I had a medical procedure done last week that required me to be semi-sedated, so I needed someone to be there with me to drive me home. Although I am unmarried, and this is clearly indicated in my medical records, I was told that I should make sure my husband could be there and was assured that he (my imaginary husband) would be in the room with me during the procedure. Now, I have been in a heterosexual partnership for almost ten years, so I am used to people referring to my partner as my husband, but I still think it's strange that people even assume that I am heterosexual, much less married. And don't even get me started on the reproduction issue! Apparently, it is everyone's business when you decide not to have children, and they will remind you almost constantly with stupid questions like, "Who's going to take care of you when you get old?" and with idiotic statements like, "You'll change your mind someday." Oops, I guess I got started.
Because I am unmarried and have no children, I seem to be less important than many others. While we celebrate the longevity of marriages through anniversaries, there is no such recognition for unmarried couples. Many are quick to point out that without a legal commitment, it is easier for unmarried couples to "just walk away" from the relationship. Perhaps, but if this is true, isn't it more of an accomplishment to stay together for 10 years without a legal bond than with one? And isn't a couple without children more likely to be together because they actually love one another than one with children who are "staying together for the kids?" I won't hold my breath waiting for Hallmark to publish the list of traditional gifts for the anniversaries of unmarrieds, and I really don't need external validation. I just don't want to be demeaned and undervalued.
Our culture even devalues those choices that fall outside the accepted norm through our language. There's not even a word to describe my relationship. Instead of being able to say that I am married to a husband, I must explain that I am in a long-term, committed, co-habitating relationship with a male partner. I like to use the word "partner" when I refer to Mitchell, since it most closely recognizes the role he plays in my life, but this often leads to confusion about my sexuality. The word "boyfriend" doesn't differentiate him from some guy that I'm just dating and is the same word that a seventh grader would use. There's always "fiance," but, of course, that word implies that a wedding is imminent.
While my experiences are annoying, I know that they only scratch the surface of what so many others are subjected to. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, asexual, transgendered, transsexual, intersexed, and genderqueer. I also have friends who have no idea what at least half of those words mean. In any case, I know that I am lucky to have the external genitalia, internal organs, and chromosomes to match my internal sexual identity. I guess you could say that I'm lucky to be white, to be straight, and to be in a long-term relationship. I realize that I am not far from the mean on the societal bell curve, but I'm not ignorant enough to believe that everyone else thinks, lives, loves, and votes like I do. I thought this country was founded on individual differences and personal freedoms. (I know it really wasn't, but that IS what they taught us in school, right?) Call me old-fashioned, but I think we risk alienating others when we assume that we know who they are and what they believe or when we force them to identify themselves with a label.
What would it be like to fall outside of society's check-the-box mentality? Imagine having to refer to your spouse as your "roommate." Imagine worrying that someone will ask you about your relationship status and you will feel forced to either "come out" or lie to hide the truth. Imagine being called ugly names like "faggot," "homo," or "he-she." Imagine being afraid of being attacked in a public restroom, because either your "parts" or your outward appearance doesn't match the label on the door. Imagine binding your breasts tightly against your chest. Imagine tucking (maybe even taping) your penis and testicles back toward your buttocks. Imagine being stared at while people try to figure out what gender you are. Imagine waking up everyday and seeing a body that doesn't match how you feel on the inside. Imagine. Open your mind (and your heart) & just imagine.