, we
lunched with a gay activist couple close to my age who skipped the
American war on gays altogether and years ago married quietly in
Canada. Our yearning for society’s traditional blessings is
stronger than our rebellion against the society itself.
Why must the terms for intimate
partners, like everything else, be gender based? Our earlier
appellations – lover, partner, companion – were gender neutral.
Spouse is an option, but not a pretty one. I have no problem calling
my sweetheart “fiancé,” although it evokes the concept of
marriage as surely as that wife word, or worse, the questionable
honorific “Mrs.” And as surely as “mate” conjures the
barnyard, the pirate ship and one’s best British friends.
“Significant other” became popular for a while, but seems to have
lost ground, on the forms I fill out, to “domestic partner,” and
both imply shacking up rather than a legal arrangement.
It’s not only that I don’t want to
be a wife, I don’t want to burden my beloved with the baggage that
I associate with wiving someone. Wasn’t a wife originally owned by
a husband? Mere chattel (the little woman) with no right to
possessions or property for herself?
The idea of being pronounced bride and
bride, in the tradition of bride and groom, equally unbalances me.
It’s just semantics, I tell myself, but the visuals those words
create – matching white wedding dresses, bouquets and equally
abhorrent churches – are unsettling, maybe because I’m butch.
Despite my somewhat radical roots,
which seemed moderate at the time, marriage to my sweetheart is
vastly appealing to me. The fact that she wants to enter into a
permanent and public agreement to be by my side and have me by hers
for the rest of our lives astonishes me and yes, that’s what I want
too. I’d also love to give her the kind of wedding I think most
women have dreamed of since childhood. I’m no groom, though. I’m
not taller, stronger or a better provider than she is. I’m just a
dyke with romantic notions dancing in my head who wants to honor my
beloved with the rituals and titles respected by the society that
We’re not reinventing the wheel here,
simply claiming it as our own. The words we use may be as borrowed as
is the token of good luck traditionally carried by a bride. The words
we need may have to
trail down the aisle after our brave
actions. Meanwhile, I will boldly go where most everyone has gone
before and claim that itchy garment “wife” for both myself and
the woman I love. Centuries from now its connotations will have
evolved. With more and more of us able to marry, and marrying, the
word wife won’t be the same at all. No, not at all.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 12 books. Her latest, Beggar
of Love, was called “Lee
Lynch's richest and most candid portrayals of lesbian life” by
Katherine V. Forrest. You can reach Lynch at
Copyright 2009 Lee Lynch