I am a cisgender heterosexual female, but I am also something more. I am the voice of the thousands whom civil rights progress has passed by and who still conceal their true identity from an exclusive society.
This is the identity closet no one wants to acknowledge, which is what makes it so devastating for those who find themselves inside. I did not even realize how hard I had been working to hide my true self until I met Mr. X, but suddenly it was as though all those awkward moments of my past came into focus and I could see the meaning of my whole life. I am—I always have been—the wife of Mr. X.
Coming out was one of the hardest decisions of my life, and at times the hatred and heartache I’ve faced have been worse than I could have imagined. Hardest of all is the rejection from Mr. X himself, who has declared publicly he has no interest in me whatsoever. But I know that no matter what anyone says, I have to be true to myself. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that my true identity is wife of Mr. X.
This Has Been a Lifelong Struggle of Identity
Looking back, I can see that ever since I was four or five years old I have been a married person trapped in a single person’s body. When I was a little girl, I wouldn’t play princesses with my Barbies or get them dressed up to go on dates. Instead, they were always happily married and caring for children or cleaning the house. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them I wanted to get married, but they would always press for more, giving me the silent message that “wife” was not a legitimate identity for me.
For a long time, I hid my relationship-status identity. I went to college and graduate school, found a job, rented my own apartment, and lived as though I were a single person, but deep down I always knew this was not who I was meant to be. An evening of drinks and self-assuring gossip with a group of single friends would inevitably be followed by coming home and crying myself to sleep, knowing that I was lying to them, and to myself.
Even after I met Mr. X, I tried to deny the truth. The moment I saw him, I immediately felt that I was meant to be his wife, but I knew he did not feel anything for me, and the shame and fear were so great that I tried pretending I didn’t really like him all that much. But one day I realized the lies and pretending had to stop. I was utterly smitten, and suppressing my feelings meant denying who I really was.
“Be yourself,” society told me, and yet at the same time it was telling me that if “being yourself” impinges on other people’s identity or property, that expression of personal essence is illegitimate. It is as though you cannot just “be yourself” because you have to take into account other people and who they are, even to the point of limiting your own self-identity.
Now It’s a Daily Struggle against Bigotry
Sometimes the bigotry I face makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. From the moment I open my eyes, I know it will be another day of fighting to be who I really am. I have woken up some mornings to Mr. X trying to physically remove me from his bed, calling me a trespasser, a pervert, or worse.
Bathrooms cause me even more angst. Mr. X has repeatedly tried to harass me into using the bathroom in my own apartment instead of in his house. To him there is only the binary of “single” and “married,” rigidly distinguished by the words of a marriage rite. To me there is the need to be acknowledged for who I really am, regardless of social norms or mutual agreements. What he can never experience is how every time I shower by myself in my own bathroom, I feel like a fraud, acting out the script society has written for me.
Those daily battles gnaw away at my soul, causing me to question my own value as a person. In my heart, I know that I was always meant to be married, but the world is constantly trying to push me back in the “single” box. It tells me there are limits to what I can be, and that since my life touches those of other people, my own self-perception cannot be the basis of my identity. The message is: If your identity is grounded in internal perception, you make yourself a dictator over the rest of humanity.
People have berated me for equating my relationship identity with sexual orientation or gender identity, all based on the claim that my self-identification imposes upon others. Yet how is my quest for equality any different from those civil rights issues? I defend others’ right to marry based on their feelings of love rather than their biological compatibility. Why shouldn’t they respect my right to marry based on my feelings of love rather than on spoken complicity? I use pronouns of choice to refer to others based on their gender identity. Why shouldn’t they use my title of choice to refer to me based on my relationship identity?
Remember: Separate But Equal Is Discriminatory
Well-meaning acquaintances usually ask why I can’t be content just to wear a wedding ring and sign my name “Mrs. X” instead of continuing my quest for legal recognition. They do not understand that this “separate but equal” treatment is a base form of bigotry and intolerance. Until the day I can procure a marriage certificate, I am a second-rate citizen, and my desires to love freely and to be accepted for who I am are declared illegal.
Yet while I cannot gain legal recognition as Mrs. X, the law has allowed him to take out a restraining order against me. This kind of legalized discrimination has no basis other than the fact that my relationship identity is different from the one society has assigned me. My heart breaks knowing I am considered a criminal just because other people cannot see as reality what I feel to be true.
I have lost count of how many times I have patiently tried to explain to someone how hurtful it is to use the title “Miss” or even “Ms.” when my preferred relationship status is “Mrs.” Words mean things, and until society learns to align its language with what people feel rather than what appears to be true, words will define me and others in ways that do not allow us to be whatever we want to be.
The truth is that if we are forced to base our identity on external factors—biological sex, familial relationships, public rites—our society will become a community of deeply interrelated humans rather than a collective of autonomous individuals. This would push us back to believing that people can and should be content even when they experience persistent feelings of discomfort or unhappiness.
It would demand that we suppress certain desires as harmful and live in ways that give as much or more consideration to others’ needs than to our own perceived needs. It would insist that we must accept rather than change certain aspects of ourselves. In short, it would mean that identity would be defined by the ways in which we are related to others rather than the ways in which we identify ourselves apart from others.
This is what is at stake in the battle for total identity equality. I beg you to realize what a different world this would be, and then to consider: What kind of world do you want to live in?