Written by Laura Leigh Abby/ Cosmopolitan
My wife and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary, but we’ve been together for nearly a decade. By now, I should be comfortable saying I’m married to a woman. Instead, when people ask if we’re sisters or friends, my wife and I glance anxiously at each other, urging, No, you say it. Everyone has an opinion about being gay, and we often have to come out to people without knowing how we’ll be received. A sort of fatigue sets in.
Although not every day, inquiries into our personal lives happen often. Women notice my diamond ring and compliment my husband’s taste. The doctor asks if my husband is tall, like me. I meet friends and their coworkers for drinks, and the innocuous chatter follows: What do you do? Where do you live? I love your necklace! It would be weird to withhold the fact that I’m a writer, that I live in Manhattan, or that I’m wearing my wife’s necklace.
Many times, the high pitched “Oh!” response is blithe — this is New York City, after all. But I brace myself for occasional awkwardness: a glance at my wife (Does she look like a lesbian?), then back to me. A silent moment, a raised eyebrow. A hotel clerk asking, “You’re sure you want the king bed and not two queens?” We’re sure.
Nobody wants to admit it, but people look at a woman differently when they hear she has a wife. Cosmopolitan locale or not, coming out turns a three-hour fight or an evening with friends into performance art. Are the lesbians kissing? What are they drinking? It’s the feeling of being watched that makes me tense, my insecure teenage self back to harass me, the paranoid voice that says, Everyone is judging you. So I turn it around. He’s old and conservative-looking, I’ll think. He won’t understand. Or, She’s wearing a cross. She’ll want to pray for us. It’s easier just not to mention it. Now, I’m the one doing the judging.
I don’t wear my sexuality as I wear my race and gender. I can hide behind my long hair, manicured nails, and makeup. No one assumes I’m gay. Because of that, I’ve long heard homophobic slurs disguised as jokes from people who don’t know they’re talking about me, my marriage, my life.
One night on a crowded bus, a man was ranting against gay people, saying that he’d murder his own mother if she were gay. I counted my breaths and tried to slow my racing heart. But my anger won over, and I engaged him in a screaming match when we both got of at the next stop. He called me a cocksucker. I screamed: “I’m a lesbian!” When I told my wife about the fight, she called me an idiot. “You can’t argue with crazy,” she said.
Most encounters are admittedly less dramatic. Early this year, we remodeled our apartment. Men came into our home to paint, sand, and spackle. I wondered how to explain to Theo, the electrician, that I can’t tell a cable box from a tackle box because my wife handles the technology. I held up my hands in surrender and said, “The TV is really her thing.” He looked at me from across the room where he knelt next to tangled wires. “So, is she your sister?”
“She’s my wife,” I answered as nonchalantly as I could. “You’re gay,” he said excitedly. I tensed up. Then he said, “I’m gay too.”