The other day I was sitting on the bus going home from a University of Oregon football game. The Ducks had just beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers and everyone was in a chatty mood.
The Day had started chilly, as it ought to be in September, but turned rather warm, forcing me to carry the UO letterman’s coat. It’s Sylvia’s coat, and she lets me wear it on special occasions.
A nearby passenger asked me if the coat belonged to my son. If I had thought about it long enough, I might have been offended that she didn’t think it was my coat, but instead I immediately stated that the coat was my wife’s.
I went on to explain how the University had handed out hundreds of coats to women who had played sports from the 40s, and perhaps prior to that, through to the 80s to make up for the decades of neglect and lack of acknowledgement. There was a massive gathering of these women to celebrate how dedicated women were “back then” to play sports when the love of the games was the only thing that mattered. It didn’t matter that the uniforms were crappy, the fields or courts were second or third-rate.
The word wife hung in the air for a while, and I think my story of how Sylvia got the coat gave the woman something else to think about.
For close to forty years, I’ve done the social verbal dance when it came to identifying my roommate, my good friend, my parter, my significant other, spousal unit, etc. Sometimes not knowing if revelations would alter future interchanges, I found myself being closely guarded. Living in times when being Gay wasn’t as widely accepted kept the details of my life a secret.
Even though Sylvia and I have been “together” for twenty-nine years, October tenth will be our first anniversary. I didn’t think that a license and a new title would make much difference, especially the title of Mrs. I never liked how society tracked marital status of women. Mister could be married or single. Miss was like an open door invitation to suitors. In the seventies when Ms. became popular, it announced that you were not only not married, but chances were you were a Feminist. I can still hear people say Mzzzzz and assume that I burned my bra and hated men.
I really, really hated how most women who took the title Mrs gave up their name, their identity. My mom was no longer Ruth Stanley, but Mrs. Richard Honthumb.
I thought about at least taking Sylvia’s last name as my middle name since I typically have to use No Middle Name, or NMN, in databases that require that field to be filled in. Susan Sandoz Honthumb. I tried to get Sylvia to add Honthumb since there less than two handfuls of us in the World, but I don’t think she ever gave it much consideration.
I wasn’t even sure if I would use the Mrs title often, but the biggest surprise was with the word wife. Perhaps now that I am finally living in a society where being a Lesbian doesn’t freak people out as much, saying the word wife has been so easy. Story-telling is so much easier. My wife and I did such and such. There’s no ambiguity as there would be if I said my partner and I, though I suppose if I didn’t feel safe, the word partner or significant other could cloak my relationship.
It does help to be living in a time when my marriage to another woman is widely accepted, though I’m also at the age where I don’t really give a damn what people think, but being able to say My Wife with conviction validates our relationship. I didn’t lose anything by altering my title and am more than proud to proclaim my identity to anyone who cares to listen.