Amy Bronwen Zemser — “writer, squirrel hunter, breastfeeder, homosexual” — just launched her new, provocative blog, AmyBronwenZemser.com. We have the honor of publishing an abridged version of one of her recent hilarious posts about coming out, homophilia, and cases of mistaken sexual identity (read the unabridged version here). Enjoy!
I’ll tell you a secret.
I still have some internalized homophobia. So I get squeamish when I have to come out.
I don’t have to come out very often, but the situation does arise if I have to say, switch opthamologists. Or if Ray wants to play with a child whose parent I do not know. Just recently, after I told the mother of a child in Ray’s Suzuki violin class that I was one of two moms, she looked at me with a completely straight face and said, “There was a girl in my daughter’s class who had that.”
Had what? The malaise of homosexuality? The disfiguring disease of conjoined motherhood?
Once, when I was adjuncting at St. John’s university, the topic of homosexuality came up.
“Oh yes,” I chimed in. “My brother and I both inherited homophilia. Haven’t you heard? It’s very catching. Do you want your spoon back?”
I don’t want to be labeled, see. Who does? Even if only a portion of the lesbian population have wiffles, I still have trouble coming out with it in ordinary conversation. I hate the word “lesbian” because it makes me think of a bunch of women wearing patchouli and making out with each other on some Greek island. Gay is generally a term for the boys (although I do use it) and queer still means strange to a lot of people. I do love the word homosexual because there’s a whiff of the scientific there, and it’s funny, but admittedly I say the word in a humorous way as a coping mechanism.
Hi, I’m Amy, and I’m a homosexual. A HOMOsexual.
To call oneself any one thing — a homosexual or a writer or a parent or a squirrel killer, for that matter, is just plain reductive. Nobody want to be any one thing. I am the sum of all my complicated and contradictory parts.
But sometimes, as with the Suzuki violin mother, introductions occur, and you have to come up with something better than same-sex touchmonkey or Zena warrior.
I have found a solution to this issue, though. I have my own special little stock phrase that I integrate into a conversation, when I have to let someone know that my spouse is female, and so far it has worked out beautifully:
My husband has no penis.
This is a very effective strategy. It is funny, it is fast, and you don’t have to use the words transgender or queer.
Fine, I give you that it’s a lot longer than the word gay, but it’s infinitely more original, especially when you are at a gas station having a cigarette and you can casually blow smoke out the side of your mouth and say, oh, you know, my husband has no penis, so we just use the same rest room at the truck stop.
When Lynn and I were first trying to get pregnant, we spent a lot of time at the fertility clinic. We spoke to many physicians at the outset who tried to convince me that we needed to use medical intervention in order to get pregnant, even though we had no idea whether, at 37, I was infertile or not. Conversations would invariably get to this point:
Me: I’ve never tried to get pregnant before. I don’t know if I’m infertile. I mean, do you have any statistics?
Fancy Fertility Doctor: What kind of statistics?
Me: Like, how many women come to the infertility office to get pregnant not because of low sperm count or advanced maternal age, but because, you know, their husband has no penis. Ha ha. HA HA HA HA HA.
Me: My husband has no penis! HA HA HA HA HA HA
I can’t get pregnant, I’d go on, pointing to Lynn. We try and try but something must be very wrong with him, doctor, I really do think something is terribly wrong.
At this point Lynn turns purple and looks out the window. Sometimes she’ll smile meekly and say this is Amy from the Catskills Resort, and her next joke will be….
For some reason I find my little joke absolutely hysterical. I realize it sounds inane and embarrassing and puerile, like I’m in the seventh grade in Gloria Vanderbilts and feathered hair. But every time I say it, it just gets funnier. More importantly, it also makes real sense. What could be a more banal, a more pedestrian and reasonable way to work into a conversation that you are gay than to say that your husband has no penis?
Since my husband has no penis, we don’t have federal marriage protection under the law.
My husband has no penis — of course we love the Indigo Girls.
Sure do wish my husband had a penis. If he did, he surely wouldn’t need to adopt his own three kids.
Since my husband has no penis I had to drive all the way to Mt. Kisco to get my ovaries fluffed before Tuesday’s insemination in Manhattan.
Usually nobody laughs at my private joke, but I am always happy to have it. It means I don’t have to say lesbian. Gay. HOMOsexual.
I hate the label, so I make a joke. I don’t want to be reduced, so I make a joke. I make a joke, I make a joke, I make a joke.
One time, at one of my poker games, my friend Melissa, a dentist, told me that after I had gone in for a cleaning, her administrative assistant shook her head sadly after me, saying, “That poor woman. Did she tell you? Her husband,” and here she lowered her voice to a whisper, “Her husband has no penis.”
It took Melissa a while to explain to the woman that I was a lesbian, and that I didn’t have a husband at all.
“But what about the penis,” she insisted. “What happened to it? How did it come off? How terribly painful that must have been. For both of them. In different ways, of course.”
Melissa said they had to go around a few times before it was all straightened out and the next patient could go in for his bite wings.
At this point most of the women around my Texas Hold ‘em table were wiping their eyes and crying over this poor office assistant who seriously thought the reason I was having trouble conceiving was because, despite vigorous attempts, my penis-less husband was unable to squeeze any seeds from his fruitless loins.
I must admit that I would love to know if any of you use different terms to get around the discomfort of coming out. If you are reading this and you are not a homosexual, then try and drum up a gay memory or two, perhaps the time you made out with your best friend in college. Please share your experiences and thoughts on my very public forum. What do you have to lose? At worst you’ll be deeply humiliated. At best there is always deep shame. It’s all good. Everybody wins.