You Will Be My Wife,
Will I Be Yours?
By Lee Lynch
Photo: E. Mulligan
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 "fiancÚ," 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 produced us.
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.
© Lee Lynch 2009
Lee Lynch, Author of Sweet Creek from Bold Strokes Books
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