Tuesday, June 13, 2017

So which one of you is the husband and which one is the wife?

Last night, my husband David and I had the privilege to speak to a class on sex, ethnicity, race, and gender at the School of Public Health for the State University of New York at Downstate (SUNY Downstate).  We were invited by the professor of the class who is on the board of the organization where I work.

David and I were there to talk about our story and how we fell in love. The students were there to learn about gay relationships in a setting where they could ask questions without fear.  One of the questions we were asked, which we have been asked a lot by small kids, was:

I understand that you are married, so which one of you is the husband and which one of you is the wife? 

Now it's easy for a gay person to get offended by this question.  David later admitted that he was offended saying, "why would someone even ask that, don't they understand?"

As I looked at the class, I related that the same question had been asked by my four year old nephew who had been the ring bearer in our wedding.

My older brother and his wife were so shocked that he asked it and then tried to apologize and cover it up.  I raised my hand to stop them as I hugged my nephew Christopher and explained:

"Uncle Eric and Uncle David are both husbands.  We don't have to have a wife or a mommy in our relationship to be happy."  

As I relayed this story, I realized that there are probably many reasons why someone would ask this question (or think it but not dare ask it).  One of the biggest reasons is that we as gay people are fighting to not be assigned a gender and a role all of the time in our relationships.  

Society has said that a marriage must have a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, or one who is nurturing and one who is not.  In my own family, my dad works a job outside of the house and brings home the money while my mom does all of the cooking, cleaning, organizing, laundry, raised the kids, sewing, gardening, ironing, shopping, and other household chores.  

In glbtq organizations, we frequently ask people which pronoun they wish to use and how they want to identify.  

Unlike earlier times in my life, I was reminded that not everyone wants to fit on the traditional gender/role spectrum.  

I chose to respond in a way to hopefully help this student understand:

"David and I both identify as men.  We are both attracted to other men.  We are both husbands in our relationship.  Every relationship is different. In some, there may be a relationship where one of the couple identifies as the wife and the other as the husband.  Other relationships have a partners who identify as dominant and submissive, masculine and feminine, top and bottom, or male and female."  

"As gay people, we want to be seen as two people who love each other and are in a committed relationship.  We want you to stop assigning a role to us and let us love each other in a committed way regardless of the role we play in our relationship." 

"David and I consider ourselves masculine, but we sometimes can be feminine too.  We both cook, we both clean, we both care for each other, do the laundry iron, and even both are sexually versatile. That's us, but you can't apply who we are to all gay relationships."

That was just one of the interesting questions that we were asked, but it was the one that affected us the most.  It was clear that people in the class came from all walks of life and had many different levels of experience with gay people.  We were honored to be able to expose them to our life and to try to provide them with experiences that will make these students better health care professionals when they graduate so that they can work alongside us to make our community safer and healthier for all individuals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  

1 comment:

  1. Great article.
    Nice to have come across it.
    I'm 50 and used to want to be married. I live in Nairobi with my partner of five years. We too are a biracial couple. The question here is one of two questions we are asked all the time, the other is always about race.

    What is interesting to encounter, both in this article, and EVERY time we are asked this question, is the sense of power that is attached to the 'man' and the sense of submission ascribed to the woman.

    I'm not arguing it - in fact just pointing out that that seems to be, always, the underlying question.

    For us, the relationship has swung over periods of time, between Top and Bottom, which seems to coincide with periods of oscillation between masculine and feminine for both of us.

    Funny times are when we're both 'topping' or 'bottoming'!

    I enjoyed your reminder that these questions are not to be stomped all over, that peoole want to know, that were I not straight, I'd want to know too.

    Anyway, great reading and we wish you the best from Kenya.