Ladies, I’ve got some upsetting news. Apparently, there’s an f-word more feared and more offensive than f–k. Some people avoid it at all costs. They become tongue-tied and trip over themselves to avoid uttering this word. They blush when you say it in front of their children or elderly parents.
What is this dreaded word that sends members of polite society running in the opposite direction? It’s fiancée – at least if you’re a girl and you say you have one who also happens to be a girl. Ahhhh, the horror! Scary stuff, right?
My fiancée (there – I said it) and I recently attended a gathering of my distant family members and friends. I knew only a few people at the party and almost no one had met my lady, so there were many incredibly awkward introductions to be made. Typically, when you introduce people, you provide some context. “This is Sarah. We work together.” Or, “Aunt Sally, have you met Cathy’s boyfriend Jack?”
So, the avoidance of the word “fiancée” in reference to a lesbian couple became painfully obvious to me when the people charged with the (apparently anxiety-inducing) task of introducing my future wife totally choked and just blurted out, “This is Shira!” They didn’t connect her to me in any way or make even the vaguest reference to the fact that we are in a relationship. They just announced her in the most awkward way possible, leaving everyone on both sides of the introduction completely confused.
As if these uncomfortable “This is Shira!” proclamations weren’t bad enough, twice she was introduced as my “friend.” Really, people? Are we reverting back to the days when gay people had “special friends”? I wear a large diamond ring that was given to me by this woman. We share a home. We kiss in public. We’re planning a large, traditional wedding at which I will wear a white dress and we will promise in public to spend the rest of our lives together. We. Are. Not. Friends.
Now mind you, the people making these rude and insensitive introductions aren’t blatantly homophobic. They are in no way uncertain of the nature of our relationship, and behind closed doors they act mostly supportive. Some of them are even on our wedding guest list. But when it came time to pay us the most basic respect – introducing us as the committed couple that we are – they simply could not do it.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this issue since I confronted it head on – not least of which is: “If you can’t spit out the word ‘fiancée’ when you introduce us, do we need to spend $200 for you eat scallops and drink champagne at our wedding?”
But, this incident also made me realize how often same-sex relationships don’t get acknowledged. As I thought back on past introductions, I realized that this has been going on for a long time, but it just wasn’t as obvious to me. Before Shira and I were engaged, people could sidestep the problem by calling us “girlfriends.” It was technically correct, but left enough mystery to make the homophobes in the room feel comfortable. I mean, even straight chicks have girlfriends, right? (Incidentally, heterosexual women don’t typically accompany their “girlfriends” to every national holiday, but whatever – minor details).
As I stewed about the offensive way my fiancée was introduced to a new crowd (and drank too many Skinnygirl margaritas), I began to wonder what these people are going to do once I am actually married. If they can’t utter ‘fiancée,’ I can safely assume that introducing Shira as my wife is going to scare the shit out of them. So, I’m officially putting everyone I know on notice: If you attend my wedding and ever once refer to Shira as my “friend,” you are going to get an invoice for the scallops and champagne you consumed in bad faith.
Around margarita number three, I started imagining how comical it would be to watch passive homophobes try to dance around the true nature of my relationship when my future wife and I have children. “Meet Meg and her really good friend Shira. These two wacky gals just so happen to co-parent these fatherless children together.” That thought made me laugh to myself, but really, this isn’t funny at all. It’s a depressing sign of how far we have to go in the battle toward marriage equality.
In a few months, when I walk down the aisle, my marriage won’t be recognized by the U.S. government. It probably won’t even be recognized by the government of the blue state where I live. But, I was at least hoping that my family and friends would all play along. I understand that this whole gay marriage thing is new for a lot of people. I know that mine will be the first same-sex wedding many of my guests will attend. I don’t think most of the people who stumble over their words when introducing lesbian couples are mean-spirited or even homophobic. I hope that they’re simply uneducated and need some guidance about the appropriate language to use.
So next time someone calls my fiancée my “friend,” instead of seething in the corner and giving them dirty looks while downing a bottle of Skinnygirl, I’m going to gently but firmly correct them: “Actually, Shira and I are not friends. This diamond on my left hand is an engagement ring and we’re getting married.” I’m sure it will be a little uncomfortable in the moment, but I think I owe it to myself and to the woman I’m going to marry to be honest – even when other people can’t be. I think we all owe it to ourselves to insist that the people in our lives acknowledge our relationships in the most basic way – by calling us what we are to each other: girlfriends, fiancées and wives.
How do you handle awkward introductions?