On a listserv to which I subscribe, the topic has recently come up of using gender-specific titles. The conversation has included viewpoints from people who are homosexual and heterosexual, from both men and women (though it does seem to be decidedly man-heavy). No one has identified themselves as transgender or ungendered or androgynous or bisexual, but it’s possible those folks are included as well. And some interesting points have come up.
There’s the camp who believes that the gender of their mate is none of anyone’s business and therefore believe in ambiguity. There is one guy who said he believes the term “partner” is more warm and affectionate than “girlfriend.” There is someone who said he would never call a future mate a “husband” but rather a “spouse.” This seems to be the group who has decided that gender is generally irrelevant and they would not like to disclose such an identifier. There have been arguments that using “wife” or “boyfriend” is the equivalent of always saying “My black friend Michael” or “My life partner who has 6 inches between his legs.” (No kidding, that’s pretty much a direct quote.) They also believe that there is an admittedly small portion of the population who cannot be identified by traditional gender labels, and therefore using ungendered terms is preferable.
There is also the group who believes in language as a communication device and is opposed to over-PCing language, to stripping meaningful words from language for the sake of a small minority. This group, of which I must admit I am a member, believes it is much more expedient to say “my husband” or “my wife” as a means of clear and easy communication. If a person is trying to form a connection with a potential new friend, why would that person be intentionally vague? Stating that I have a husband tells you something about me, something I don’t mind sharing: first, that I am attracted to men; second, that I believe marriage as an institution has some value. Those things allow you to begin forming an opinion of me, and you give me some personal information back that allows me to do the same. I would expect, if you hope to form a connection, that you would share something about yourself and your life. I don’t give a crap if you’re gay or straight or bi or none or blue or purple, but maybe you don’t want to share that information right off the bat because you don’t know yet that it doesn’t matter to me (and it does seem to matter to so many people), and that’s okay. But at some point, when you’re ready to further our friendship, being intentionally vague about your significant other is not going to help matters.
This conversation has also reminded me of a gender-related conversation I had with some of my best gal pals a couple of weeks ago; namely, the question of being called Mrs. _(insert husband’s name here)_. Some of my friends had no trouble with this convention at all, but it makes me flinch a little. If I was Jane Smith and, assuming I took my husband’s name in marriage, I was continually referred to as Mrs. Thomas Smith, I would be supremely annoyed. As it is, it happens very rarely and I just barely squint my eyes when it does happen, but it still bugs me. Because I am not my husband. I am me. I have my own name; I appreciate being called by it. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and Jane Smith is perfectly acceptable, albeit longer, but you run no risk of offense. And if you chose to keep your maiden name…well then, all the more reason to be annoyed, I suppose.
Anyway. All of this led me to think about my feelings on gender identifiers. And I think I’m fine with innocent (to my mind) identification labels such as “wife.” I am fully aware that there is a wide spectrum of gender identification, though, and if a person did not feel comfortable identifying themselves or their partner with a single gender, then that’s their perogative. But for me, I am David’s wife, and he is my husband, and we willingly agreed to belong to one another. When I’m around people who know him, though, I would do him the courtesy of calling him by his name when talking about him (“David said this” rather than “My husband said this”) because he deserves a more specific identity when possible. And I deserve that too, which is why I don’t like to be identified by my husband’s name as though I were a piece of his property. Complicated? I’m not sure; it makes sense to me. Your thoughts?