Wife is such a loaded word for lesbians. When I married my girlfriend, it took at least six months before I could call her wife. I’d skate around the issue; she was my partner, my spouse, my lover. All of those words seemed more appropriate than wife. Wife comes with ownership — baggage neither of us could carry.
My wife makes quite a first impression, a large personality that no one could tame, let alone own. She is at once personable, caring, totally funny and wrong — my favorite traits in a woman, self possessed and completely open to the world’s possibilities.
We had been friends for 10 years, a common ex introduced us (how very lesbian). We watched each other date the wrong people, bitched about our crazy current and ex-girlfriends while shamelessly flirting with the next bad plan. We both needed each other and had no idea. In town for a freelance gig, I brazenly teased her across the bar, claiming I was free and in control. Didn’t need anyone. Ready to explore what the world had to offer, by myself if need be. No one was going to tie me down again. I was my own woman.
Boastfulness was betrayed by emotions we were not ready for but, surprisingly, receptive to.
Four years in, while on the annual family vacation to the Outer Banks, I asked her mother — a proper, Southern, African-American woman — what she thought about us getting married. I was cautious, explaining to her that I thought even though it wouldn’t be legal where we lived, this was right for us. I loved her daughter and wanted her forever. Her mom was honest, open and wanted to be there for us. Of course she also told me she wished my name was Kevin. But she suggested I take my chances with the family and see what happened — they all loved us but there were no guarantees. It was amazing to hear her so openly affirm our relationship and even promise to drag her husband to the ceremony. Though I never told my partner about our chat, her mother’s support took my breath away. Love finally won.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. legalized gay marriage in Washington D.C. in March 2010. I decide to break out the romantic proposal. “Baby, are we idiots? Shouldn’t we take advantage of this window and at least be grandfathered in when the courts change their minds again?” No bended knees, no knight in shining armor. Just the simple truth, a practical reality that we could and should take care of each other. Unbelievably, she said yes.
Six weeks later we married on a beautiful day, the perfect day, filled with fall leaves and an afternoon full of our personal and biological families’ blessings. A real church wedding, who’d have thought it was possible? I, for one, had given up on that when I came out. I was doomed to be a lonely freak forever. I would never be subjugated to the relationships I witnessed as a kid. Yet for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I belonged to the world. Like a legitimate adult. No one blinked when two middle-aged women declared their love in front of God and family. They celebrated our desire to love and take care of each other. I felt strangely complete.
The word “wife” reeks of subjugation and roles we couldn’t play. We are partners in almost every sense of the word. We are eldest daughters; no one is going to tell us what to do, think or be. The concept was contrary to who are.
After spending years inventing ourselves we are going to have to keep inventing. Good dykes have bitches, lovers, girlfriends and, now, wives.