A New Word for a Swashbuckler

Karin Kallmaker Sisters of the Pen

There are words used against us that are meant to diminish and degrade. And there are words withheld from us that are meant to keep us diminished and degraded. As I wrote the new set of stories for Frosting on the Cake 2, there was a new word I used because it was natural to several stories.


In 2001, none of the stories in the original Frosting had that word applied to a same-sex wedded partner. In 2001, I didn’t foresee that it would be a word that could slip casually into a story. In 2010, several partners in the stories are married and planning to marry as a logical and wanted — and legal — extension of their love and commitment.

If I didn’t see that word becoming part of my lexicon ten years ago, then it’s a certainty that a shy young dyke coming out in the Sixties didn’t see it in her future either. She bravely faced down the words hurled at her that were meant to degrade her — butch, bulldyke, lezzie — and turned them around until they were compliments. Compliments to gay liberation activists, to the young ones who would follow her swashbuckling path, until someone like me could say dyke or queer or That’s Ms. Lezzie to You without a quaver.

Today, that not-quite-as young, but still brave woman gets to use the new word: Wife. More specifically, Lee Lynch gets to call Elaine Mulligan “my wife.” She gets to say “I am Elaine Mulligan’s wife.” I know she didn’t foresee it in her lexicon, and hope in the decades to come it rolls off her tongue with the pride and equanimity of all the other words the world hurled at or withheld from her that she now claims. Queer. Lesbian. Butch. Wife.

Congratulations on your nuptials, Lee Lynch and Elaine Mulligan. May the years ahead be as unexpected and joyous as those that brought you to your wedding day.

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