What Do Married Lesbians Call Each Other?

Wives. © Doug Berry/Getty Images

Question: What Do Married Lesbians Call Each Other?

Lesbians, what do you think of the word “wife?” Do you use the word wife to refer to your spouse? Now that same-sex marriage is legal in many places, many lesbians are struggling with the word to call their partners. Some women feel fine with the word “wife,” others dislike it, some abhor it, saying it reminds them of patriarchy, male ownership of women and the subjugation of women.

But like some other words that have been hurtful to us as a community, some women are choosing to “take back” the word wife. Much in the way some women have taken back the word "dyke."

Lesbian Life recently heard from a couple who is getting married, but is uncomfortable with the word “wife” and they were looking for advice on what to use instead. I put a not out to my Facebook friends and here are a few of their responses:

We're getting married and we don't want to be called wife and wife. Are there any other gay centric terms?


Here is how various and different lesbians (and a gay man) answered the question: What do you think of the word "wife?"

Shelly: My wife prefers the word “hersband.” She definitely the dipstick, and doesn't want anything with a feminine connotation.

Amanda: “Banana.”

Amy: We just default to partner. I may eventually get comfortable with wife, when that's what she legally is, everywhere. Until then, it feels disingenuous. (But I don't correct folks if that's what they use.)

Lones: My partner of 10 years and I do not call each other wife ... , we see that as a hetero term, and don't feel like we are each others wives. I usually introduce her as my partner or my CUP. We had a civil union in IL in 2011, we use the term CUP (civil union partner) If we are allowed to upgrade to marriage someday, were going to have to rethink this plan

Kristy: We have used wife since being married in Portland, OR during the minute that it was legal. Even though the state 'un-married' us a year later we still use wife... Mostly because f**k them, f**k them a whole bunch really.

Cheryl: We do use wife. It's a term of political education (and pride), in my opinion. We have a Domestic Partnership in Oregon and are legally married in Iowa.

Heidi: I will use WIFE when I get married. It makes my heart happy to look at the woman I love and know she will be my wife someday. The word partner is not for me.

Theresa: I was just telling the story tonight about how hate the term wife. I/we use partner. That correctly describes how we think of each other in so many ways. The word wife to me has too many icky connotations. I respect those who reclaim the word and use it but all I can think of is the Judy Syfers (1971) essay "Why I Want a Wife" and I cringe at the connotations.

Jessica: I use the word spouse, only because it represents that we are equal to each other I think "This is my wife" sounds like I own her.

Belinda: We use wife and have no problem doing so. It’s “Mrs.”, I have a problem with.

Alexis: Tiffany and I both use the word wife. We have documentation that states we have been married for the last five years. The fact is that if Tiff and I part ways we would need a divorce regardless if most of America fails to recognize our union.

Flor: I use wify or partner..I call her my wify more then partner.

Theresa: I think this is a generational issue for sure given the comments here.

Elisa: I use spouse or partner (I know it's an easy excuse when dealing with some people). My partner uses wife. Personally, I'd like every couple to use partner -- seems more "equal".

Christa: In my opinion- I've worked too hard to earn my right to marry my wife, and that is the only term we plan on using. In fact, to me, the word 'partner' is offensive, and suggests that "separate but equal" is acceptable in our community. And it's not!

Gabriela: I would also think that discomfort with certain terms might be a generational thing. I tend to get uncomfortable with using wife...and prefer partner...Melanie calls me her Wubby...obviously a combination of wife-husband since I am the big bad butch, in our relationship...lol! So Melanie likes to say wife or wubby...I prefer partner or girlfriend.

Eugenia: I want to advocate that we rescue the term wife from the images of service and subordination to a more powerful Other. It also carries the burden of gender association that is, of course, a problem for many. But do we really need to reject the term, or just re-invent it?

Gillian: Funny, I was just talking about this with my aunt today. I shudder when I hear lesbians refer to their "wives." It's bad enough when men do it. Who'd want to be a "wife" to anyone -- not me! It's about equal in my ears to "the little woman."

Bill: Do you want lesbians exclusively? I usually play it by ear but never husband. Partner sounds like we should be in a law firm or doctors, boyfriend sounds like a 16 year old girl (While I am at heart, it just sounds stupid from someone my age.) Roommate is suspicious but usually starts a conversation of "What do you mean, roommate?" But mate sounds like it covers all bases.

Alex: The word "partner" always makes me think of gym class, but it ends up being the easiest word, the least ambiguous. "Wife" can also be used as a political statement. It's easy enough for the average Joe to breeze over the word "girlfriend" and pretend you're just friends, but you can't misinterpret the word "wife." Although politically loaded words might not be what people are after.

Alice: I'd use wife. I think it's nice. Partner is totally fine too in my opinion, but if both people call each other wife, it implies equality anyway, so why not?

Retts: I hate partner, sounds like a biz arrangement and hate wife, just feels sexist..I like girlfriend. Not sure that's politically correct, but oh well.

Debbie: Soul mate of love!