Ever since we moved to this house, I've gone to the same pharmacy several times a month to pick up prescriptions. In the beginning, the earthling was with me in the sling, and later he'd accompany me walking on his own feet. There was a cashier, Maria, who always talked to him and me, who was friendly and remembered us and grabbed our prescriptions before we even got to the front of the line.
One day about a year ago I went to the pharmacy after the earthling was in bed. "Oh, where's your son?" Maria asked.
"He's at home with my wife. It's after his bedtime."
"…Oh," she said.
Since then, when I go, she still recognizes me, earthling or no, but she's all business. No chat, no talking about how big the earthling has gotten, no asking me about my day. There are a thousand possible reasons for this. At least. Most of them have nothing to do with me. Maybe she got yelled at for chatting with customers too much. Maybe she's been having a bad year. It could be anything. I know that.
But I will always wonder if it's because I'm queer. I can't not wonder. My queerness inflects every interaction I have like this, whether I acknowledge it ("my wife") or avoid it ("my partner"). And because queerness is not visible, cannot be known until I make it known, I often have situations like this, where there was a before and there is now an after and things are different. This is one of the minor costs of being openly queer: the voice in the back of your head that is always going, is this because I'm gay?
Coming out is supposed to happen in One Big Moment. Usually your One Big Moment involves coming out to your parents; sometimes, especially in fiction, it's coming out at a press conference or in front of an audience or something. But wherever it happens, the concept is the same: in that moment, your whole life changes. Before, you were closeted and ashamed, and after, you become open and honest. You have chewed your way out of the cocoon of secrecy to emerge as a beautiful gay butterfly!
My family doesn't do big moments well. I was in college, I was 19, I was in the apartment I shared with Best Beloved. And my mother called. After some chat, she got around to the purpose of her call.
"Last year," she said, "you told me you'd never get married. And I'm worrying about that. You're young and I don't want you to be alone forever."
"I won't be alone," I said. "I just won't be married because it's not legal for me to be. But I already consider myself married."
I should, at this (big and momentous!) point, mention a few things: this call was taking place in the morning, and my sister, Laura, was living with our mother at this time.
"Oh," my mother said. And right then, Laura, who is not and never has been entirely human in the mornings, came into the room.
"Is there milk?" she said crankily.
"In the refrigerator," my mother said to her. To me, she said, "Who are you married to?"
"[Best Beloved]," I said, honestly bewildered. (I thought they knew! Like -- why did they think we lived together? I assumed we'd been on the same page for years.)
"Oh," my mother said, reaching for a suitable reaction.
"No, there isn't," Laura said, attaining new heights of crankiness. "Are we out?"
"Your sister's a lesbian," my mother snapped at Laura. I think she meant: shut up about milk for a second. I'm trying to have a significant conversation and you're making it difficult.
Laura has never given a shit about anyone's sexual preference first thing in the morning. "That's nice," she said, summoning up every single fuck she could give about something before breakfast. "Are we out of milk or what?"
And at that point I think we all gave up on pretending this was a significant moment and just kind of moved on with our lives. I accepted that "That's nice. Are we out of milk or what?" would be my family's main reaction to my sexuality. Later that day, just to be sure we were all in the loop -- since my parents seemed strangely slow and clueless about these things -- I told my father in email. The paragraph dedicated to that revelation took a backseat to four paragraphs of discussion about my stupid physics professor. Those were my priorities.
He probably read it and wondered if he was out of milk.
Just to top things off, that night I realized to my eternal embarrassment that this all took place on National Coming Out Day, a "holiday" I don't even support. (Come out. Don't come out. Whatever you want, on your own terms. I'm not going to pressure you and no one else should, either. It's a bullshit concept.)
So my One Big Moment was -- not. It was not big. It was not dramatic. It was, to be honest, pretty comical. The most emotion experienced by anyone was Laura's sincere and honest anger about my mother using the last of the milk without even considering whether other people had had breakfast yet. It didn't even manage to be a single moment, since I spread it over most of a day.
This was probably much better preparation for the rest of my life than I thought at the time.
"Are you sisters?"
"No. No, we're… not sisters."
"Oh. Haha! You look just like each other."
In college, I fainted outside the student union building during finals week and ended up at student health. The nurse practitioner had only one question for me, phrased two dozen different ways: "Could you be pregnant?"
"No," I said. "I can't be pregnant."
She was already starting her next question before I finished my answer. "But did you have sex recently?"
I hesitated. Back then, coming out still felt like a big thing every time I did it. And, yes, I'd had sex with Best Beloved many times that month, but I knew she meant sex that involved a penis in my vagina. Did I really need to get into my current sexual history in detail with this woman? "No," I finally said, but my hesitation had convinced her.
"Are you sure?"
"Not at all?"
"Not even a teeny weeny bit?" she wheedled.
I just stared at her, trying to figure out how you have a teeny weeny bit of sex.
She moved on. "Did you black out, or take any drugs, or wake up and not know where you were at all recently?"
She'd accurately described most of my high school career, but those days were long gone. And I didn't think accidentally falling asleep after midnight in the bone lab counted. Dead people can't get you pregnant. "No."
We went around and around. After fifteen minutes, she was still finding new ways to ask if I might be pregnant, and I was watching time tick by and just yearning for a diagnosis already. Finally, she said, "What are you using for birth control?"
I gave up. My desire not to come out to her had lost out to my desire to be done with this question forever. "Lesbianism," I said. "I'm using lesbianism for birth control."
She nodded but did not deviate from her script. "So you're not on the pill? Did you have sex this month?"
"I only have sex with my girlfriend," I said, trying to make this whole lesbianism thing clearer. "She can't get me pregnant."
She sent me to get some blood tests. One of them was for hCG: a pregnancy test. I got it then and I get it now. The number of college girls who claim they can't possibly be pregnant and are wrong is greater than the number of college girls who have stress-induced fainting.
But I came out! It was an effort! And… she didn't even listen to me. Back then, it didn't matter to her the way it mattered to me.
After a while, it stops mattering. You do it so many times that it just gets old and dull and meaningless. But you don't get to stop there. Coming out is endless. I've done it thousands of times by now, each moment of coming out blurring together in my head until it's just a lifetime of saying over and over: "I'm a lesbian. I have a wife. I'm queer. I'm not straight." I don't play the pronoun game anymore, I don't reach for the careful, neutral phrasing, and so I'm coming out all the time, without even thinking about it. And it's so boring that I sometimes forget that it's new information, and sometimes a brand-new experience, for the person I'm coming out to.
"Is your husband Jewish?" the earthling's friend's mother asked me.
"My wife, actually. No, she's not."
And I was ready to move on, but she was freezing up. I've done this so many times I can monitor people's thoughts as they have them -- I can read them like thought bubbles.
She's a lesbian.
Wait. What do I say?
Oh no, I've waited too long and she thinks I'm a horrible bigot, even though I'm Canadian.
"Oh," she said, clearly wishing she was saying something else. But what? But what?
The earthling's friend, David, looked up at me. "Girls can't have a wife," he said confidently.
David's mother made a tiny horrified noise. I didn't even need to look at her to know that she was thinking now she thinks my children are horrible and bigoted too.
But children are easy. Children are never any problem. "Yes, they can," I said to David. "Men can marry men and women can marry women, and I'm married to [earthling]'s mommy." (Straight parents, a tip for you: The key is to sound blandly confident. Use the same tone you'd use to say, "Actually, the capital of California is Sacramento.")
David took the conversation back to what matters to small children: themselves. "My mommy is married to my daddy," he informed me, and he and the earthling went back to playing with leaves and sticks.
A minute later, David's mother, having processed her horror and figured out what to say, chimed in with, "Of course women and women can be married!" She pretty clearly had a whole speech ready, but too late. Small children learn hundreds of new things every week, and they just don't have a lot of time to spend on any single irrelevant, unimportant new fact, like that women can be married to women. David had already filed this away, and he wasn't listening anymore.
David's mother left the conversation embarrassed and worried. She was the only person involved who had any feelings about it at all. These days, it doesn't matter to me the way it matters to other people.
My family is pretty basic: two adults and a child. But even now, when we can legally be married, legally file taxes together, legally be co-parents -- even now, forms almost never have room for us. There's the basic ones that assume that each child has a mother and a father, of course, but recently we filled out some for the school distract that had a ton of options: mother/grandmother/legal guardian/caregiver/foster parent/other. And father/grandfather/legal guardian/caregiver/foster parent/other. The only possibility that seemed not to have occurred to the school was two parents of the same sex.
I always cross out "father" and write "mother" over it. I cross out "husband" and write "wife." Often, this leads to unhappiness on the part of a receptionist or records keeper somewhere. "But the computer doesn't have a place for that! Can I just put sister?"
"She's not my sister, and she is responsible for my medical bills if I die."
"I'll just put sister."
But then sometimes I pick up a form that says Parent 1 and Parent 2, or Spouse 1 and Spouse 2, or something along those lines.
As soon as I see that, I look behind the desk, analyzing. Who works in this office who is queer? I want to ask. Because we only ever fit on forms designed by people like us.
"Are you sisters?"
"No, we're not related."
"Oh, just really good friends then, huh? You look so much alike! You must get that a lot."
"Yeah, we get it a lot."
In college, I had a therapist. One day, she asked, "Are you still together with [Best Beloved]?"
"Yeah," I said, confused. I mean. I'd been with BB for years. Surely it would have come up in therapy if we'd broken up? I figured I'd have some feelings about it and all.
"Huh," she said. "I'm surprised. I guess I just see lesbian relationships as more ephemeral than straight ones." She continued on thoughtfully, "I don't know why that is. You'd think I'd know better; my sister's been with her partner for a decade, after all. Well. I'll have to do some work on that, won't I?"
For the record, she was a very good therapist.
This week, I took the earthling to his pediatrician, Dr. G. Dr. G has known him since he was born, and she's known us since I was six months pregnant. BB and I met her together at the pre-birth interview thing, and BB was there in the hospital when the earthling was born, and BB comes to appointments when she can.
As Dr. G entered some data about the earthling into her computer, she asked, "Are you still with [BB]?"
I blinked at her. "We just celebrated our twenty-first anniversary," I said, after a moment's pause.
"Oh! Wow! Congratulations," she said, and we moved on.
I really doubt she's ever asked my sister, whose kids also see this doctor, if she's still married to her husband. I've been married longer; BB was at my sister's wedding. But, hey, my marriage is ephemeral, right? It could end at any time. Unremarked upon, even.
For the record, Dr. G is a very good pediatrician.
"Are you twins?"
"You look like twins!"
"No, we're not related."
"Wow! You look just like each other. How crazy is that, huh?"
It's just a reflex by now.
We were checking in for a spa day that my mother schedule for us: me, my sister (except technically not my sister, who is always late), and Best Beloved. "Oh, are you all Ruth's daughters?" the receptionist asked.
"No. Laura and I are. [BB] is my wife," I said.
And I could, of course, see her thoughts as they happened:
Oh, they're lesbians!
I am entirely and sincerely pro-gay, and so is my workplace. I voted against Prop 8! Yay, gay people!
…But what do I say now?
"Oh," she said, straightening up a little.
Wait, that sounds dismissive. Say something else! Say a better thing! Say the right thing!
"That's great!" she said.
I glanced up at her. "Yes, it is." And then I went back to texting my sister to find out where she was.
"Are you twins?"
"No. She's my wife."
Straight people, I will tell you a secret: there is no right response. Just listen and get on with your lives. I've learned to.