I’m married, but I insist on referring to my spouse as my partner. I hate the connotations that come with using “husband” or “wife.” My partner is not the “head of the home.” I’m not his trophy. We both work to pay the bills, so he’s not the “breadwinner.” And we both take care of the home, so I’m not the “homemaker.” He doesn’t control me; I don’t henpeck him. And the rings we exchanged have about as much power of keeping us faithfully together as crossing my fingers has to help me win the lottery.
I’ve also come to seriously hate the connotations of marriage. I don’t necessarily regret getting married, but I do regret getting married before I had the chance to explore what marriage means. I regret getting married at a time when I thought that I was supposed to be the submissive, homemaking, child-bearing wife. I regret getting married at a time when I thought marriage was the only legitimate way to be in a relationship with the person that I love. I miss having the opportunity of exploring what love means to us outside of the confines of the ownership that marriage entails, if not to us, at least to everyone else.
Inevitably when people find out we’re married, they seem to think that they know how to define our relationship, and if we don’t fit into their preconceived definition, they take it upon themselves to try to correct us. Our cell phone company refuses to speak to me about the account even though I’m listed on there and am the one who signs the checks. They assume my partner is the decision-maker. People speak to my partner about me using metaphors and analogies that liken me to a house pet that needs to be “loved” but “trained” or “controlled” nonetheless.
Strangers advise us on how to control or manipulate each other. Just the other day, I had a couple come in to where I work and give me an annoying (though slightly endearing) lecture about how my husband will care and provide for me now as I “bear the babies,” but that I would take over as the leader and protector of him when he got old. What’s wrong with just loving and caring for each other, without the dynamics of who owns or controls whom or what roles we play?
Then there are the exclamations—“but you’re so young!”—that come almost every time someone finds out I’m married, as if my age means I can’t possibly be in a meaningful romantic relationship.
And I’m pretty sure that unmarried couples don’t get asked when they’re going to have kids every time they meet a new acquaintance or have a reunion with old friends or family, even if they’ve been living together for thirty years. On the off-chance that a few people are rude enough to ask a question like that, they probably don’t give dirty looks if the couple replies that they don’t plan on having kids. They don’t chide the couple for not passing on their “gorgeous genes.” They don’t chastise them for being selfish or promise that the baby clock will start ticking in a few years. From what I’ve seen, unmarried couples just simply aren’t harassed about the baby thing. I’m not saying that’s good (though I don’t think it’s bad). I’m not saying they’re free of harassment, because goodness knows they get asked often enough, “When are you getting married?” I’m just saying that, for me, that would be an exchange worth making.
I honestly don’t know if I would have gotten married given different circumstances. I don’t think my partner knows if he would have either. We stay married because we’re happy together, and admittedly, being married is easier as far as a number of legal things go. But I feel like more often than not, I try to hide the fact that I’m married (though not hide the fact that I’m in a relationship) because there is still so much left over from the days when marriage was an exchange of property between a father and a suitor. Marriage doesn’t describe our relationship well because we’re so far from that model.
Marriage rant aside, there’s another reason why I insist on using “partner.”
It makes me feel less invisible.
In our heterosexist society, gay people are pretty invisible. The very fact that they have to “come out” speaks to that. Non-heterosexuality is so invisible that a non-heterosexual individual has to make a big deal about declaring their non-heterosexuality in order to even be noticed. Even then, once they’re noticed, it’s not guaranteed they’ll be acknowledged.
But bisexuality is even less visible. I can never be “out” for good as bisexual. If I’m with a guy, people assume that I’m straight. If I’m with a girl, they assume that I’m lesbian. No one ever thinks to ask if I’m attracted to all gender expressions. If I tell someone I’m bi, when they don’t simply deny it, they assume that means I’m promiscuous. They certainly never consider that I might be faithful to one or *gasp* two partners. And allowing me the space to define my own relationships—forget it!
We’re so stuck in this dichotomous view of gender, relationships, and life that anyone or anything that doesn’t fall clearly on either side gets overlooked or explained away. Saying “partner” at least makes people second-guess whatever assumptions they’ve made about me. To some extent, it forces them to listen to what I say, thus giving me just a little bit more visibility as an “anomaly” (though I really doubt that bisexuality is as much of an anomaly as people think it is).