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I'm a Lesbian Marrying a Man

My sexual orientation didn't change; I just fell in love with a man.

Photo Credit: oliveromg/


I was in a bar in Chicago when I told a close friend of 20 years that, despite being a lesbian, I was marrying a man. My friend and I hadn’t seen each other in a while, but we fell back quickly into our old intimacy — those long, rambling conversations we used to have in coffee shops all over Minneapolis. When the subject shifted to an activist group she was part of, I said I’d be glad to help, if they needed a lesbian on their board. She laughed, dismissively. “You can’t call yourself that anymore.”

Of all the weird reactions I’d gotten to my engagement, that one pissed me off most.

I had not been not surprised when my fiancé’s friends — Washington insiders with the respect for convention that city inspires — expressed shock when they discovered I was a dyke. We came from different worlds; with my long brunette hair and short skirts, I hadn’t read as queer to them. But no one had presumed to relabel me, to retrofit me to their categories — at least, not to my face.

But here was my fabulous Portland pal, trying to claim me for the Bi-Het team (which sounded like a synagogue rather than a sexual identity, and certainly not my own). She wasn’t the only one: An ex-girlfriend and a sophisticated poet cousin said the same thing, as if my lesbian license had been revoked.

So let me be clear, since I can’t be the only one: I am a lesbian marrying a man.

This is not semantics, or splitting hairs; it is fundamental to who we are — my fiancé and I. Immutable as height or eye color.

Call it a kind of intermarriage. I am 5-foot-9, brunette, lesbian, that won’t alter because of our vows; nor will my love of women, though I won’t be dating them. If either of us had to pretend otherwise, I wouldn’t be marrying this man. It is precisely because our love makes room for us to be who we are, rather than cutting us to fit convention, that I want to spend my life with him.

One of the things I cherished about coming out as a lesbian years ago was the wonderful sense I had that I was leaving behind received forms of love, those that seemed to have disappointed my parents and friends. We were free to invent our own, something authentic, not roles we shrugged on like a borrowed coat.

Still, I can’t blame those I love for trying to recast me in more familiar terms — as bisexual or straight. I’ve done the same sort of mislabeling myself. I did this with the man I love when we first met.

* * *


When I first sat down beside the man I would marry, I thought, “Too many sport coats, too little hair.” It was ungallant of me, a glib assessment, born of a writerly habit of sizing up characters. I didn’t recognize this habit as defensive, a way of trying to contain what was foreign to me, what might unsettle my world.

My world, if I’d had to sum it up then, was composed of lesbian activists and writers, with a smattering of hip-ish academics at the university in D.C. where I taught then. People in my world subscribed to the Nation and the New York Review of Books, and understood that a reference to the Times always means New York’s. People in my world did not wear sport coats (except perhaps ironically to a “Mad Men” party).

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