My internet lesbian friend June Thomas is the culture critic for Slate.com and recently wrote a piece about why she doesn’t want to be a wife. She makes valid points, as she usually does about most things. In fact, we usually agree. Like we both hate Kalinda’s storyline on The Good Wife this season and agree that Go On‘s Ann doesn’t get enough screen time or character development. However, this well-penned essay is not one of those commonalities.
I’ve been married for almost two years now (legally in Iowa, domestic partnered in my home state of Oregon) and so it’s been that long I’ve been and referred to someone as a wife. I do that last one frequently. If I’m talking about Julie (that’s her name) on the internet, to a stranger or in an an otherwise opportune moment, I call her “my wife.” And I love it.
First of all, I’m a self-identified femme, which means people often assume I’m straight. Saying “my wife” isn’t just being honest, it’s easier than saying “Just so you know, sir, I’m a lesbian.” That whole “my wife” thing takes care of that on the spot.
Secondly, it is the only word that represents who she is to me. Partner just doesn’t do it for me, and she doesn’t like the word, either. As June points out, “partner” sounds too business-esque. Also, partner could mean male or female, and I’m quite proud of being married to a woman. For me, wife is the word that signifies “happily partnered to a woman.” Done and done.
I agree with many people that marriage isn’t the number one issue we should be focusing on as a community; that equality is needed in several other more pressing areas in out country, including workplace or housing discrimination. But when it comes to what I want in my personal life, my here and now, is I want to be recognized like any other human being. My relationship shouldn’t be illegal. It’s pretty simple! And June said she, obviously, does not disagree with that. Equality is deserved — it’s a right. But she still doesn’t want to be a wife. She writes:
My resistance to marriage isn’t about avoiding commitment or responsibility. I’ve been in a blissfully happy monogamous relationship for going on 16 years. We own property and are raising a cat together. I just don’t want to be a wife — and I don’t want a wife of my own. I came out back when gay and marriage went together like an octopus and carriage. I never dreamed of a fabulous wedding or hoped that the institution would one day be open to the likes of me. When people say you can’t go to a party, it’s natural to decide that you’d rather stay away.
June said she thinks it’s a generational thing, which it could be, though stories of Edie and Thea’s very long engagement and Del Matin and Phyllis Lyon would prove otherwise. Speaking for myself, I never wanted to get married. I grew up thinking I was expected to, as a straight person, and that it didn’t sound appealing at all. I didn’t even want to get married when I had my first serious long-term relationship. I didn’t want to get married until I met Julie.
Here’s what people that are opposed to marriage often cite as reasons to not get hitched: It’s based on a misogynist tradition; it’s signifying you are property; it’s unnecessary if we just create the same legal opportunities for long-term partners without the required marriage license. But here’s the thing: There’s not one way to be married. You create your own marriage. It’s you and one other person (unless you’re a sister wife), deciding what your life together looks like. It’s true it’s not necessary to be legally recognized to have this, but the reality is that, straight or gay, unmarried people are without certain benefits that married couples have. My being married doesn’t take that away from you. In fact, I don’t even have those rights because I don’t live in a state that recognizes my marriage (yet). Instead, I got married because I felt it was right in my heart. I know how ridiculously cheesy that sounds — I do. But it’s the truth, and maybe that is a generational thing.
I’m turning 29 in a few days, which means I’m an ’80s baby who grew up in the ’90s when June and other queer women were living more radical lives, lives I love reading and hearing about. That’s our community’s history, it’s gotten us to where we are today, where marriage equality is slowly becoming a reality. Rachel Maddow once told me she doesn’t want to get married because she enjoys being different.
I have been gay for a long time. I’ve been openly gay for the majority of my life. I’m 38 and I’ve been out since I was 17 and I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area so I grew up around very vibrant, rich gay culture and I have appreciation for what gay culture has been before gays had the right to get married. And I like subculture. I like gay culture. I think that the mainstream is boring unless there are other streams that are feeding it. We need people to be different.
I respect Rachel Maddow and June Thomas and Judith Butler and all of my elders (I know, that sounds terrible, but it’s true) who have their ideas of what being a wife would mean for them. But to me, it means something different and personal. It means I fell in love and wanted nothing more than to have a ceremony to celebrate it with the people in our lives. We created our own ceremony where neither of us were given away, where we walked down the aisle to Depeche Mode (her choice) and my sister read an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that felt relevant, dedicating our love to one another “no matter which party was in power.”
One thing that getting married has really changed for us is the validation we feel as part of a larger family. It’s not something you might care for, but for me, being treated like all of my wife’s brothers’ spouses makes me feel welcome in a way I didn’t necessarily find before. Seeing our wedding photos on the hallway in their home, being asked on the sly for gift ideas for her for Christmas, being sent birthday cards and invites to trips — all of these things we’ve been taught to not expect as gay people can come as a heartwarming surprise when you do. This doesn’t require you to get married. In fact, you might not even get this when you are married. But it’s something that has happened for me and my wife, something we feel thankful for. Something we want for other people, even if they don’t want it for themselves. Because we deserve love and acceptance. We deserve to be treated the same. The idea we should expect otherwise is devastating, despite it being a reality. So some of us decide we don’t want it. And as June writes, if you’re not invited to a party, your initial response will likely be you didn’t want to go in the first place.
To me, being a wife is not to assimilate. It’s to have and to hold. It’s about us, not everyone else, because that’s how we want it to be. I will never think someone should want to get married. I will only hope they find the happiness I have with my wife. But you can call her Julie.