I often take for granted that so many people in my life enthusiastically and unhesitatingly accept my relationship with HB. About a year ago we both started feeling like we were outgrowing the term "girlfriend" as an accurate way to refer to each other. We outgrew "girlfriend" not only because it started feeling too juvenile (especially during the time I was grasping at everything I could to project myself as Adult to validate my role as a facilitator for several groups of teens) but also because so many people hear "girlfriend" and split it, destroying its synergy: girl - friend. HB is neither my casual friend nor described well by binary gender tags. So gradually we weaned ourselves off the term "girlfriend" and replaced it with "partner." It fits us better: the longevity of our relationship, the adultness of it, the consensual equity of it, the queerness and genderqueerness of it.
And, astoundingly, virtually everyone in my life embraces that. Not only do people love and celebrate HB and me, as individuals and as a unit, but for the most part, our friends and family echo our language. When our "girlfriends" started fading out and our "partners" filtered in, we fielded a few questions here and there, but for the most part, people just picked it up and went with it. Even HB's mother, whose cultural context influences her tendency to introduce me as HB's "friend" most of the time, tacitly accepts our relationship and has recently started deliberately including me when collectively referring to her "kids and their significant others."
I am so used to people getting it that I can be completely blindsided and downright hurt when someone casually redefines our relationship by a simple substitution of a single word.
Today when Sasha and Ezra's dad came home, he asked for recommendations of other people who could act as kid care backup if I'm ever unavailable. I suggested my partner, who I mentioned to him last week in a different context, both times with "she" pronouns attached.
Sasha had been dancing around, only half-listening, and she asked who we were talking about. Without missing a beat, Sasha's dad said, "Her roommate."
And yeah, that hurt.
If I had said "husband," would he have translated it to Sasha as "roommate" or "friend"? What if I had said boyfriend? Wife? Girlfriend?
I have no way of knowing how deliberate that translation was. Was it to avoid a potentially awkward talk with Sasha about gender and sexuality and relationships? Was it an unconscious sleight of brain, a mistaken mistranslation? I doubt it was intended to offend me. I doubt he realized that it would sting, that it would feel like invalidation, rejection, refusal to support -- let alone acknowledge -- the reality and legitimacy of who I am and who my partner is and who we are together.
As I biked home, I cycled through a bitter inner soliloquy about gratefulness and ungratefulness. A lot of it sounded like: "I spend eight hours a day three days a week raising your children. I am teaching Sasha to read and to explore and to be kinder. I feed, nap, bathe, and carry Ezra around on my chest. I kiss his cheeks and tickle his belly and sing him every lullaby I know. I make sure the dog gets a walk, and I clean it up when she vomits on the rug. Even though you have never asked me to and have never thanked me for it, I wash all the dishes in the sink. And then with one casual word I feel like my family doesn't matter to you."
But now that I have put a few hours and a solid venting session between myself and that incident, perspective is sliding back into place. Regardless of what, if anything, Sasha's dad meant by editing my words, HB is still my partner and my family. And my life is -- miraculously and wonderfully -- filled with people who know that and who reserve wide open spaces for us, together, in their hearts.