A Legally Married Woman

The Spring peepers are out.  I thought I heard them when we got home last night but it’s definite.

I’ve been saying for a month or more that it’s Spring.  Non-farmers don’t see it.  4 weeks ago, the boys (goats) were shedding.  Just a little bit of their winter under-coat, but enough: if they’re shedding, it’s Spring.  I mentioned it to the farmer across the road when he delivered 4 big round bales of hay, and he said, “Yeah, the horse is shedding too.”

Changes your whole perspective on things, because the animals don’t lie: Why would their bodies shed unless Spring was on its way?  So all the snowstorms, all the rain, all the wind, all the freezing cold — folks, that is what Spring is like in upstate NY.  (Not my line originally, but part of the reason I’m a good rabbi is that I steal the best practices of others (words, rituals, programs) and make them my own.)

I know it was 4 weeks ago, because I just put down the 4th of those bales for the girls and I’d planned it so that I wouldn’t have to be dealing with small bales over this weekend.  Had to feed some small square bales last week to make that work; fortunately he still has some of those.  These are the last of the round bales, though, and we’ll be bringing at least another couple of loads of those small square bales over in the truck.  Not enough growth in the pasture to sustain them yet, plus I suspect it’s not good for the pasture to be cropped too closely quite this early.  I’ll have to check the hayfield, which I can let them into via my electronet fencing.  If I didn’t wax eloquent last summer about it here it’s because I was too busy using it.

So the Spring peepers are out and Corona Borealis is up in the sky, bright as you please.  And why am I up and out and loving life and the world in the middle of the night?  Youngest Daughter came whispering by my bed, “I’m awake and my belly hurts.”  I’m the mama with the Eema-ears: I wake up to the slightest child sound.

I knew what it was.  Fortunately the van is packed with finger food and my dearest childhood friend gave me a bottle of ginger ale for the ride home last night after I dropped her off, but I hadn’t drunk it.  So down I went, and back I came with a plate of plain tortilla chips and some grapes and a tractor-shaped matza-meal shortbread cookie that says “D & J” on it.  She had a little of the ginger ale and ate some chips, told me she “couldn’t eat those,” pointing to the grapes, and then announced she was done.  Perfect.  When her arm was broken 3 weeks ago, our dear friend came to the hospital with food and snagged some ginger ale from the stash in the Emergency Room, so I knew that it was a good choice, and besides my mother taught me that bubbles settle the stomach and I know that ginger does.

I guessed that the hurting belly probably stemmed from not eating enough yesterday.  Our wedding was at 11am, followed by a cake and pie reception.  We had a small gathering in the afternoon but I think the kids were outside most of the time, at least after they had roamed all over the borrowed house looking for the elevator.  (Not a car elevator, though.)  They often don’t eat at parties, which I don’t get; I suppose they’ll grow into it.

So the Spring peepers are out and Corona Borealis is up in the sky, and I am a legally married woman in the states of New York and New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, Iowa, Washington, and the District of Columbia.  Our rabbi listed all ten of those yesterday, and when she and her cantor partner (at whose big Jewish wedding I co-officiated) turned to each other and simultaneously announced, “By the power vested in me by the State of New York, we now pronounce you MARRIED!” the synagogue erupted with cheers and clapping.

“Cantor ‘partner’” — that’s a habit I’m going to have to break.  Lesbians and gay men used to use that word after we realized that straight people probably heard too much emphasis on sex in “lover,” which was itself an improvement over the entirely euphemistic “friend.”  Same “sex” problem with the word “homosexual” —  the whole falling-in-love part was eclipsed.  Then it became obvious that “partner” was too ambiguous — business partner? — and some of us began to use “life-partner.”  Longtime companion.  As lesbians and gay men began to have weddings, “spouse.”  Not that the weddings were recognized legally in any way, by anyone; but it didn’t matter.  We hadn’t expected that anyhow; it was the overwhelming experience of naming our love and commitment out loud and being affirmed by friends, and increasingly, family and community, that mattered.

When Marriage Equality was passed by the State of New York two summers ago, I spent the weeks leading up to the vote very involved in on-line discussions about its importance, particularly with gay folks who didn’t get it.  On the one side, I think of a gay Conservative who was really clear that he didn’t need or want this; on the other side, an activist lesbian who felt there were far more important issues to put one’s time and energy into.  I seem to have conducted most of these conversations on Facebook, so I can’t direct you to a blog post from that time.  Suffice it to say that when Marriage Equality passed, I was VERY clear about many of the responsibilities and privileges that could now accrue to me and my spouse.  I wondered, seriously, “Am I ready for this??”

If you’re much younger than 50 in 2013, as I am, this probably makes no sense to you.  If you’re in your 20s or older, though, please understand:  When you were born, it felt risky and dangerous to hold hands in public.  When I came out in 1984, it was still mostly “The love that dare not speak its name.”  (See the poem from which this line comes.)  I — we — have made a life, a marriage, a family, that feel as real to me as I could imagine, and are accepted as such by family, friends, and community, pretty much everyone I ever encounter, all without legal sanction — other than the Civil Union in Vermont which meant nothing the minute we had left for our honeymoon in New Hampshire, 12-plus years ago.  I truly never expected anything more in my lifetime.

People half a generation younger than me have been referring to my partner for some time as my “wife.”  And it just didn’t sit right.  In my mind, a wife is attached to a husband.  And there’s no husband here.  In fact I remember using that, shortly after I first started wearing a wedding ring in the 1990s.  (First wedding.  Yes, we have divorces too.)  I was in a situation where I did not want to come out: First class as a teacher of a course for adult Jews.  It wasn’t their business, might have been distracting, might have prejudiced them against me.  (Might not have, but no way to know.)  So when someone saw my ring and asked about my husband, I said — honestly but duplicitously — “There’s no husband attached to this ring.”  Left them confused but I hadn’t lied, and that has always mattered a great deal to me, both as a rabbi and as a woman who wanted not to deny her life-partner’s existence.

Side note: I just got a call a couple days ago that asked for “Mr. W.”  “There’s no Mr. W here,” said I.  I don’t know who they were looking for, but they hung up immediately, leaving me wondering if they actually wanted to talk to Ms. W but just didn’t know it.  Oh well.  If it’s important they’ll call back.

I used the word “wedding” — it’s a gerund describing the uniting of two people in a marriage ceremony, and if you saw any of the gay or lesbian weddings I’ve been in or done you’d know it was a marriage ceremony.  I accept that halakhically it’s outside the bounds of kiddushin but no longer make that distinction for myself; kedushah, holiness, inheres in my relationship as much as any committed, loving partnership.

For several years I — gently, I hope — expressed my preference with my younger gay and lesbian colleagues and friends, and with straight allies and friends who wanted to make it clear that they supported equality: “I don’t use that word.”

But as marriage equality took off, and it wasn’t just Civil Unions in Vermont, and then it wasn’t just Massachusetts and Quebec.  And I stopped correcting people, even though “wife” didn’t sit easily and I didn’t use it myself even in my mind.

And in the last week or so, as wedding preparations continued apace, I started to realize that I would probably begin using the word “wife” after this wedding.  Because it’s a status legally granted, and it means something — in fact, it means exactly the same thing it always has meant.  A married woman.  I jokingly called her “Mrs. W” last night.  But I just realized, I could be “Mrs. Gordon” if I wanted to.  And that means something now, something it never did before.

So the Spring peepers are out and Corona Borealis is up; and I’m something I never in my wildest dreams imagined: I’m a wife.