Just “Wife”

I find myself making a point to use the word “wife” when referring to CK. It still can be scary.

I’ve written before about what I feel is the need to normalize these words as applying to marriages, regardless of the genders of those who have wed. I’ve found it can be a good type of social litmus test. A way to screen people and environments for how welcomed we’ll feel.

Other times I’ve carefully avoided it. Sticking with non-gendered words like “spouse”. Granted, then the immediate assumption is that I’m talking about my husband, but sometimes it doesn’t feel safe until I’ve more input to go on. A moment of safety to offset fear that we’ll be denied services because we’re queer.

We’ve been interviewing new service providers. I corrected a person we were considering for helping with house cleaning every other week. Pointing out to this person that I hadn’t said “partner”, I’d said “wife” and that it is important. There was a pause and the person responded, “You’re right, it is important. Your wife…”

Last Sunday I stood up in front of a group of complete strangers with CK at my side and introduced her as my wife, despite the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. We’ve found that we’re very close to a Unitarian fellowship community in our new neighborhood, walking distance even. Newcomers were invited to stand up and introduce themselves to everyone.

We had that near-silent, small-gestured, nuanced-look kind of conversation ahead of this moment. Were we going to stand up? OK. Who was going to introduce us? Me.

So there we were standing. I’m sure none of the other couples, all heterosexual, had any kind of struggle about how to do the introduction beyond the awkwardness of standing up . Women introduced themselves and their husbands. A man introduced himself and his wife.

We were last. I took a deep breath, looked around, looked sidewise at CK, and introduced myself and my wife.

In those quick moments until it came to us I just decided I’d just do it. I’d step off proudly into sunlight, not looking back.*

I’d call CK my wife in front of all those strangers. I figured we were checking them out as a spiritual community and there was no time lime the present to decide if we’d be welcomed. I just didn’t want to discover after my heart was more engaged that they really didn’t include us, that they just accommodated, tolerated our presence.

Later a couple of different people commented to either or both of us that they were impressed with how brave and inspiring it was.

Here’s the thing that kind of bugs me. It is really lovely that those people told us that they thought I’d done something courageous and that they were grateful for it.

What sticks with me is that it shouldn’t have to be something worthy of notice. I shouldn’t have that moment of fear every time I call CK my wife in a new, public setting. It should only be a joyful reminder of the commitment I’ve made to the woman I love, not feeling like I’m leaping off into potential danger every time.

Stairs to Sea – Waldport, Oregon – December 2012

I guess that’s why I keep saying it.

Wife.

Not out of the hope that I’ll get used to the dizzying feeling of the fear, but that it will become normal.

Not my Gay Wife. Just, Wife.

Not Gay Marriage. Just, Marriage.

 

*Here’s the rest of bit of Rumi I’d referenced in this post. This small bit of poetry is rather a kind of koan that found me. One of my old Zen teachers said sometimes it happens that way with koans. I think I may be noodling with this one for many years to come.

Ask!
Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don’t mind that you’ve been given a dirty cup.

I spend most of my time working on the “dirty cup” in this poem, but sometimes, like using the word “wife” is all about the practice of stepping off proudly into sunlight, not looking back.

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