When Chris and I first got married, I was charmed and amused by the notion that I, a man-person, now had a Husband.
I had a Husband while simultaneously being a Husband myself.
My inner child loved it, finding it both weird and silly. That kid voice in my head actually giggled: “He’s your HUSBAND? But you’re both boys!”
It was unusual, and extremely pleasing, to talk about my Husband, rather than my Partner. And way better than talking about my Boyfriend.
I also realized how much I enjoyed hearing myself being referred to as Husband once again, in this new chapter of my life.
When your husband calls you Husband … it’s really something thrilling. It means you have a distinctly male role for someone, a masculine presence in someone’s life. At least, that how my old-school, straight-raised brain translated it. Being Chris’s husband meant I was the Man in his life. I’m the one who would wrap him up in my arms when he needs to feel comforted or safe. My shoulder would be the one he could lean on for support. That notion was very special to me.
(And before I go any further, let me be clear: I’m not saying wives don’t provide the same thing for their spouses. I’m really not. So don’t troll me. I’m saying that for me, someone who had lived the majority of his life in Straight World and been brought up to see gender roles in a traditional way, who then came out of the closet at age 40, there was a sense of relief that I could still be the husband I’d always wanted to be.)
We’ve been married for years now. A fascinating and exciting experience, being a Husband to one’s husband.
But not long after I realized how much I enjoyed being called “Husband,” I realized it didn’t actually happen that often. Chris and I would be at some social event for his work, or mine, and when he referred to me, Chris would introduce me by saying, “This is my partner, Seth.”
It bothered me a little, at first. Especially when I realized I sometimes defaulted to calling him “partner,” too.
And we talked about it, curious about our own behavior. We certainly felt like husbands. So why did we sometimes introduce each other as “partner”?
It’s an interesting question, considering more people support marriage equality now than ever before. Now more than ever, people are down with the idea of same-sex matrimony.
We quickly realized why. It’s simple and obvious: there still remain some strong beliefs out there that undermine the idea of same-sex marriage. I can’t speak to what it’s like for gay women who marry each other, but I now see clearly how some folks still react when meeting two husbands.
“They’re playing house.”
Even in our enlightened context, there’s still a pervasive belief that when two men get married, they’re simply pretending. It’s not a “real marriage” if there’s no wife involved. Gay men are simply marrying each other so they can register for flatware, decorate a new house and pose for adorable holiday card photos with their twin Shih Tzus.
“They have an ‘open arrangement.'”
Without a woman to maintain monogamy rules, men are rutting pigs who give each other permission to rut away, even if it’s just under special circumstances. I’ve actually had straight people pull me aside after learning I’m “gay married,” and covertly ask, “So … what’s the agreement you guys have if one of you is traveling?” I don’t think straight marrieds are asked that question. At least, not as often.
“They’re probably just temporary.”
Because gay men are … gay men, their commitments are temporary. They’ll stay together until they get bored, and then they’ll move on. Because, you know, men.
“They’re SO adorable.”
This one seems harmless, but we get it a lot — the condescending smile and virtual pat on the head by people who think it’s so cute how two men try to be just like a real couple. How. Cute.
It’s worth noting that it isn’t just uninformed straight people who harbor all these beliefs. I know more than a few gay men who believe and embrace the stereotypes, who shake their heads in disbelief when they learn that two more of their gay friends have decided to tie the knot.
The range of responses has been coming up more often lately because of the various functions we both attend this time of year: weddings, graduations, etc. This is when we often meet new people, and get to receive the full range of fun social reactions.
I went solo to a bat mitzvah celebration recently when Chris was out of town, and found myself at the reception that evening with a ton of people I didn’t know. There was probably with a healthy mix of people with varying orientations. I was mingling to the best of my ability (which I sort of suck at in the first place), trying not to hover too much around the brie. As I met other guests and engaged in the basic conversational intel, I found myself purposefully going out of my way to drop the word “partner” from my lexicon and mention my Husband as often as possible:
“What a special event. My HUSBAND sure wishes he could be here.”
“These salmon puffs are fantastic. They’re my HUSBAND’S favorite!”
“That’s so funny that you’d mention Madagascar. Just last night my HUSBAND and I saw this great Netflix documentary on ring-tailed lemurs.”
Maybe I was leaning into the word a little too hard.
A friend of mine had to pull me aside and point out that I sounded like a weirdo who was actually making a husband up.
I’ve been a husband to two people in my life. One woman and one man. Both times, the role has been a point of pride and honor for me. I value the role, I take it seriously, and I see it as one of the greatest privileges one can have (as well as being a fundamental human right). I don’t want to be downgraded to Partner, especially since the right for two dudes to actually be each other’s husbands in the first place was so hard won, even here in California.
And I absolutely don’t want to downgrade myself when I’m around people, just because of what their views may be about gay marriage, or even gay people.
But as I attend more springtime social events, both with and without my husband on my arm, I’m realizing something fundamentally important: My husband and I are husbands not because others acknowledge our legitimacy, but because we do.
We are husbands to each other because we are two gay men in love, who are committed to each other for life. We are legal husbands because, aside from all the legal and financial benefits that comes with the paperwork, there is something special about having our union officially acknowledged and respected in the place where we live. For us, being husbands who have husbands feels good.
Husbands is what we are, and what we get to call each other. We don’t have to downshift to Partner to make others feel more comfortable. And we don’t need to shout “Husbands present!” whenever we walk into a crowded room just to assert ourselves. We believe in the value of marriage, for couples of any orientation who choose to embrace it, or define marriage itself in whatever way they choose.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get dinner started and choose a new Netflix nature doc for tonight. My husband and I have a date.