SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

‘Wife’ just isn’t the right word

 

Washingtonpost.com

As wonderful as it feels to know that the federal government now recognizes my spouse Carole and me for purposes of taxes, Social Security benefits and more than 1,000 other rights, I need one more thing: a word.

I want nongendered terminology that will allow me to publicly express my abiding commitment to the wonderful woman who has been at my side for 32 years.

We did this; we did that. “We” is easy. But when I get into a conversation that requires something more specific, when I reach the clause where married heterosexuals casually say “my husband” or “my wife,” I’m stuck.

My default descriptor for years has been “partner.” But it sounds so distant and businesslike that many people assume I mean a business associate. When I try to correct the misunderstanding — “She’s my life partner” — I get odd looks.

I’ve tried various options. “I’d like you to meet my sweetie” was how I introduced Carole to my ex-husband long ago, after she and I had pledged our private vows. To which he replied, “I don’t know what that means.”

Once, feeling brave, I tried out “my lover” in a department store. I blushed at the intimacy, feeling as if I were describing my woman-on-the-side to the surprised clerk.

After learning Spanish, I briefly affected “compañera.” I liked it, but barely anyone understood my meaning. Then I experimented with “mate” — and felt like a sea captain.

Sometimes when I’m out alone, people ask, “Where’s your friend?” It takes me a moment to realize who they mean. My friend? Well, she is that, too, but “friend” isn’t strong enough. On the other hand, “soul mate” is too intense and “bed mate” hardly appropriate for general conversation. Nor can I bring myself to call Carole “the joy of my life” when doing something as mundane as, say, booking flights.

Since we married in 2008, when it was legal in California, I’ve occasionally ventured “spouse.” I’m grateful that Carole and I had the chance to legally say “I do,” but “spouse” is a chilly word. It’s accurate but so clinical that some people do double takes.

These days I sometimes hear younger women use “my wife,” but while I applaud their boldness, that word carries too much baggage for me — a former wife. I spent years in my 20s deconstructing the history of the term, which connoted male sexual property. Recently, in an attempt to be hip, I threw it into conversation, feigning a nonchalant tone, but the word troubles me.

Despite the Supreme Court striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act last week, I fear stumbling forever: “My legally wed sweetie — that’s my pillow-partner, the companion of my years, my main squeeze. The woman whose devotion sustained me when my dad passed; she with whom I commingle funds, nurture grandchildren and plan vacations. She whose warm body curled against my back helps me fall sleep.”

I want a word analogous to “wife” but free of its shackled history. Now that the court has granted us federal status, I hope that linguistic innovation will not lag far behind.

Joan Steinau Lester is a writer in Northern California and co-founder of the Equity Consulting Group. Her books include “Eleanor Holmes Norton: Fire in My Soul,” “The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas” and “Mama’s Child.”

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
MCT

    POLITICAL RHETORIC

    Needed: A conservative temperament

    A few recent developments have revealed the tea party temperament in its most distilled, potent form.

  •  
PERRY

    COMPENSATION

    An easy fix for the rapacious abuse of student athletes

    You’re not there to get an education — you’re there to make revenue for the college,” Rashad McCants, a former basketball star for the University of North Carolina, told ESPN recently. He got A’s in classes he says he never attended — courses that required just one written paper, which tutors often wrote for him and other star players. Championship-winning coach Roy Williams knew about this “paper-class” system, McCants says, an allegation that Williams denies.

  •  
AZEL

    CONSTITUTION

    We — the people — know what’s best

    The constitutions of Latin American countries, almost without exception, begin with a sentence exalting the nation-state or highlighting the patriarchal role of the elected representatives: “We the representatives of the people of Costa Rica …,” “The Congress of the Republic of Venezuela …,” “The Constituent Congress (of Peru) invoking God Almighty…,” “The sovereign nation and its government (of the Dominican Republic)…,” “We the deputies (of Honduras)…,” “Bolivia, free, independent, sovereign …,” “The Panamanian Nation…,” The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is the political association…”

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category