Standing on the Side of Love

My Vanilla Partner: Bisexuality, Het Privilege & Fluidity

I still find it exotic.  And ironic.  My husband.  When the phrase leaves my tongue, it’s accompanied by a mix of pride and bemusement.  Me?  With a husband?  A male husband?

When my ex and I broke up after a decade together, because I had always identified as bi, she asked me, with some vicarious curiosity, if I was going to go date a guy now that we were split.  Date being a euphemism, for those of you who didn’t catch that.

My response was, “Hell, yes,” then we both laughed (or cried) because we both knew, without a doubt, there was no way I could put up with the male emotional world and so my dating would be short-lived.


Who knew crow tasted this good?

Some women say or write, “my husband” without a second thought, but I am all second-thought-y, not to mention thrice-thought-y.  I am not trying to flaunt my heterosexual privilege.  Though how could you know, unless you know me?  I am not trying to be thoughtless or to erase my brothers’ or sisters’ queer couplings, because if you knew me, you’d know I’m all about shouting those from the hilltops.

attributed to anavalentine
attributed to anavalentine

What I am trying to do is own and acknowledge my heterosexual privilege, rather than hide it.  I am trying to be visible as a bisexual women in a heterosexual marriage that has high hopes of lasting a lifetime.  I am trying to invoke the fluidity of this “my” part of the phrase, though I suppose that is more in the tone of voice than the words I say.   The written word doesn’t convey very this well at all.

I am aiming for a tone that suggests that the husband part fits (because I really like this guy), but I am still working on the my part of it.  Or maybe it’s the other way around: the my part fits, because we are a good pair together, but the husband-y part takes a little getting used to.

I have always respected het people who use the gender-neutral term, “partner.”  I have found it to be an act of solidarity, a devaluing of the hetero-normative prerogative so abundant everywhere.  There have been times when I have witnessed its use as small acts of courage in the face of over-saturation of the breeder type, persisting in the face of the listener’s confusion or gossip-y derision.  I like that it leaves them (even me) guessing, particularly if the person is really good at avoiding the use of specific pronouns.

I thought after the first year of my marriage, after some trial period of playing with this novel concept, I would make that transition from “husband” to “partner.”

Turns out, “partner” is way too vanilla.  My ex used to say that all the time and I never gave her full credit for her prescience in this area.

Go figure but “husband” – of all words and relationships – is kinda edgy.  At least for me.  I am not exactly sure how this can be, given it is also THE word most associated with patriarchical ownership of women (well, besides dowry, which isn’t used so much in my culture these days).  I’d love to say it’s because of gay boys claiming it for themselves in the world of marriage equality, but that’d be b.s..

This is going to sound strange, and I’m not even sure I can defend the logic of it, but at this moment on my own personal timeline, the phrase and the tone together remind me, if no one else, of my bi-ness.  And its fluidity: past, present, and future.  (Which, by the way, has nothing to do with my commitment to monogamy, which is – like for everyone else – totally independent of sexual orientation.)

I am well aware that if I lived somewhere different than the town referred to by the National Enquirer as “Lesbianville,” I would have a different perspective on the word.  There wouldn’t be this same ease with the level of inclusion and justice as is mostly demonstrated here, where traditional gender roles are regularly flouted even by non-progressive hetero types.

That’s not to say it’s all hunky-dory, but compared with the rest of the nation and world, it’s pretty darn good here.  Massachusetts was the first state to enact marriage quality.  We had the first openly lesbian mayor in the U.S.  I originally moved to this state with my ex because of their advanced laws towards lesbian parents, both those who give birth and those who adopt.  In 2011, our city council voted unanimously to support state legislation affirming the rights of transgendered persons.

Right now, I live in appreciation of my community.  Right now, I live with the anticipation that once I become a minister, if I am going to serve a congregation, I will have to leave all this behind.   Right now, I live with an awareness that I’ll more likely be around women and their husbands and men with their wives, and a lot less public affirmation for the gender and sexual orientation continuums that human beings exist within.

If such is the case, in doing my part to hold the tension of love and justice, I will be declaring as many versions of gender-neutral names for my partner and practicing the meticulous avoidance of pronouns all over the place.  And looking for those others who do so as well.  I’m guessing, and hoping, and expecting to find more of those kindred spirits among Unitarian Universalists, wherever I end up.

0 thoughts on “My Vanilla Partner: Bisexuality, Het Privilege & Fluidity

  1. I wish you well and only make one comment or suggestion to you, taking one day at a time with a huge dose of patience and understanding thrown in and you should pass out my 30 years of togetherness.

  2. It looks like you are discovering that certain things, like love, are difficult to categorize. Sometimes, things just are and maybe our perceptions, aren’t always what we thought. I wish you continued success in your journey and congratulations on your marriage.

  3. Marvelous. I recently have found myself in a similar situation. Maybe the same, and understand what you are saying. Thank you.

  4. Ha! I confront some of the same issues for sure. My partner and I have been together for 9 years, and I still call him my partner and avoid gendered pronouns in social situations. I’m a bit of an antagonist, and I’m pretty tomboyish, so I love overturning people’s common assumptions. Even though their assumptions are partially correct. That makes it even better. It is, as you so aptly described, an act of solidarity even as I accept my heterosexual privilege. I could just as easily have been with a woman for 9 years, in which case the social-political gender dynamics would be different for me. I get that. I also feel sometimes like “husband” might have an interesting edginess for me, but then again I’m still in a part of the country where I would not be able to marry a woman, and my friends cannot marry their partners. So, another act of solidarity. For now. 😉 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Rameyontheroad, thanks for sharing your story and how this resonated with you. It is so true that I would be telling a different story if I didn’t live in such a progressive place. May there be justice for all everywhere sooner than later!

  5. I wish you luck in al of yor endavors. I have been married a year now an is still strange to call him husband. Its even strange to say I’m married. And I’m straight nt bi. But I do see wher your coming from. Thanks for sharing

  6. I never thought about it that way: that being bisexual, being in a long term relationship with someone of the same sex, and then marrying someone of the opposite sex, would make you feel guilty or afraid to ‘flaunt’ heterosexuality. Of course, you aren’t flaunting it–but trying to put myself in your shoes is really interesting. I always hate hearing people suggest that someone might not be loyal to their husband or wife just because they’re bisexual, when monogamy has nothing to do with sexuality. It’s like that weird rumor that gay men aren’t monogamous. I mean, if you’re hanging out at a sleazy gay bar, MAYBE you’ll run into a few more players, but come on. Love is love. Anyway, I enjoyed this read!

    Oh, and sorry about my creepy unicorn avatar. It liked your crow.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Rather than calling it guilt, for me it’s a sense of knowing my privileges and how to use these “super powers” for good — just like my white privilege…

  7. I love this for more reasons than I can explain. I’m straight and I sometimes find the word ‘husband’ edgy – afraid sets out a precedent for me as a ‘wife’ that I might fail to live up to in a multitude of ways. I’m glad your post wound up on my screen today.

  8. I like word husband as a verb — “to manage prudently and economically, to conserve.” While my husband doesn’t manage me, he does conserve our relationship very thoughtfully. I appreciate that in him.

        1. I know that having had a commitment ceremony in my lesbian relationship (1993 — well before marriage equality) and the effort and joy of getting to re-envision the wedding ceremony because we were already outside the law helped to ensure that my second wedding, this time hetero, would not cow-tow to traditional forms either.

  9. So this is what the other side of the fence look like! I’ve dated both men and women but knew I’d never end up with a man.

    As an aside: I tried to click the National Enquirer link and it gives a 404 because the colon is missing after http.

  10. My complaint about the word ‘partner’ is that it sounds too businesslike. I think it would be nice if everyone could talk about their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, regardless of whether it’s a woman talking about her wife or her husband or whatever, without it being a thing that in any way oppresses anyone. A friend I worked with always spoke about his boyfriend, with me, with our very oldschool boss, with everyone. He said it was more relationship sounding to him than partner was, and anyone that made uncomfortable could deal with it or go away.
    Good luck in your marriage, sounds like you’ve found someone you could love for a lifetime 🙂

    1. Well, partner may be too business like. Or maybe it could be reclaimed from the business world? I currently work with someone, sharing a ministry, and when I say he’s my partner in that endeavor, people often hear partner in other ways, so I have to use a qualifier, like ‘my co-ministry partner.’ Fact is, language is limiting and narrowing, but it’s what we’ve got.! Thanks for the well wishes and reading my blog.

    2. I almost exclusively use the word “partner” to describe my relationships. I’m poly leaning and my relationships encompass a lot of grey area at this point in time. Right now, I’m a nearly girlfriend, a friend with benefits, and something less easy to describe with another man.

      So I’ve found that when telling stories or anecdotes or what have you from my relationships that it’s most honest to use the word “partner” than give those I talk to a false idea of what me and X partner is. Moreso, I’m afraid that if it spreads to far and wide that I’m not seeing any one of them exclusively, that it would negatively affect my academic and professional life.

  11. I believe marriage is an art of conserving so many failed sketches of relationship and nurturing the ones that come close to our idea of it. Whatever preferences you start out with – bi, het, ultimately dissolve in the way you deal with your partner as another person with her/his perception of relationship.

  12. I’m reading this article and I came upon the town”Lesbianville” then read that your’re studying to be a minister, then I noticed the chalice, and I figured this had to be written by my friend, and sure enough it is you. I love your writing style and I love this blog. I just joined WP randomly tonight, and am looking forward to starting a blog of my own. I have no idea what style it will be or what I will write about, but I’ve been working on a few projects, so more will be revealed.
    Take care!
    Peace my friend

  13. Some words–some names–have such heavy connotations, don’t they? I’m not married and I might not ever be, but I still refer to my cohabiter as my husband. Or my partner. I guess it depends on how I’m feeling at the time 😉 On WordPress I refer to him as the Handsome Sidekick!

    A really great post 🙂

  14. About the current preference for “husband” over “partner”: names and titles which we had always viewed in a particular way suddenly seem like completely new words when we find ourselves in transition. In my 70s and in transition between middle age and – dare I say it – old age, I’m constantly being surprised by new perceptions, seeing old assumptions and idea relationships failing miserably, shedding like snakeskin to reveal something new.

    Just five years ago, “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage at the dying of the light,” was a cliche to me. Now I smile impishly.

    Don’t be surprised to find LGBT members and couples when you are called to a congregation. You may not have to make that much of an adjustment.

  15. When you don’t easily fit into categories, it can feel like someone is screwing with your inner self. That’s one of the reasons those survey boxes are troubling, because you look at them and think, “well yeah kind of I am that, but also this, and sort of both.” And of course it’s just checkmarks but that experience is repeated in real life, too. I rarely bring it up, but the occasional date I go on with a woman is almost always loaded with assumptions because hey, I am not 100% red blooded American male that has sex with women only and has never had a Gay Thought in his head. But on the other hand it’s not like I’m out there having sex with men either. More truthfully, it’s about the intensity of someone’s mind and thought that gets me going.

    Enjoyed the post, look forward to reading more.

  16. well, i agree with you albeit am not married I find the word husband, partner etc very heavy and burdensome… i refer to mine as a companion…
    a fresh post and glad you got fped, congratulations!

  17. What a great read for the last part of my Sunday morning coffee 🙂 I have nothing deeper to add I am afraid as I have only had one Sunday morning coffee.

  18. Wandered in by way of Freshly Pressed.

    I never liked the term “het privilege”. It seems so divisive. And labels generally. When people fall hard on opposite sides with labels and such, I seem to be caught in between.
    I mean, just on orientation, I’m married to a woman, but both of us happen to have bisexual orientation. We have siblings with similar orientation, but regardless of the gender of the person they chose, I still want their company. I believe in fellowship, y’know? Church, work, home, wherever. I’m harsh on myself, and I need to work on that, but I want to belong. I want to share common ground, instead of get all upset about differences the way people do sometimes. Especially when I share my experience.

    1. For me, I find my acknowledgement of privilege, whether it is het or white, opens up worlds of companionship and understanding that would otherwise be closed to me. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

      1. You’re welcome. I guess I’ve done this, probably more consciously for “white” than for “het”, but I fall into other aspects that don’t have privilege, like “SAHD”, “mentally ill”, “disabled”, and so on. “Neurotypical” makes my skin crawl, I guess because that one has privilege (and I don’t have that one).

        1. thank you for naming these other privileges which are often invisible to me. So many blessings are invisible and this is why we need each other, to remind us, to name it.

  19. I’ve felt a lot of the feelings you describe as well. I never expected to find a male long term partner, nor did I ever expect to feel “ok” with the idea of being a mother. I still find it very awkward to be around hetero “mommies” given my own non-normative ideas on gender and relationships…
    It was nice to read someone else’s experience so similar to my own.

  20. Well first, congratulations on your marriage! I think it’s interesting that you consider calling someone husband or wife to be hetero-normative. I’ve always found the word “partner” to be somewhat sub-standard to husband/wife. It makes me wonder if the person is talking about their business partner? Dance partner? Oh, life partner? That’s nice.

    For some reason “life partner” implicitly sounds as shallow and fleeting as the previous two to me. On the flip-side, when I hear a same-sex couple introduce each other as “husband” or “wife” it stirs a much more deep and genuine visceral reaction in me. It sounds concrete, permanent, and personal, making me want to stand in solidarity and support them as much as I can. And what’s more, it gives me hope that I will one day be able to call my significant other by such a fundamentally intimate term of endearment.

    1. love what you wrote here. there is something, given the cusp of change we get to experience in our society, where old words sound new when finally granted full use by those previously barred from using them. thanks for reading my blog.

      1. I couldnt agree more! I see the shift starting to happen, and think with this momentum that it will not be long before we are all able to mary whomever we love and use the corresponding terms of endearment.

        I actually just found your blog today through freshly pressed on my dashboard. Some really great stuff, I look forward to continuing to follow you. Congrats again!

  21. I had a hard time trying to nail down how to label my marriage. Especially because neither of us are particularly straight. I never used the term “boyfriend” while we were dating (though honestly we were so sure that I had very little time to fret over “boyfriend” before I got to use “fiancé” which is totally neutral when spoken) … but the intimacy of “husband” hooked me. I love to say it- but only to him when we are alone. In the public sphere he is my Spousal Unit. He finds it endearingly weird, which really just sums up why he married me anyway.

    I knew I had found the right group to worship with. Finding cool new people such as yourself just confirms it.

    1. Katekalimaa: loved your story. Thanks for sharing it. I like the possibility of moving to husband for private and something else (unlikely Spousal Unit, but I’ll give it due consideration) for public! Glad you found your peoplez!

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