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

  • CONGRESS

    Senators earn an ‘A’ for sexual assault bill

    Sen. Marco Rubio doesn’t have much time for Democrats. But he does have two daughters. And so it was that Wednesday morning, he found himself standing in solidarity with a bipartisan group of senators that included Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill as they announced legislation to curb the scourge of sexual assault on U.S. campuses.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">HARASSMENT:</span> Members of the Ladies in White opposition movement, relatives of imprisoned dissidents who draw inspiration from their faith, were arrested during a peaceful march in Havana last month.

    HUMAN RIGHTS

    Support religious freedom in Cuba

    This year marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s current government and July 26 commemorated the 61st anniversary of the revolution which swept it into power. After coming to power, the Castro government broke its pro-democracy pledges and, despite recent improvements, maintains a problematic record on human rights, including religious freedom.

  •  
SOLOW

    MIGRANT CRISIS

    Easy fix to offer relief to immigration courts

    Much has been written about the strain placed on the immigration court system by the recent influx of minors from Central America. A little known fact about the Immigration Court system, unlike every court in the land, virtually no immigration court cases are resolved without a hearing.

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