Monday, August 8, 2011

The H Word

ring from Etsy seller Kablamindustries

The other day someone asked about where we were going on our honeymoon, and at some point in that conversation I casually said that Mr. FW would be my "newly minted husband."

And it stopped me right in my tracks.

That word. Husband. Hu... husb... (slowly now) huusssbaaand. So weird. So foreign. When I said it there were no warm fuzzies, no contended smiles about this idea of someone being my husband. To be completely honest (and I know this is harsh), it felt icky to utter that word. Sure, it always takes a while to adjust to new circumstances, and trust me when I say that I have a keen understanding of what it takes to integrate new names, labels, and roles for the people in our lives. I get it. But this felt like more than just a lack of familiarity with the H word. This felt like a lack of comfort with the concept, and that surprised me.

I'm not completely sure where the discomfort comes from. What does it mean to have a husband? For that matter, what does it mean to be a wife? Taken to the next level, what does it mean to be a queer person with a husband or a wife? And to really throw a wrench in the gears, what does it mean to be an invisibly queer person with a husband or a wife?

One thing I've been reflecting on is the terminology in our relationship and how it hasn't taken that direct path from dating --> boyfriend --> husband (obviously). Nope, we went from dating --> partner, and we've stayed there for at least the past four years. Many people in our community refer to their significant others as partners for a variety of reasons - acknowledgement that their relationship is treated differently in the eyes of the law, solidarity with the queer community, recognition that their relationship is more significant than just casual dating, etc. For me, 'partner' signified that we had made a lasting commitment to one another - moreso, I guess, than whatever commitment I assumed 'girlfriend' implied.

But I also think it had something to do with Mr. FW's gender presentation. As you know, he was never a stereotypical female, so the term girlfriend didn't seem to fit anyway. (For the record, I'm not advocating using the term 'girlfriend' only when a person is stereotypically female. If someone is butch, genderqueer, gender variant, male, or anything else and they want to be a 'girlfriend' - more power to them. I strongly believe that everyone has the right to pick/change/shun their own labels. I'm just saying that particular label didn't work for us.) Even when we talked about getting married before his transition, I don't think I actively considered the possibility that I'd then have a 'wife,' although I sincerely hope if we had gone that route that I'd have found a way to embrace the term as passionately (and politically) as Ms. Stripes writes about in this amazing guest post on So You're Engayged.

People have different feelings about the term partner, and that's okay. For me, partner is a powerful word, made even more powerful since my exit from the world of visibly queer folk. It's not a perfect word, and yet it's a word that connects me to my community, history and beliefs. It makes a statement about who I am in a way that the H word never will. When gay male couples use the term husband to refer to each other, they take brave steps forward in staking a claim to the important social and political ground occupied by that language. When I use the H word it moves nothing forward. In fact, it feels like that word makes invisible some of the ground I've been able to claim for myself.

Clearly this is all a personal choice, and a culturally-constructed one at that. It's about who you are, where you've been, where you are now, who you're with, and where you're going - together. Me? I'm an invisibly queer woman who grew up deep in the Bible Belt, currently living in the leftest city on the Left Coast. I'm connected by the heartstrings to an invisibly trans man, and we're working to build a future and a family together - a journey that began long before we'll ever be married. Mix it all together, and 'partner' is what I come up with. Does that mean I'll never use the H word? I honestly can't answer that. Right now it doesn't seem at all appealing, so I'm perfectly happy to stick with the label that feels most comfortable to me. And if I change my mind one day I'm sure I'll have good reasons for it, and I'll be perfectly happy with that as well.

Tell me, Hive. How have you grappled with language and terminology during the course of your relationship?

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