Lesbian Wife

This morning’s post is from Elizabeth. Her pondering on finding a way to be a wife on our own terms strikes to the core of what Reclaiming Wife has always been about for me. Being a bride is tricky and culturally loaded, but being a wife seems so much more complicated. Though, these days, watching so many of you own the term, I’m honored to be in your company. So take it away, Elizabeth:

Gay Wife

I’m not a wife yet; I must wait until August 20th to officially claim the title. Though, technically, I can’t get legally married so I don’t feel bad claiming my wifeliness a little early, although I have been “domesticated” in the state of Washington.

I started to reclaim what being a wife meant a long time ago, I think I was 14 when I first started to think about what it meant to be a wife and be gay. I don’t think my 14 year old self is alone in struggling with how sexuality and a future baby family mesh together. My mom was the classic wife; homemade bread and cookies, dinner on the table by 5:30, and an abundant garden. Incidentally, she reclaimed wife in her own right as a product of the woman’s movement in the 70’s. She left her full-time, paycheck-producing job to be a stay-at-home-mom in 1990. Our culture is full of images of what a “good wife” looks like, but have you ever seen a “good gay wife”? Is there such a thing? I’ve spent the past 10 years looking for an image of the kind of wife I want to be. I’m not a stone butch lesbian, and my stiletto skills can’t hold a candle to The L Word Divas. Most days, I trade in my lipstick for an organic lipgloss, but I have a really great haircut and can rock a scarf better than Julia Roberts (not that she is gay, but we can hope right?). I love to cook (real food, from scratch), can’t wait to have kids, and would give anything to have the kind of life where I can stay home with the kids and write a cookbook for a living.

Somehow the LGBTQ community, which has spent years breaking down stereotypes, has very strongly held parameters for what it means to be a lesbian, and my rather classic and traditional personal expectations of being a wife doesn’t mesh. I am simultaneously not gay enough to be a good lesbian, and not straight enough to be a good wife. So that leaves me paving my own wifely path. I come from a new generation of lesbians that grew up in a slightly more welcoming culture. My family never told me that I wasn’t going to be able to have my own family and my parents never worried that they wouldn’t have grandchildren. I’ve always known that I could have whatever kind of life I wanted, that my sexuality and my life choices aren’t inextricably linked, unless I wanted them to be. Intellectually, I know there must be other LGBTQ individuals with a similar perspective out there, yet without a booth at Pride it’s hard to find each other. A Google search for “lesbian wife” returns voyeuristic romance novels and chat rooms full of angry husbands. It would seem that these two words don’t go together in a very positive way.

So, I’m not so much reclaiming wife, as I am creating wife. When you really think about it though, isn’t that what we are all doing? Creating ourselves and creating a space to be the kind of wife we want to be.

Photo: Ashley Forrette from Portland, OR

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  • Liz

    “I am simultaneously not gay enough to be a good lesbian, and not straight enough to be a good wife.”

    I have felt the same way on more occasions than I can tell you. As time went on, though, other people’s opinions got less important (as I think they do for all of us) I decided to accept being just exactly gay enough to be a great partner to my wonderful girlfriend.

    …possibly soon to be fiancee. YEAH NEW YORK MARRIAGE EQUALITY!!! :)

    • Hell yeah. When I was bi and dating women, I wasn’t gay enough. Now that I’m married to a man, I’m not straight enough. (Although my husband likes to say “I love my big gay wife” because we’re total goofballs.)

      Rock that scarf, cut your hair or don’t, be a hausfrau if you want. I agree, it gets easier as you get older because you create your own experience.

      • Kimikaze

        I’m struggling to figure out where I stand on the continuum, as a bi girl who’s marrying a man. From the outside, I look straight, so I sometimes feel apprehensive about joining discussions regarding being a queer spouse. I’m also reconciling my desire to be a housewife with the external pressure to build a career. I’m trying to keep in mind that as long as we’re both focussed on and committed to our relationship, labels really don’t matter.

        • Ris

          “I’m also reconciling my desire to be a housewife with the external pressure to build a career”. I would love to have some APW discussions on how others have worked through this.

        • Class of 1980

          Oh these darn continuums. They exist for nearly every aspect of life, from politics to sexual orientation and/or sexual tastes.

          Screw feeling like we need to DEFINE ourselves so strangers know where to put us on some arbitrary scale or pigeon hole that we had no input on!

        • I hear you, Kimikaze. I have always always felt weird about being part of the gay community because I’m bi. But if you (and I) keep speaking up and defining ourselves, then we will be visible. We don’t have some of the pressures of lesbian and gay couples, but that shouldn’t keep us from contributing to the conversation. Queer is queer.

          • Kimikaze

            Thanks, IC, for speaking up, and encouraging me to! I figure that since my relationship bestows such extraordinary privilege on me, that it’s only right to use my position to barrack for queer causes. Now, it’s just a matter of getting people to believe I’m queer ;)

            Here in Aus, gay couples can’t marry. They can foster but not adopt. They can use surrogates, but only one of them can be listed as a parent to the kid. All these options are open to me, and they ought to be available to the gay and trans people here too.

    • Sharon


      I’m a lesbian engaged to a transman. I had spent a lot of time figuring out what it would mean to have a wife, how that relationship could look, what my wife and I would live like and act like and be like. And then I had to go and fall in love with a man. I have no idea what this “having a husband in the context of an invisibly queer relationship” thing could even possibly look like.

      So…too queer to be a “good wife,” too straight to be a “good queer,” and all over too outside of any lines to be a good stereotype of anything. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking in all of the most unexpected ways.

      • liz: adorable!

        & sharon, i’m dealing a lot with this too, except from a genderqueer kid marrying a trans guy place. holy crap it’s weird for both of us for me to constantly be labeled as ‘wife’ – and for me to forget, occasionally, that even though he’s not the femme one, he still grew up having wedding planning fantasies.

  • Congratulations on gaining wifehood on August 20th and on creating yourself as a wife for the rest of your life. I’m sure you’ll rock!

    You ask very interesting questions, some of which I’ve been asking myself. Reading about the paradigms that are troublesome for you, and the expectations you may need to defy is very inspiring. It helps me define a frame for the things I run into.

    Thank you for posting!

  • Katherine

    Love, love, love what you have to say. Especially,

    “So, I’m not so much reclaiming wife, as I am creating wife. When you really think about it though, isn’t that what we are all doing? Creating ourselves and creating a space to be the kind of wife we want to be.”

    • Yes Elizabeth! Thank you for articulating this for me! I have been struggling with this since I got engaged. Despite having many fine wife examples in my life I am struggling to find my own way to wifedom. Thank you for clarifying it and giving me the okay to go my own way! You are awesome!

    • That really stuck out to me too. Just yesterday I was thinking that after a year of marriage the concept that I am married sits very comfortably with me. A am part of a team that together makes an awesome marriage. To think of myself as someone’s wife however, that still feels strange to me. I still have trouble wrapping myself around the concept, and separating what it means to me on a very personal level from the cultural narrative and expectations around the word. I’m definitely still working to create the space where I can figure out exactly what it means for me.

  • I love this: “that my sexuality and my life choices aren’t inextricably linked, unless I wanted them to be.” More people should read this, tattoo it to their wrists, tape it to a wall where they can read it.

    I really enjoyed reading this perspective. I have a few lesbian friends (more gay men than women, though – odd?) and none of them really fall into the “butch” or “lipstick” categories. They are just women who love other women. And I’ve known a few gay men who are men who love other men. And they are uncomfortable even in “their own” community, because they don’t fit the stereotypes they’ve been told they need to fill.

    I know our generation gets a lot of flack for being apathetic and lazy and blahblahblah. But what the older generations are missing – and is so amazing and integral to our culture – is that we are more accepting, more loving, and more open to new ideas, movements, personalities, and people.

    We are all trying to pave our own way in this world, break the molds our forefathers structured for us, and become our own person – regardless of sexuality (because really, what is the difference at the end of the day besides preferring one genitalia over the other?).

    I think you’ve already got a great edge over most of the world, Elizabeth. & I wholeheartedly agree – you rock that scarf.

  • Cass

    “I don’t think my 14 year old self is alone in struggling with how sexuality and a future baby family mesh together.”

    You are definitely not alone. I remember struggling with this myself as a young teenager. I had just found out my best friend was gay, and I wasn’t. And I thought a lot about what that meant.
    Hell, I still think a lot about what that means!

    • Meredyth

      I agree, and I think that even if we didn’t struggle over how to mesh our *sexuality* and family we have most definitely struggled over how to mesh our goals and desire to have family. Or, at least I know this has been one of my biggest conflicts in the past ten years. Even though our 14 year old selves were a little different, Elizabeth, I get what kind of struggle that might be like for you. I love your words about being a wife and having some traditional views as well as modern ones, and wondering how to reconcile them all together.

  • It really is past time for us all to let stereotypes go. They aren’t good for anyone. We’re all just trying to make our own way. Well said.

  • This is beyond lovely.

    Isn’t it what we’re all doing? Gay, straight, bi, and every other possibility? We’re all standing up to what we’re being told we SHOULD be, and creating our own way.

    We’re so lucky to have a community of women all striving for the same thing and supporting each other. =)

    • Jo

      YES. This was an excellent post in this series of post. We all have these crazy societal messages, each of us with our particular brand of beatdown, and we all can fight them together. Strength in shaking that shame off as a community!

  • I generally feel that being a lesbian means that you date women…and the rest of it is just politics. I generally feel that being a wife means that you are a married woman. And the rest of it is just politics.

    Be who you are and do what feels right, because at the end of the day, your spouse wants to come home to *you*, and if you are good to each other, you are well on your way to being a good wife, gay or otherwise.

    • Wow, I really need to print out that second paragraph like 20 times and tape it up all over the house. So important to remember.

    • Class of 1980

      AMEN. Ten thousand times.

  • Tegan

    Wow, good for you! It sometimes seems like we hear far too many stories of the negativity and stigma with being gay or lesbian that it’s easy to forget that there are just as many welcoming and nurturing families.

    I think it sounds like you’re off to a really great start to define “wife” for yourself, and if anyone gives you trouble, send them to APW, I think we’ll knock ’em around for ya! :-P

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  • “isn’t that what we are all doing?”

    I love that you speak to the common experience we all share as women. It’s so easy to get caught up in the differences, so thank you for the reminder. And congrats on your upcoming wedding!

  • I think this is exactly it – regardless of sexuality, I think many wives today don’t fit into the typical wife mold that exists, so there is an opportunity to create new molds and niches for the “new” wives. Me? I’m fairly traditional, aside from the fact that I want to keep on working (at least part time) after we start our family. It’s really inspirational, though, to see so many women breaking the mold and really showing that being a wife can be so many things, especially when you’ve grown up in very traditional surroundings.

    • meg

      Well, to be fair, as Elizabeth pointed out in the post, our mother’s generation really reclaimed wife as part of the women’s movement. The thing is, it didn’t totally stick, culturally, and there are problems that are complicated enough that it will take many generations to tackle. So on we go…

      • Thats just it! I think that there is a spectrum of what being a wife means, just as with gender or sexuality. Each person is somewhere on that spectrum and we’re creating a culture where that is okay. Where there isn’t one perfect example of what being a wife is, but that there is genuine respect for all versions. I expect that each of us will find ourselves at several different place on the spectrum over the years as our expectations and responsibilities as a wife change with the addition of children or a change in job, even an illness (of either partner) can change the role of wife. Being a wife is a fluid thing that should be able to adapt to how we view ourselves and the ever changing needs of our marriage.

        • Angela García Borreguero

          As ELIZABETH says, it´s a fluid thing, is something thats has to find the right balance for everyone of us, and if that means diferents kinds of balances, that´s ok.
          I myself thinks of it as a balance unbalance, if you know what i mean…you have to find the accurate balance for every moment in your relationshinp. And also, that balance you found yesterday, may be or maybe not be usefull today…so as i see it, thats life….the opportunity to make the best with the tools you have right now on hand.

  • This being a wife business is great. My secret is that I am just making it up as I go.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Wow! What a wonderful thing to wake-up to. Thank you everyone for the kind, loving, supportive comments! This is a an amazing community of (mostly) women who are independently creating wife on their own terms who also make a point of supporting each other in the process. I’m so glad I have the opportunity to be a part of it.

    • Thank you for your truly thoughtful insights about what it means to be “wife” and what it means to be someone’s partner, forever.

      (Also, yay Elizabeths in Washington!)

  • I always felt really comfortable with the idea of being a wife, and what that would entail for me. I mean, if I do it, and I’m a wife, then it is a thing that wives do, right? What really threw me the morning after our wedding was the realization that I had a wife. And whatever she did was also something that wives did. (I don’t ever mow the lawn, but my wife does, so mowing the lawn is a thing that wives do). It sounds so silly and simple to say it now, but it was really neat to watch my definition of wife expand just within our relationship. I think the more examples we all have of wives doing different, awesome, amazing, day-to-day things the better it is for all of us.

    • oh! I hadn’t thought about that… Maybe I should have my almost-wife write a post too because I know her perspective of wife is a lot different than mine. So far, we seem to have a way that our wifeliness fits together well, I wonder if or how that might change after it’s all made official.

      • That would be a fantastic follow-up post!

  • I heart this post. I want to give this post a great big hug and then show it to everyone I know. I want to take this post on long walks on the beach and hold hands with it. For so many reasons, but here are just a few:

    “that my sexuality and my life choices aren’t inextricably linked, unless I wanted them to be.”

    This can also be said for race, gender, religion, spirituality, occupation … the list goes on and on and on. We are made up of so many individual things that it drives me batty when stereotypes try to define us by just one single characteristic.

    “I am creating wife. When you really think about it though, isn’t that what we are all doing? Creating ourselves and creating a space to be the kind of wife we want to be.”

    YES! A million times yes! I’ve thought about this a ton as I approach my October wedding date. Because I love my mother-in-law-to-be, but I know I don’t want to be the same kind of wife she is. And I love my mother more than anything, but I also know that I don’t want to be the kind of wife SHE is. I want to be ME. And just by the virtue of that I will never be exactly the same kind of wife as anyone who has been one before me, or anyone who will be one after me. But regardless? I am sure you and I are going to be kick ass wives. However we decide to make that happen.

  • “Being a bride is tricky and culturally loaded, but being a wife seems so much more complicated. Though, these days, watching so many of you own the term, I’m honored to be in your company.”

    That pretty much sums up how I feel about APW, too.

  • ALKD

    I love this series to bits and pieces. This post in particular really struck a chord with me. Elizabeth has a wonderful, down to earth writing voice, and in just a few words said so very very much. Thank you, I am glad that I was able to read this at the beginning of my day; I love starting the day feeling inspired.

  • Yes yes yes yes yes. Thank you for articulating this.

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  • Beautifully said. In the past (and still sometimes) I have felt ‘not gay enough’ based upon my appearance. From questioning my place in the LGBTQ community to questioning what my role as wife will look like after October 16th (OMG SO SOON!) this post really resonates with me. I really appreciate your perspective of creating wife- because I agree that there are no role models out there- but it’s kind of liberating to not have to fit into someone else’s shoes, isn’t it?

  • Paranoid Libra

    you are so very right that we are all creating our own way to a wife (or husband or spouse depending on who you are). As it’s been discussed time again, it’s ok to have it be different things to different people from the bread winner wife to the stay at home wife. All of it is what we as individuals claim our word to mean.

    And as a straight girl, can I just say I never really thought about that stuff from the lesbian or gay perception and lack of role models, but as it was also said earlier this week it’s still a marriage just like parking isn’t gay parking, so I hope others can look at any good example of a wife or husband and see it for just that and to not see a gay wife or a straight wife or gay mom vs straight mom. It’s all being a wife no matter what the other person is, husband or wife.

    Sorry if that was garbled up at all. So busy with work, no time to even surf apw (and that’s tragic) and now time for more coffee.

  • Elizabeth!! So good to see your face on here! (We met at APW bookclub and are getting married on the same day!) (Holy exclamation marks!)

    Love the difference between reclaiming versus creating wife. It even sound empowering.

    T minus, girlfriend. I hope your August 20th is a bit more prepared than mine is…

  • Rachel T.

    I love every piece of this. I may not be a lesbian, but I sure love them and appreciate all of pushing of boundaries gender and sexuality benders do. However, I find myself in the same position, even as a straight white girl from the suburbs. I spent all of college studying gender and sexual identity through literature. I took every course my friend Scott offered and fell in a great group of LGBTQA people. However, I felt too “normal” a lot of the time, being straight and having a traditional side, feeling the pressure to be more different, to push the boundaries harder, in places that weren’t where I wanted to push. There’s a lot of pressure on both sides of the proverbial fence to make it all black and white, traditional or modern, gay or straight, woman or man, black or white. There are so many boxes we are all supposed to fit in, so many lines we’re supposed to stand in, and far too many sides we’re supposed to choose between, but I think very few of us fit into one box or the other completely. I completely agree – we are all negotiating ourselves into who we want to be within the expectations each of our subcultures and mainstream cultures place upon us. Your words are beautiful and definitely found a place in my heart. Thanks for sharing <3