When is a wife not a wife? When she’s a non-gender-specific pronoun

I started planning this post when we were on honeymoon – ran sentences through my mind, chatted about the subject matter with L – but what with the jet lag and the starting back at work and the having approximately ONE BAJILLION THINGS to do at work… Time kinda got away from me and it’s about time I sat down and actually wrote this goddamn blog post.

So here goes…

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have been aware of a bit of banter I had with @heidistephens and @hilary_w shortly after my wedding where we discussed how the novelty of saying that I had a wife certainly hadn’t worn off yet.  To be honest most of the conversation involved us sending messages composed entirely of the word “wife”, but it was rather amusing.

And I still haven’t got over the novelty of saying it.  I address L as “wife” whenever possible and it’s been fun being back at work and being able to ask people, “Do you know where my wife is?”

But it’s funny – funny strange, not funny haha – that in some situations I find myself holding back.

Before we were married, I’d refer to my “partner”, or my “fiancee”: both words that carry unisex connotations (unless you write the word fiancee, obviously!).  A while back L had a toothache and I went out to get her something a bit stronger than the ibuprofen we had in our bathroom cupboard.  I explained to the pharmacist that my partner had a toothache, that regular painkillers just weren’t touching it and enquired whether she could recommend anything stronger.  She suggested a pack of co-codamol, asking me, “Is he on any other medication?”

I said no, paid for the tablets and left.

I like to think of myself as an out-and-proud gay woman.  So what the fuck stopped me from using a gender-specific pronoun, or even correcting the lady when she referred to my partner as “he”?  I told myself at the time that it didn’t really matter – I was literally at the point of paying for the product and who cares if the pharmacist in Morrison’s knows I’m a big lezza? – but I couldn’t help feeling a sense of disappointment in myself too.

Maybe part of the reason I’m so enchanted with the word “wife” is because I know it does – even in this day and age – still have the potential to blow people’s minds.  Just yesterday one of the new teaching assistants at work asked what my husband did.  Of course, because I am out at work it was no problem for me to correct her – in fact it would have been far worse if I hadn’t! – but I could tell that I’d thrown her and she felt like she was in the wrong for making the assumption I was straight.

Still, as much as I wouldn’t have wanted her to feel badly, her reaction was preferable to others I’ve encountered.

Before the wedding we visited a few wedding fairs.  Most were quite civilised affairs that gave us ideas, inspiration and products to choose from.  Others, however, made you feel like Del Boy was stalking you, trying to shove his product or service down your throat.  At one such fair we encountered Ron, the Toastmaster.  We were there with my mum and had quickly cottoned on to the hard sell that was coming from all angles.  Consequently we tried to maintain a minimum two metre radius between us and any stalls, studiously avoiding eye contact with any stall holders at all costs.  Unfortunately, Ron managed to collar us.  “So, which one’s the bride then?”

“We both are.”

“What?  Both of you?”

“Yes, we’re marrying each other.”

“No.”

“………Um….yes.”

“You’re having me on!”

At this point my mum had to walk away, but he had L trapped so I stayed with her, not that it did much good.  He asked for the date of the wedding and then proceeded to tell her, in great detail, how he would announce her and her new husband, make her feel like a princess – because when her husband first clapped eyes on her in her wedding dress, he’d think she looked like a princess – and then announce their first dance as husband and wife.

We got out of there as soon as humanly possible (although, to be fair, that was also where we found our photographer so it wasn’t a total loss) and I was left completely bewildered that someone could be so, well, so ridiculously homophobic.  Because ultimately, although he didn’t overtly criticise or insult our sexuality, his attitude was one of complete dismissal of the concept of two women marrying one another.

And that was a situation where one might expect to encounter a gay couple planning on getting married.  You wouldn’t necessarily expect it at the pharmacy in Morrison’s.

But then, why not?  Why am I so afraid that if I admit to a perfect stranger that I prefer the fairer sex, I will blow their tiny little mind? Most likely, even if they do have some kind of problem with it, they won’t comment.  And my honesty might actually make people realise that it’s not so weird after all and that, OMG, gay people are people just like US.

When we got off the plane in Mexico, we had to show immigration forms as we went through Passport Control.  One form was a general “what is the purpose of your visit” form and the other was in regard to whether or not you were bringing anything you shouldn’t into the country.  The latter form had to be filled out per family, so I filled one out for both of us.  As we handed it over, the Mexican official asked us if we were related.  I had a moment of inner panic as I weighed up the seriousness of Customs and Excise with the likelihood that Mexicans were going to be okay with gay marriage and eventually blurted out, “Yes, we’re married.”

Without batting an eyelid, he dropped our form into the little box in front of him and said, “Okay, have a great vacation.”

If I was guaranteed that response every time, I know I’d have no problem announcing to the world that I have a wife.  I could even probably tolerate the “Ohhh, good for you!” response that sometimes comes with it.

But I know that, really, I need to suck it up, grow a pair, and just be goddamn honest with people because, until we drum it into the Ron’s of this world that lesbians really do exist and actually are normal, high-functioning members of society, we’ll never get to the point where our sexual preference doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.

I wouldn’t want my children to feel like they can’t tell people they have two mums, so I need to lead by example.  It’s funny, because coming out to my friends and family was never an issue – I knew they’d all be accepting and happy for me – but there’s a real fear of the unknown with regards to coming out to strangers and that’s sad.  Our liberal, Western, modern world still isn’t a place we can all feel totally comfortable and accepted by everyone, but I guess only we can begin to make it that way.

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