Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What’s In A Name?

It was about 70 degrees today in NYC and I celebrated by going to a book store. I started out with the intentions of a nice, brisk Central Park walk, my first escape from grad work and renovation hell in days. And somewhere on the way up there, I decided to pit stop, and never got my energy back. So I sat in the Dean & Deluca café reading books that I had no intention of buying instead. I also had a celebrity sighting: Sitting right next to me was M.olly Sh.annon. I wasn’t certain at first, but then she made a phone call and used her name and that sealed it. It was one of those New York moments.

On the name front: In the past month I have spent approximately 16 hours on the phone with the cable company and phone company and all sorts of other utilities and companies. And each time they always ask for the information on the account. When they pull it up, they ask “And am I speaking with Nicole?” And I always respond, “No. You are speaking to…..the other person who lives here.” The other person who lives here? Is that the best I can do? Is that destined to be my title for life?

This is one of those things I think about from time to time, but now, with children on the way, it has renewed importance. All this name stuff. The babies’ names. Their last name (Nicole’s). What we call each other. I’m old-fashioned: I wish we could be married, but until this is a federal thing, I don’t see what benefits it would actually incur for us to run off to Massachusetts or New Jersey or wherever for paperwork that the federal government won't recognize anyway. Nicole still has to adopt her own children; special accommodations need to made for assets in the event of any untimely demise (still lose lots of $$ in probate anyway); and that is just the tip of the unfair iceberg. But I digress.

So what are we supposed to call each other? Even after all these years together we still flip flop around. Here are the nominees:

Partner: Are we running a company together? Partner has such an official feel to it. And it is not terribly intimate. However, once when a doctor started talking to me about sex and semen and how I needed to avoid both, I told her I had a female partner, so skip the sperm talk. But partner still sounds so clinical.

Spouse: Rhymes with mouse and house. Seems charmingly archaic, though, like something used in the early 1900s. But try using that word in public and people look at you as if you are speaking Latin. Interestingly, this is the term Nicole has used to describe me in business situations (I think like when she is one the phone with HR talking about insurance or something). Otherwise, I think she just refers to me as “Jennifer.” I don’t think she has outed herself to one person at work: Not the 30 or so people who work for her and not her own managers or colleagues. Not one. That's a lot of people who are expected to intuit. She just starts saying things like “This weekend Jennifer and I…” and expects them to make the connection. (I wish I could be a fly on the wall while people put the pieces together.) I must say that I agree with this approach: After all, people don’t “announce” their heterosexuality. But still…too much room for ambiguity for me.

Girlfriend: The ever-popular ambiguous, ubiquitous girlfriend. Especially difficult to use when talking with anyone over a certain age (some generations uses “girlfriend” to describe female friends all the time). You run the risk here of someone thinking you are referring to a friend that is female. Sometimes context can help (“My girlfriend and I were in bed sound asleep by 9:00”) but sometimes context can’t help (“My girlfriend and I went out for dinner”). Either way, girlfriend still has a transient, temporary, I’m-still-looking kinda feel to it. At least to me it does.

Domestic Partner: Too legal-sounding. I don’t like adopting a title created by a government that doesn’t want to grant equal rights to same-sex couples but wants to appease them with mini-rights. And I don’t really want to use such a sanitized term that was created so as not to offend those who are sickened by people like me and my wicked, wicked ways. Also, it makes me want to rename all of the major nouns in our life. Domestic residence. Domestic squabble. Domestic bed. It begs the question: Are we allowed International Partners? Do people really say “And this is my domestic partner…” ?

Wife: Obviously the most accurate term to describe us. Actually, to be more specific the stereotypical “wife” really describes me well and the stereotypical “husband” describes Nicole, if you want to speak strictly in terms of roles. But, as my ever-wise friend Annie says, the beauty of same-sex relationships is that no one has to play a role. Yet Nicole and I do. In a way. Go figure. But “wife” still gets caught in my throat. I can’t imagine Nicole at work referring to me as her wife. In certain circles, it is appropriate, but in general, I feel like the world isn’t ready for that. Should that matter?

Pictured above is nothing because blogger wouldn’t let me upload. : (


Carey said...

Well, I liked 'partner' the best until straight people and newer LGB couples started taking it over. I mean, is someone your 'partner' after you've been dating just a few months? I don't think so...I still think they fall into that g/f or b/f category. Partner used to be used by gay couples to subtlety 'out' themselves to other people, but now, many straight people I know use it - they think husband/wife is too stereotypical or they like the 'equal-ness' of the word partner.

Speaking of partners, Steph introduced me as her partner once at a drug rep function -- hehe -- the drug rep started giving me samples of the meds!! You know, since I was a 'partner' and all in the medical partner sense. It was funny... of course, I kept the free meds :)

Steph calls me her wife mostly... I tend to use the word partner still. Or biatch... when I'm feeling sassy. And brave. LOL Kidding of course.

Dee said...

Over the years I've, we've, had the same dialog on "what's in a name". For the longest time it was just my girlfriend. I always HATED the term partner. It seems, just as you said, like you're referring to a business partner. Or how about "Howdy Partner?". I've finally, within the last two years become comfortable with the term "wife". Yet, we're not legally wed which is CRAP!

K J and the kids said...

Damn blogger...I love seeing pictures.
Don't forget : companion, lover, and my bitch.
I have a, wait, a husband. It depends on if she's using power tools, installing a new water heater or finishing the basement. (all of which used to TOTALLY turn me on, until the kids of course came along)
She is my wife. I'm more offended when I hear couples ESPECIALLY with kids that have been together 10 years refer to their "partner" as their girlfriend. That seems like someone that's not permanant.
Fly by the seat of your pants kind of relationship.
I do use the term partner when talking to someone who can't HANDLE the term wife :)

Are you changing last names ?
My long time companion :) ha ha is taking my last name....which is weird, because I'm the wife :) I had the babies and they have my last name so it seems easier, oh and cheaper. (and don't think that I planned that) She's waiting until her mom dies....we don't want to put her in an early grave doing it now. :)
Pish posh.

calliope said...

The fact that I just "claimed"my Mother as my domestic partner on an insurance application makes me hate the phrase even more.

I have never liked the term "boyfriend" as it didn't seem important enough. When I was in a long relationship I would just call whoever "My Man".

Maybe you can call Nicole "your woman". It has a nice cave girl feel to it. bwah

calliope said...

The fact that I just "claimed"my Mother as my domestic partner on an insurance application makes me hate the phrase even more.

I have never liked the term "boyfriend" as it didn't seem important enough. When I was in a long relationship I would just call whoever "My Man".

Maybe you can call Nicole "your woman". It has a nice cave girl feel to it. bwah

Pronoia said...

I like using "wife" because it doesn't feel apologetic like so many of the other options do (for me, anyway). It's not easy to misunderstand what I mean by it, it presumes they're fine with it, and it makes many people think it is, in fact, legal.

And somehow, if they think it's legal and get used to it, I think they're less likely to decide it should stay illegal if it comes to votes whereever they are.

And I like watching people's faces as they try to process all of it and still be polite. :-)

Shereen said...

You don't know me from a hole in the wall, but I've been lurking along, following the ups and downs and cheering for you all the way. I'm in Canada, so my wife really is my wife, but I've always quite liked 'partner', and tend to use the two interchangeably. It makes me think of dancing, a partner in the dance, etc. And in that context, is often the most perfect word I can use.
And as to whether the world is ready for us and our wives - screw 'em, I say. Nobody was ready for interracial couples either. The only way people get ready is to have to deal with it, already. So here I am, part of an inter-racial, same-sex marriage - I love making the introductions, and then speculating on what part of the whole equation people are struggling with! ;-)

psapph0 said...

Both Lady M and I tend to use "partner" when talking to strangers, coworkers, politicos, telemarketers, phone companies and who-not. My favorite ever is her younger brother's way of introducing me to people: "...and this is my sister's girlfriend, lover, partner, bitch-sorta thing."

When it becomes legal, I'll favor the word spouse.

I get annoyed when people who are not legally married (those of you in MA, Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain need not read further) use "wife" or "husband" for same-sex relationships because I believe it helps to perpetuate the feelings of complacency that exist among the mildly supportive and supportive straight AND gay community alike. Even with all the media attention the issue has garnered in recent years, there are many, MANY people here in New York who do not know that we (speaking for G/L/B people in same sex relationships) cannot get married, and I feel that people using "wife" and "husband" out of context are partially to blame for that. Beyond this, it also keeps them ignorant of the fact that there are thousands of rights we're are not entitled to; a "wife" is someone who can inherit your social security benefits, visit you in a hospital no matter what state you are in, share in your health benefits without jumping though paperwork hurdles, invoke the 5th amendment in court, adopt jointly with you in every other county, assume parenthood for any child born into your family, go through customs with you, inherit your estate and bank accounts, and about 1,700 other things. It is not constructive for any of us to make others think that it is legal when it is in fact completely illegal. We want support on the issue because people are informed about the topic; not because they are too stupid to know better.

infertilepediatrician said...

I know that Carey already posted above but I thought I would add my 2 cents.

I actually like the word partner. I don't think that it carries the same stereotypes that wife/husband carry. It's an equalizing word. However I agree that it's starting to replace gf or bf for gay couples and you really shouldn't refer to your gf of 1 week as your partner (even if you've already done the U-haul thing). Also, as a doctor, I think it does have the potential to confuse people.

I used to use the term spouse. It's gender neutral and thus I found it to be safe in certain circumstances. However, it's really hard to use and not sound stupid. Someone once called me out on it and I felt dumb for not just using a gender specific word.

So I have finally come around to using the term wife. I like that it makes some people a little uncomfortable. I will sometimes add that while I consider Carey my wife, it's not really legal (I don't want to come across as complacent). We did have a ceremony and we consider ourselves married (even though the state considers us domestic partners and the federal government doesn't consider us at all), so I don't feel that I'm lying by using the term wife.

Currently though, I'm referring to Carey as my baby's mama (although not in public).

Sophia said...

Mikey uses wife, partner and spouse. I use partner and spouse most of the time but among friends I call mikey my husband since she id's a butch and tends to embrace both masculine and feminine and to call her wife is just wrong.

Anonymous said...

Damn psapph0 !
Sometimes I think we need to just RELAX and call each other what feels comfortable.

psapph0 said...

Yeah... because just relaxing REALLY helps people gain civil rights.

Mr. Sniffen said...

Hi Jen! First time reader, first time poster!

I've always loved 'partner'. Yes, it has business interpretations...but it has sexy, mysterious interpretations. I think of Marion Ravenwood, holding up the mediallion outside of her burning bar, turning to Indiana Jones and saying "...I'M YOUR GODDAMN PARTNER!"

When the cable company asks "Am I speaking with Nicole?", say "No, this is the apple of Nicole's eye speaking. Now can you get my cable to work or not?"