With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear two same-sex marriage cases, I'm wondering, like everyone else, what their decisions will be. I'm also wondering what I'll call the guy I've been with for 28 years, and the question has bedeviled me for as long as we've been together.
I never considered "lover," because our commitment was for life, and the word felt too temporary. Back in our early years together I tried "partner." Since we had collaborated on more than one book and had even taught together, it felt like a good description of what we were. It seemed larger than the ordinary words for whom you're married to. But it sometimes confused people, like the woman who asked me where our office was, and over time, "partner" has come to feel too businesslike, even though we used it when we got married in Canada.
"Husband" also has never felt quite right. Like many American gays and lesbians way before same-sex marriage was even talked about as a cultural possibility, I had wanted to avoid anything that smacked of "traditional" marriage. If I called him my "husband," for most people that would instantly bring up its opposite, "wife," especially given that so many straight people stereotyped gay male couples as consisting of one guy who was the "man" and another who was the "woman."
I've been intrigued by Dutch married friends who refer to each other as "mijn man," which is literally "my husband," but of course to English ears it sounds like "my man." I've toyed with saying it myself, but then I wondered if it would came across as, I don't know, a little too Porgy and Bess. Would people expect me to burst into song after saying it?
"Spouse" has been my latest pick, but it feels too generic, like filling in a form. Which brings me back to "husband." Can I reclaim it the way "queer" has been reclaimed by some in the community? Or will some new term emerge in the same way that public opinion has been shifting in favor of same-sex marriage? As Talking Heads sang on their first album, "I'm still thinking..."