After we sent out a call for submissions about how marriage changes you, Elizabeth Hodge sent me an e-mail.
"To preface this, I'm gay, otherwise it won't seem significant," she began.
"As a lifelong feminist, I never imagined that I would somehow fall into traditional "wife" roles-total household management, bill paying, laundry, groceries, etc. without assistance-and become "my wife" when referred to by my partner (whom I gather would be my wife as well, yet the term never enters my mind). I wear my hair longer because she likes it better too. We also have tiffs about where to spend the holidays and who should stay home with the kids (which are cats!)"
I was intrigued and wrote back asking for more details. She obligingly sent in the following essay.
Marriage was never something that I quite imagined for myself, for a variety of reasons-not the least of which is that I happen to be a lesbian. As a professor of philosophy, well versed in feminist theories, a child of the '80s, marriage was definitely something to eschew. It was, it appeared, a symbol of women’s oppression, heterosexism, perpetuation of "traditional" values, etc. The institution of marriage did not connect up with my perception of loving unions, commitment, and the like. So I put it out of my mind completely.
I met Abelina when I was in my 30s and we instantly became friends. Somewhere along the line the friendship became a deep love and, with that, the desire to be committed to one another for life. So we moved in together and set up house.
While our core values definitely align, some others don’t quite match up. For one thing, she was raised in a very traditional household, where the mother stays home and the father calls the shots. The roles are very clear for the boys and the girls, as they are cut along the stereotypical lines. Since I grew up with a single mother, everyone pitched in; cooked dinners, did the laundry, cleaned up. Independence was expected as was self-sufficiency. Thus, our perceptions of married life, or, more accurately, living together with loved ones, differed rather markedly. This didn’t seem to be a problem for a while.
As our life together unfolded, I suddenly found myself "in-charge" of the household chores. I would come home from work, throw in laundry, clean up the bathroom, vacuum, make beds, take out trash, and start dinner. When necessary, I would stop at the market on the way home. I paid the bills and took care of the finances. I took care of the pets. Abelina came home and asked what was for dinner, wondered where her favorite shirt was, have I called the insurance company.
Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of how our roles were shifting that much, because, oddly, it seemed like a natural progression somehow. When our cat became ill and needed medicine multiple times a day, I became primary care taker. This responsibility made it difficult for us to go away together or out for an entire day. So I started being the one who was to stay home with our sick "child." Again, this seemed like what should be done.
Somehow, along the way, I became Abelina’s "wife." Literally. Not only did I fall into the traditional role of wife with respect to taking care of the household, working, and caring for "children," I started being referred to as her wife. I never say "wife." She is my partner-equals (at least, that’s what I want to believe.) Yet, she says things like "You’re my wife, so you should do that" or "That’s your wifely duty" or "Since we are married now, you should do what I want."
I am treated like an in-law in all of the stereotypical, TV-moment ways-definitely scrutinized for cooking abilities, household appearance, and how happy my partner is. It’s odd. As much as I have been accepted into their lives as their daughter’s/sister’s partner, I am still an in-law who doesn’t quite match up.
With all of this in mind, when California allowed for legal civil unions, we did so immediately. This further cemented my "wifeliness." We carried on as wife and partner. When California briefly permitted same-sex marriages, we were to marry.
My wedding was supposed to be the whole traditional affair-gown, friends and family, music-the works. I found myself planning the wedding of my dreams (which I guess I had repressed.) I wanted the whole package-going to the court house alone was not an option. So we planned for a major event-flying in my relatives, catering, honeymoon afterward. I couldn’t wait-for the party.
The party was the important part, oddly. We had been together for 10 years already. As I began to reflect on the "marriage" aspect of getting married, I got a bit tense. The tension stemmed from the realization that I had already become a "wife" and wasn’t pleased with that metamorphosis. I didn’t love her any less, I just didn’t like the whole imbalance of power or whatever it was.
So, I freaked out. When Prop. 8 was on the ballot, we hadn’t finished planning the wedding-it was supposed to happen in January. As the election got closer, Abelina wanted to go the courthouse and get married. I balked. I wanted the party. Marriage was still something different to both of us. She wanted the document to verify our relationship as acceptable/traditional; I wanted the ceremonial event, as our union has always been accepted by my family. I was already married. Not just in their eyes, but in my own.
I am a wife. I am the one who picks up after my partner-cooks dinner, buys groceries, cares for children, nurses the sick, massages the tired-and am happy to do so for the most part. I do tell herthat some of the demands are a bit lop-sided, and she sees that and alters her behavior. We only work with the scripts that we understand. Once we see that, we can re-write them. However, I didn’t see the script so clearly until I wanted a wedding.
So, I am a wife with, I suppose, a female husband. But it works.
Elizabeth M Hodge is a philosophy professor at Gavilan College in Gilroy, CA who lives in Monterey with her partner and their feline children .