Day 33: Conflation’s Erasure

For nearly 20 years I was married to a man. I find that sentence hard to comprehend given how clear it is who I have always been, but denial is strong and patriarchy lures. And having had that experience is integral to how I now see and process the world around me.

I was in what my therapist called a companion marriage and life was filled with children and church and families of origin. When I found the courage to first name and then live my truth, so much of what was in that old life fell away. The babies flew, the church said good-bye, and my family of origin is still with my Ex. A new life with my dear one, adult children, math, and activism emerged and is still unfolding.
Sometimes, most times, I forget what it was like. Sometimes a shard pokes and a memory rears.

As we move through this new Amerikkka, I find myself bumping into edges much as in the early days of being out. Honestly I have become accustomed to much of what it is to be gay in America. Holding hands in public just isn’t worth the drama invoked. We spent the morning at city hall earlier this week straightening out a tax cabobble because the city didn’t and then did and then kinda did *and* didn’t recognize our marriage. Being gay in a straight world is a trip, but one I wouldn’t trade.

So I felt the sting when the announcement was made on Wednesday that the justice department had filed suit to deny civil rights protections to LGBTQ folx. And my breath caught when I read of Trump’s tweets (that same day!) naming my transgender family as too costly and too disruptive to be of service. Regardless of one’s position on the military (as a pacifist I am categorically opposed), the identification of a group of people as unfit is noteworthy and (if in proximity to that group) jarring.

But another curious thing happened. Small. Almost imperceptible.

My voice was mistaken for my wife’s. It actually happens a lot, getting alternately credited and dissed for what the other says publicly. She’s the smarter one with impeccable integrity; I’m the emotional one always looking for clues and posing questions.  To be sure I am often the beneficiary of this tendency too meld our two very disparate personalities. For better or worse, we are often mistaken for one another and sometimes heard as a single voice.

I was puzzling a piece from yesterday’s many interactions and realized a piece of the tangle was this strange pattern of conflation.

I say strange because it never once happened to me in 20 years of marriage to a man. Never once were his ideas or person or position mistaken for mine or vice versa. In hetero couplings each person (no matter how similar) is recognized as distinct. In same gender couplings, we are often confused and sometimes conflated. Sometimes it is to our advantage, like when the home security sales guy conned my wife into signing a contract in my name; he was totally unaware that Darlene and Katherine were two different women and his willful ignorance cost him the contract. This melding can be problematic, especially when one of us takes a public stand that the other doesn’t quite share.  More often it is just adds to life’s confusion.

While I am deeply honored to be married to the amazing person that is my dear one, I gotta admit that I’m annoyed by the privilege of individuality that is exacted. And I’m noticing that it is a straight folk pattern. It feels as though straight folk can’t be bothered to see each of us, but I know it’s more complicated. Once upon a time, when I was living in the hetero world, I too had this very same inability to see two individuals in a same gender couple. As a church pastor, I knew it mattered and I would make up ways to remember which is which with each new same gender couple. But I goofed, often. And there was grace. I remember, and try to pay forward, that grace.

Yet I am realizing that the conflation is a red flag. It is symptom of finding myself in hetero territory where I may (or may not) find safety. It is an opportunity to slow down and carefully assess what I will and won’t offer. It is an othering that should not be ignored.

Mostly I’m just incredibly grateful to be married to a woman with whom it is an honor to be mistaken.