Like most couples, Paul and I have pet names for each other. I'm "Sweetie" most of the time, "Pookie" when he wants me to do something, and, strangely, "Honey" when he is frustrated with me. He says the "H" sound is more satisfying when he wants to vent, but I know that "Honey" is just another term for bee shit. But there is one phrase that we always use when we introduce each other: "my husband."
Recently I was surprised when I introduced Paul to someone and she replied, "Oh, is he really your husband?"
"Of course he is," I said (even though I wanted to reply, "Is that really your face?"). I know what she was trying to ask: She wanted to know if our marriage is legally recognized, as if that determines whether he's truly my husband. For some reason I felt as if I needed to prove it. "We were married three years ago in Massachusetts, where it's legal, in the backyard of Paul's parents," I said. I felt that the reference to the parents' backyard gave it more validity.
Paul gave me a look that said, "Just stop." He was an inch away from calling me "Honey." But like Miley Cyrus, I can't stop, and I won't stop, because while "husband" might just be a word, attaining the right to use that word has been a difficult battle, and we won. I'm claiming it and performing a victory dance (but don't worry: I'm too old to twerk).
While I am proud to call Paul my husband, it is one thing to do it in a gay-friendly state and quite another in a gay-antagonistic state -- North Carolina, for example. You can't be principled half the time. Reducing the status of your relationship, even in name only, implies that it is transitory and defined by the audience.
I must admit that when Paul and I returned to North Carolina for a high school reunion, I was worried about what I would call him. "Spouse" seemed too clinical. "Hubby" was too cutesy. And while he is my "life partner," why should I change what I call him for others? This was also the same year that Amendment One, which added language to the North Carolina Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, was being voted on in the general election. While I'm sure that some people thought that I was calling him "my husband" for political purposes, the truth is that I called him that because that is who he is.
Most of my classmates did not bat an eye when I introduced him as my husband. They were gracious. Then there were some who could not get away from us quickly enough. The night seemed to be mostly a success. But when Paul and I went to the restroom, one of my former classmates used the other "H" word.
"Are there any homos in here?" he shouted when entering the restroom, adding, "There better not be any homos in here trying to rape me."
To say I was upset is an understatement. I was enraged, not for me but for my husband. I confronted the offender and told him that I hoped that someday he would grow up. There was so much more that I wanted to say to him, but in that moment words escaped me, which is rare.
We have been called so many different things throughout history, most of them negative. I know that it is new and strange to hear a man call another man his husband. It is perhaps as strange as seeing a man give another man affection. Given that we have been called so many ugly words, I'm asking you to grow up, America. Call me what you will, but Paul is my husband.
William Dameron's personal blog is The Authentic Life.
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