Partner or Wife?
Updated: Aug 18
I didn't sleep well on my wedding night and it wasn't because my new wife and I were making passionate love. It was midnight and I had cold, upward-moving sweeps of energy rising through my body. These were the feelings of fear. So I got up, opened my laptop and began writing out my thoughts, squatting on the floor in the dark in the hallway of our honeymoon suite. I was trying to translate the sensation in my body into words. As I pecked away at my keyboard clarity came. The "big day" happened so fast that it wasn't until this moment that I understood that there had been a few problems with the day. I spent three hours before our wedding lunch plucking hair, painting my nails, and slicking make up all over my face. I wore a dress that made it hard to breath. I wore shoes that made it difficult to walk. These were my old beautifying rituals taught to me by my peers and media that I had never questioned. Yet, throughout my wedding day my whole body screamed for freedom, movement, relaxation, to let my belly out. Instead I strapped her, my belly, in tight conforming to my previous conception of modern beauty, you know, for the photos. But there was something else that I couldn't yet identify… Why was I feeling so afraid? "Baby?" my new wife called from the bed, sitting up and peering at me through the darkness. "What are you doing?" "Shit." I thought. "She heard me typing." She called me back to bed and I told her I was feeling afraid. After some sweet words or reassurance that everything was going to be fine, we feel asleep spooning.
Over the course of the next few days it became clear what the true root of my feelings were about. I was suddenly "out". Now how could a same-sex-relationship be kept under wraps right up until marriage you may ask? Well, before marriage I had been able to publicly refer to Christa as my partner, not my girlfriend. I thought it was mature. Partner. I liked the word. To our friends I would say girlfriend but to someone I didn't know, I would say partner because I was afraid that they would judge me, treat me like an alien, turn away, not want to work with me, think I wanted to sleep with them if they were a women, etc. But now I was married and she was not my partner, she was legally my wife. With the word partner, I could still hide my sexual orientation. With wife it was all out there in the open like the vulnerable insides of a raw egg. There were suddenly now parts of the world where we would be prosecuted if seen together as a couple. It began to dawn on me that this was a larger identify shift that I had anticipated.
What to do? Over the course of the next week, I called on two of my closest (heterosexual) friends to tell them about the fear that I was feeling. They listened and I was given the following advice: "The fear is in your mind and you get to choose how safe you feel in the world!" and to "Fuck what the world thinks" because "labels don't really even matter." To some extent, I agreed with their advice but there was the blazing reality that in this world there are homophobic countries where being openly LGBTQ+ is will get a person arrested, beat up, or worse, killed. And they thought the danger of being "out" was in my head? No, I don't think so. I reached out to another friend who was a social worker and works with marginalized youth. She brought a very different perspective to the table. She informed me that my friends had been speaking from their heteronormative world view and that my concerns were totally valid. This was my first time hearing that word. This was my first time feeling like a minority in the world. Eyes wide open. I was grateful for the validation and understanding.
In the five months since my marriage, I've been observing my comfort levels of saying "I have a wife" or "my wife" to strangers. The moment the phrase leaves my mouth, I notice that my body is tense. Like a small animal who goes still right before a chase, I would hold my breath while raking the other person's face for signs of rejection. Much to my surprise, again and again there were none. My instincts were being challenged on their basis of truth.
Yesterday, I went on my weekly grocery shop to the market on my bike with my saddle bag in hand ready to load up on fruits, veggies, cheese and bread for the week. I stopped by our favourite cheese monger to pick up something new. I browsed slowly. I felt the woman behind the counter wanted me to make a choice but I wasn't ready. Without even thinking twice about saying the word (wife). I told her I was feeling hesitant about making a decision because my wife was from Holland and she had high standards for the quality of cheese she ate. The woman behind the counter was silent for a few moments longer than normal. I held my breath. She looked down at the cheeses behind the glass counter. When she began speaking, she didn't turn me away (I breathed out), instead she told me about a local cheese producer who was of Dutch origin. In fact, she shared that she, too, was of Dutch origin and that when he was on the cusp of beginning to make his own product she had jokingly told him that he had a responsibility to make a quality cheese because of his heritage. I smiled. Honestly, not so much at her sweet story but at the fact that I had just told her I was married to a woman and didn't even think twice about telling that secret fact to a complete stranger. The fear of being harmed for my sexual orientation was loosening its grip on the quality of my life.
I share this story for several reasons. First, I'm really excited at the thought of living in a world where this might be a consistent reality for me; no fear about sharing my experience and second, it's so important to understand other peoples' life experiences so that we might see things from their perspective.
May we all be able to live freely, love whom our hearts love, and enjoy great cheeses!