"Don't say partner," is what I'd tell my boyfriend whenever he spoke about or introduced me to another person. I hated that word, and still sort of do. It just doesn't sound (or sit) right with me. "I am not your partner, I am your boyfriend," is what I'd usually say. And he'd usually respond, "But we're more than just boyfriends, a lot more."
Now we're neither boyfriends nor partners. We're husbands. We moved to Connecticut and got married within months of it being legal for same sex couples to do so in the state. And while, admittedly, "husband" still sounds a little strange to me at times, it sits perfectly well. It makes sense to me, and it makes sense to my husband, so at least we're finally in agreement there. It sits well with me because it's an accurate indicator of where my husband and I are in our relationship, thanks in large part to "societal norms," which is one of the many reasons gay people want the right to marry - to not have to carve out or derive special meanings from titles like "partner" or, eck, "lover." And why? To what end anymore? Gay people are getting married; they're not getting "gay married," so why the need to make up differentiating titles to describe a relationship? Logically it's counterproductive, if not confusing.
If my husband and I are to follow this logic a bit further, however, some interesting questions quickly present themselves. One such question is around what the two of us, as a married couple, should call ourselves in certain situations. In a conventional marriage there is of course a husband and a wife. If my husband and I were to keep consistent with the nomenclature, then why isn't one of us called "wife?"
This question came to us not out of a deep discussion about gender roles and identities, or one about the etymology of marital monikers, but out of a practical matter - deciding what to one day have our kids call us. Fortunately, being a set of husbands has been fairly breezy for us. Okay, occasionally I'm left to smell the wood burning in some people's heads when I mention "my husband," but most people seem to make the connection without pause that I'm married to a man. Can you imagine the confusion, though, if I called my husband, "my wife?"
That said, in most cases when you enter a third or fourth, etc. into the equation, having two of the same thing - like two dads - can bring about its own set of confusions. We've watched this play out among dozens of our paired gay and lesbian friends who have children. And while they've all managed to work it out in their own unique ways, my husband and I are currently pondering our own - as possibly "dad" and "mom"- not so much as a statement of any kind but mainly as a utility. I mean, why not?
Yes, I'm aware that the 'statement' part can get real complex real fast. The concepts, let alone the realities, of gender roles and identities are rife with connotations - both constructive and unconstructive - that date back to time immemorial. With that in mind, is choosing to be called "mom" really something that my husband or I want to take on? As a gay couple we're already forced to pick our battles. This particular battle can very well turn out to be a losing one with negative repercussions that could impact our entire family.
On the other hand, we're already witnessing the parental paradigm shift, as men and women - both gay and straight - continue to assume non-traditional roles in their parenting. For example, more women have become the breadwinners while more men have become stay-at-home "Mr. Moms." Meanwhile, tasks like cleaning up after the kids, feeding them, and taking them to soccer practice, are no longer implicitly assigned, as they once were, to any one parental role. In most modern families today almost everything has become fungible. So if parental roles and tasks are pretty much no longer rooted in gender, then why aren't parental titles?
If you're able to extract the female gender aspect associated with the idea of "mom" or "mother," however entrenched you perceive it to be, then you're still left with an extremely powerful notion of a parental figure - arguably more powerful than any other, with the exception maybe of "dad" or "father." And that's quite compelling to us, not just theoretically but practically. You see, either way my husband and I will have to live up to some definition of what we choose to call ourselves among our children, which will intrinsically shape our roles as parents, roles that have already proven to be vastly different from one parent to the next. But if one of us were called "mom," then at least we wouldn't have to invent a new title. Moreover, however you break it down - and we all break it down differently - the title of "mom" truly stands on its own. Why not take advantage of this?
Of course, the ultimate question then becomes, which one of us would assume the grand title of "mom" or "mother?" Frankly, I'm not sure I'm quite there yet.