I admit that I was taken aback when the young prime channel weatherman, showing pictures of animals frolicking in the snow on Sunday, laughingly interjected that he tried to take his cat out to play but his husband wouldn’t let him. Just like that - a throwaway remark brought home how enormous the change in our acceptance of gay lifestyle has become - it’s less the legality of gay marriage than the freedom to proclaim it unexpectedly in a very public workplace , in a completely random context. Later that morning, in reading the Sunday Times, I came across two more references by men to their husbands: one was in the Advice Column and was irrelevant to the subject of the letter, as was the second in a column by the noted writer Andrew Solomon. In other words, nobody was campaigning for gay rights - these were simply gay men talking about other things and by the way, referencing their spouses. The very casual use of this familiar term, “my husband,” had a greater impact on me than all the debates I’ve seen and heard and all the admonitions concerning civil rights. It signaled the type of comfort people feel when they’re not concealing secrets and therefore, aren’t worried about revealing them.
The curious thing is that I was also surprised to hear a man state even jokingly that his husband wouldn’t let him do something. The role of submissive spouse has been so thoroughly reserved for women cowed by male authority that it made me pay attention to consider it in an all male relationship. It took a few minutes for me to remember the stereotypical henpecked husband dominated by a shrewish wife because he is generally reserved for sit-com comedies of another age and less visible in our popular culture. Currently more prevalent in heterosexual relationships are the missing husbands, some of whom undoubtedly defected for the growing permissible choice of marrying another man. Of course I know that the qualities of submissiveness and dominance transcend gender roles but there’s a difference between knowing something and realizing that it’s become part of the normal mainstream that surrounds you. In discussing what my 5 year old granddaughter might be doing in the next 20 years, she correctly tallied that she would continue going to school and then to college, pausing to ask an unwittingly profound question, “is college still a school?”, and then might want a family with two children whom she had already named. When I asked about her future husband, she teasingly said she wasn’t going to have one and would have a girlfriend instead. She couldn’t have readily come up with that without having already seen several examples of same sex parents in her school. The extraordinary has become quite normal and apparent, even to pre-literate children who don’t read editorials and don’t watch the news.
Life changes have been absorbed subliminally and what was once unacceptable has become quotidian. Freedoms that have been fought for no longer need to be heralded by trumpet blares; they’ve descended into the lower registers of banter and conversation. Regardless of religious, political or personal assessments of what this connotes for our society, we have reached a defining moment when the simple words “my husband” can be uttered casually by men who never spoke those words aloud before in the recorded history of western civilization.
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