Friday, November 5, 2010

Trailer Trash, and a need for better vocabulary

Am I a sidecar?

No, I never liked the term trailing spouse, but I was damned glad to find there was a word for what I was stepping into.  The Smart Expat has a post about a friend who referred to herself as "trailer trash", a cheeky reference to the limiting (and ill-fitting) trailing spouse.   "Accompanying spouse" was suggested, but damn if that doesn't strangle the tongue. It's hard to find a word that properly respects but describes that position. Why is it so hard to make it sound important, necessary and incredibly complicated?  Probably because all the things a TS does in the move is typically considered women's work.  And even though this refers to the complicated business of setting up a new home base, it isn't respected as it should be. (Look at the salaries of child care workers and teachers, and tell me this world ain't a little screwed.)  If crazy people hadn't coined it, I'd say "help meet" was a good term, but it gives me the shivers.

Trailing spouse seems like a grim self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein you start to drag behind and lose your identity because that's what you're calling yourself.  Because your title doesn't imply independence or acknowledge what you do, only what you're following behind.  This is why words are so important.  Words can totally hurt people, or give them the idea that they aren't held to high expectations (I feel this every time someone says "girl" when they mean "woman").

We need something that implies a parallel partnership.  I wish sidecar didn't sound so damn ridiculous, because I kind of love it.

 Les Vins Georges Duboeuf (This is not us)


  1. I SO agree we need a better word (or phrase). Trailing Spouse always makes me feel like a length of toilet paper stuck to my husband's shoe! :) "Accompanying partner" is now the PC term used by relocation industry as of course many couples are no longer legally married. I quite like the "partner" bit as it does put us on an equal footing, but "accompanying" just has too many syllables.

  2. Now that I know this isn't the preferred phrase (and realized how disrespectful it is) I wish I hadn't branded my blog in this way. I consciously try not to use words hurt people, so should I change my blog title? I guess it is easy to find this way, but that would be taking the easy way out and perpetuating this term. "Accompanying partner" sounds mumbly.

    I tried to use "partner" when we got married, but it wouldn't stick (even with us). I call my spouse "my husband" when I'm introducing him, but I still don't like being called a wife. So many new words and changes needed right now!

    I wish Dan Savage would direct some of his love towards the "breeders" and help us get a new word. Well, a nice one.

  3. I used to call myself 'expensive luggage' but I know that's not a solution either. Just made me feel better :-)

  4. I am so honored you read my blog! I just sent off for two of your books through my library (I work in one). Though now I'm afraid someone from the interlibrary loan department is going to tell my boss I'm reading books about being an expat wife. Thank you for putting those resources out there.

    Is it wrong that I gave my spouse the condition that if he moves me to a place with a drastically different climate *he* is buying me a new wardrobe?

  5. a.s. is also hard to spell, for those of us who struggle with overly-vowel'ed words. ... i'm a fan of the 'partner' moniker, of course. ... and i think sidecar could work, with the slight bitter quasi-self-depricating tone intentional/owned?

    also, sidecars are tasty; if i was secure enough to be willing to yield to someone for a bit (yes, girl's got probs, yes i know...), i think i'd have to *have* a sidecar on occasion to facilitate Project Getting Over Control Issues And Self.

    also, re: wardrobe: totally reasonable. it's the least he can do.

  6. I know, I know, accompanying partner/spouse is awful. I liked "sidecar" but then I thought about the fact that they don't go anywhere unless they're attached to the motorbike.......

    As for the wardrobe, I'm all for making the conditions clear upfront :-)

  7. Hello Smart Expat!

    How about 'stoker'. That's the hind seat of a tandem bike. Though it also sounds like the person who shovels coal in the engine of a train. Also makes sense I guess?

  8. Oh I am loving this conversation... been trying to clean up this for years! I prefer accompanying partner as it is more appropriate but it is not really dynamic enough to describe who we really are. Am liking the concept of 'stoker', maybe sidecar yet as TSE says it is still dependent upon the ''driver'.

    So.. perhaps we need to think even more outside the obvious box.....

    Global Partners (or GlowBall Partners as we do shine the light forward)
    Sporting Partners (no not Supporting -- that is too obvious and we are good sports)
    Pioneering Partners (OK a little grandiose)
    Roving Rocks (My personal fav as we move but we are the family's rock)
    World's Women (my brain just created that then shut me down)

    Anyway - I am totally up for the new wardrobe too - that is a requirement not a request...
    Nice work R.B.

  9. Hello Marie! I think I'm going to compile these and maybe put a poll on the blog. I'm not sure enough people read it to respond, though. I should also do more research to see what other people are coming up with.


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