from Ruminator Review, Fall 1999
Borich is deeply worried about words; it is crucial to her, as one who lives by language, to know whether her relationship constitutes a “marriage.” She understands that this isn’t a matter of semantics—doesn’t what you call a bond between people have lasting power to shape just what that relation is? She and her partner are deeply committed, have struggled through the challenges of years together. They own a house, have a dog and a history. They are involved with one another’s families. They are ” acknowledged, at least among our friends, as together, as linguistically joined, barrieandlinnea, one long roll of soft consonants and vowels.”
Is the sanction of the state truly required to marry them? What is its relationship to that “vein of common happiness?” With these questions Borich speaks, of course, for a vast number of gay and lesbian citizens who find themselves in a linguistic and legal conundrum about what our relationships are to be called, and what they mean…..
At her best, Borich delineates moments and their emotional implications so sharply as to make something full of the texture of life, and wonderfully lacking in certainty about anything but what Keats called the truth of the heart’s affections. She writes beautifully about sex, which is a surprisingly difficult thing to do; she is an attentive chronicler of the body’s currents and releases, responses and cries. She and her lover are, “two full-grown people afloat in an image of themselves, two burning pieces of star, two shocks of an unearthly shimmer.” Because we have so few chronicles of the complex affections, the shifting emotional weathers of same-sex couples together over decades, this book is especially crucial: it offers a clear and rare view into the lives of two women and their worldBut Borich’s descriptive powers and her skill with metaphor, as well as her rigorous self-scrutiny, make My Lesbian Husband of far more than documentary value. This lively memoir helps us to come that much closer to a mystery: the inexplicable fact of long-held affection, long-held desire, which can bind two people far more deeply than state or church ever could. —Mark Doty
from OUT Magazine, November 1999
As she walks her dog Patsy amid the battered Victorian houses (and the offbeat couples who inhabit them) of her slowly gentrifying Minneapolis neighborhood, poet and memoirist Barrie Jean Borich reflects on her 12-year (and counting) relationship with her beloved, Linnea and the circle of friends and the family tensions that hold it in place. Threaded together with recurring themes such as holiday celebrations, kitsch, and other trappings of domesticity, these entries amount to an extended meditation on the meaning of lesbian marriage. It’s a book to be savored—lying with your head in your girlfriend’s lap. —Charlotte Abbott
from MS, October/November 1999
Throughout her 12-year relationship with her lover, Barrie Jean Borich’s overriding question has been, “Who are we, the two of us, together?” Her quest: to find out “what it looks like to be lesbians in long-time love.” …Borich is an empathetic writer who can do justice to simple happiness and complicated love; her nuanced description of her brother’s wedding is a particular success. Throughout, she navigates between the seductive pull of established traditions and rituals and the need to come up with her own. She finds a balance in a decision made in the twelfth year of their relationship that surprises both her and her partner. —Amy Hempel
from In the Family, Spring 2000
Yoo-hoo. Oh yoo-hoo. Dame Edna. Attention pul-leeze. And maybe Elvis and Madonna and of course our Divine Miss M., and maybe the statuesque Madame Liberty! The time has come for you to add a fabulous new diva to your illustrious brigade. The new recruit is Barrie Jean Borich, flaming femme and author of a stunning new memoir, My Lesbian Husband. Barrie Jean will probably demur, will probably insist that she does not really belong in your exalted ranks. She’ll say that she is just a Polish girl who grew up on the “steel mill and freeway plain” of Chicago, just a hapless soul fumbling her way through life and secondhand stores, merely the wannabe wife of her beloved butch girlfriend. Madonna, Bette, and the rest of you don’t listen to her. Remind her of that long ago session with the psychic who told her she was a star person, destined to be set apart. Remind her, too, that she has written a splendid book, one that has changed forever the landscape of lesbian love.
Despite it’s emphatic title, My Lesbian Husband is no more about Barrie Jean’s long term partner Linnea than the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook is about recipes. Borich’s book is about Herself, a free spirit overly fond of steamy break-the-rules sex, drugs and booze; a bad girl eventually redeemed by daily life with her unflappable, loving partner. It is about an outsider/insider who keeps changing her stripes (but never her faux leopard spots). It is about a state of brilliant befuddlement—a fate that probably befalls anyone brazen enough to crawl inside a koan and take-up residence there. “Why should I treat the world as I do, like a continuous crossword puzzle full of witty clues and the wrong answers?” Borich asks no one in particular. Such unanswerable questions are her authorial signature.
But lest you think My Lesbian Husband is a long-winded and wooly-minded cosmic quest, let me assure you that Borich can be as precise as a Polaroid, as gritty as a home movie. We can almost feel the tangled sheets, smell the sweaty sex, as Barrie Jean comes out and careens through the non-monogamous, substance-abusing 70’s. Rendered with the same cinema verite rawness is her free-fall into permanent partnership (the 80’s) and her morphing into a married lesbo lady (the 90’s)…. Fortunately for all of us, this brilliant, zany Queen of Conspicuous Subjectivity won’t be able to resist coming back for an encore. Just to make sure I’m going to keep clapping.—Marny Hall
from The Gay & Lesbian Review, Winter 2000
“Are we married?” asks Barrie Jean Borich of her lover of twelve years, Linnea, in the first chapter of My Lesbian Husband. It’s a question she returns to, in one form or another, throughout the book, and although the answer is obviously “yes” from the start, the author uses her uncertainty to look more closely at the significance of all the words that imply intimacy and commitment—wife, long-term lovers, house co-owners, husband, couple, union, family, marriage—significance not only to herself but to other lesbians and to heterosexual couples, as well.
These terms for committed relationships are important to Borich, not only because lesbians have no true language of our own with which to describe our modes of bonding, but also because the author wants her relationship to be acknowledged in the same ways that straight marriages are. Consequently, she’s reluctant to reinvent the wheel, as many lesbians are forced to do. And she doesn’t believe she needs to. Although she and Linnea have a large coterie of gay and “bohemian” friends, neither woman lives in a ghettoized world. Borich wants to find ways to appropriate and integrate the best of what already exists. So while her writing moves back and forth in time, focusing on moments during her years with Linnea that reveal the texture of their life together, she returns as well to her youngest brother’s engagement and wedding, to her and Linnea’s relationship with their immediate families, and to the perceptions of strangers in their Minneapolis neighborhood and elsewhere….
…Borich characterizes herself as a worrier and a dreamer, someone who has trouble staying in the present moment because she’s so busy fantasizing about the fabulous future. She is at heart a romantic. Still, she’s confused by her attraction to spectacle, dressing up, and the seductive images of princes and princesses on the silver screen. Her head knows these preoccupations are frivolous, but her heart values them nonetheless….These kinds of contradictions are baffling to the reader as well. But they are also accurate renderings of an identity in search of itself, like a woman trying on and discarding dresses until she finds the one that suits her best. —Martha K. Davis
from Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1999
A passionate, intricately composed memoir of the author’s long-term love relationship, set against the backdrop of their Minneapolis neighborhood and complicated family ties. With colorful, witty, richly woven prose, Borich (Restoring the Color of Roses) invites the reader into a life that is at once ordinary and wholly unique. Alternating between different years in her relationship, and leading up to her actual wedding, Borich’s narrative unfolds like a patchwork quilt. She offers sketches of her family, daily dog walks, city noises and urban dramas, her collection of kitschy Madonna art, and her lover’s obsession with motorcycles and bird watching. Though clearly a romantic, Borich is no fool. She acknowledges the precariousness of permanence even as her prose swirls around her and her lover’s entwined feet…. If she errs on the side of bliss, she does so by staying rooted in everyday experience. She is similarly egalitarian in her portrayal of family members and the ways in which heterosexual bonding is awarded more legitimacy by her parents, aunts, and cousins. One of the moving aspects of the book is how some of these family members shift over the years toward more acceptance of Borich and her lesbian husband. Much broader than a lesbian interest title, this book will resonate with many readers, regardless of sexual orientation, bringing a nod of recognition to some, a twinge of longing to others.
from Feminist Bookstore News, Fall 1999
My Lesbian Husband: Landscapes of a Marriage by Barrie Jean Borich is an exploration of the society within which an intimate lesbian relationship takes place. It is also an exploration of language: how language can define intimacy and the ways that lovers claim language, making their own meanings. Borich’s writing is lovely as she speaks about falling in love, women, and “marriage.” From the book: “‘I don’t like wife. It’s true, it doesn’t fit her. But who does the word wife fit? Fishwife. Housewife. I don’t like it either. But when Linnea calls me her wife it is a word filled with all the attention she gives me, plump with kisses on the neck as my thighs part to her hands. We can only use this word if we steal it. Hidden in our laps it’s better.” A gorgeous contemplation of language and love.
from Library Journal, Sept 1, 1999
In her new memoir (following Restoring the Color of Roses), Borich discusses the life and love she shares with her long-term partner, Linnea. She writes movingly and with great wit about her experiences as a lesbian wife in a world that still doesn’t quite know what to make of her relationship. In a group of well-crafted essays, she describes the milestones of their 12 years together and explores the effect that tradition and the limitation of language has had on their union. She writes of her ambivalence toward marriage, her abiding fear of losing autonomy to her spouse, and the insufficiency of the English language for accurately describing her bond with her beloved. She also considers how she and Linnea have reconfigured traditions and how they make do with existing words—such as wife, husband, and soulmate to express their love. A lovely book; highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries. —Kimberly L. Clarke
from The San Francisco Chronicle, December 5, 1999
Barrie Jean Borich and her lover, Linnea Stenson, have been together for more than a decade. They love each other, they live together, they plan to keep on living together. “I wonder,” writes Borich, “are we married?”
It’s a question that brings up other questions in Borich’s memoir, My Lesbian Husband, a linked series of essays, all looking, from different angles, at questions about marriage and intimate relationships. What does it mean for two women to be “married” to each other? Do she and Stenson want to be married? Are they married, whether or not they have a legal ceremony? What is the difference between their “marriage” and a marriage between a woman and a man? Borich came of age in the late’70s and early’80s, a time when young lesbians, freed by the women’s and gay rights movements of a decade or so earlier, gloried in their alternative lifestyle. “I am not of the generation of women who wrote the radical feminist manifestos,” she says. “I am from the first new generation to read them, and I did, unceasingly, barely taking a breath between each heady essay… It was the article that explained the political error in the concept of the couple that stirred me like no other.”
She vowed never to subside into the “state of partial dissolve” that afflicted individuals who became part of a couple.…And yet some time later, after a confusing period of many affairs and much alcohol, she found herself seriously in love, and this love led to a relationship that has lasted, so far, for 12 years. My Lesbian Husband chronicles those years, and some of the years that preceded them, and along the way looks at the pleasures of the bohemian life, the pressures of political correctness and the paradoxical yearning for the comforts of convention in those who don’t really want to be conventional at all….this is a book that asks some timely questions and answers them thoughtfully and with a lot of personality.—Jeanne DuPrau
from Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1999
Thoughtfully mapping the landscape of love and commitment outside the legal and societal comfort zone of state-sanctioned marriage, Borich repeatedly asks Linnea, her lover of “twelve years and counting”: “Are we married?” It’s not an accusation, a manipulative device or a pointed query so much as an attempt to probe what it means to be in love and to share a life for many years without the social benefits and familial recognition granted to Borich’s two married younger brothers. Not merely another queer commentary (or diatribe) on marriage, this memoir is foremost a graceful and compelling rumination on love. In the course of her paean to Linnea, and using their life together on Portland Avenue in Minneapolis as a kind of metaphor, Borich ponders how she got to this place in her life. A recovered substance abuser who once spiraled perilously downward, devoid of any focus beyond hanging out, Borich is truly in recovery, a partner in a love that literally reconfigures her existence. Elucidating a host of lesbian issues from the butch-femme dynamic to “serial non-monogamy” to changing sexual politics, Borich also addresses more global concerns, such as neighborhood confraternity, racism and violence….this tale of heart and home and what it means to find both in a tough and alienating world offers many pleasures.
from Booklist, Sept 1, 2000
Borich’s essays probe the nature of her lengthy “marriage” with her lover Linnea as well as the more traditional, heterosexual marriages entered into by those around her, such as her brother Paulie. She ponders the power of language—is Linnea her “wife” or her “husband”?—to exert subtle force on interpersonal interactions. She recalls her past and mingles it with her present as she considers the charms of battered old Victorian houses, the trials and pleasures of walking her and Linnea’s dog, Patsy, and many more homely details, domestic and otherwise. She writes with humor and compassion and overall humanity about what are, finally, perfectly ordinary—and extraordinary—lives. —Whitney Scott
from Lambda Book Report, Feb 2000
In these meticulously observed essays, Borich examines her relationship with her lover Linnea and their daily life. Her explorations include lesbian gender, and we quickly are made to understand that Linnea is the husband while the author is the wife. Yet gender, like every other topic in the book, coalesces around the incessant refrain of Borich’s query, “are we married?” She asks this of Linnea and of the readers, often making comparisons of her own relationship with the marriages among her family of origin and the relationships among her lesbian friends, gay male friends, and her neighbors. Marriage is the thread that keeps these essays strung together as they weave non-chronologically through time. And it is the marriage ceremony and celebration that supports the book’s conclusion. The individual essays are often absorbing. We are treated to details, wonderful turns of phrase, and astute political commentary. —Ruthann Robson
from Re-Imagining, February 2000
…Because I live very near the Minneapolis area Barrie Borich describes, I know the neighborhood she wanders with her dog, Patsy Cline. I believe that her probing of the relationships with her beloved Linnea Stenson, her mother, her neighbors, and past lovers is as accurate and careful as her delineation of Portland Avenue and Powderhorn Park. A reader must find the voice of a memoirist trustworthy and I trust Barrie’s portrayals. I understand her yearning to name her relationship, and I even accept her need to create a playfully bizarre wedding ritual…. Barrie describes precisely the reason why my husband and I—in our 50’s—entered a legal marriage last summer, though friends and relatives agreed we didn’t have to do it. Barrie and Linnea still can’t occupy that legal landscape I share with my husband. They could barely dare to dance, unacknowledged, around the edges of Barrie’s brother’s “real” wedding. After nearly three hundred pages of sharing the intensity and familiar routine of Barrie and Linnea’s life, I close the book feeling sadly complicit in our marginalization of their love. —Lucia Wilkes Smith
Barrie Jean Borich’s memoir of her 14-year marriage is a subtle exploration of gender and the intricacies of butch-femme desire. In dense, lyrical paragraphs, My Lesbian Husband describes Borich’s first attraction to her partner, Linnea, and the slow building of their life together in a decaying neighborhood in Minneapolis. Borich traces both the pleasures and the wrenching difficulties of trying to construct a long-term union in the absence not only of legal and social support but of everything that our aunts and uncles and parents take for granted: “names for their union in every language, the weddings of a square-chested prince and a big-busted, cinch-waisted princess at the end of every Disney movie, every Shakespeare comedy, not to mention Mary and Joseph, Hera and Zeus, and those little bride and groom figurines they have saved from their wedding cakes.” This is as sharply observed and well-written a memoir as Jan Clausen’s Apples and Oranges, but a valentine rather than a valediction. —Regina Marler
from The Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 29 1999
While bussing tables at a freeway truck stop, the teenage Barrie Jean Borich learned that “to marry ketchup” meant balancing one bottle on top of another so that one was emptied as it filled the other. The term would serve as a metaphor for the threats posed by marriage to one’s independence, she writes in her memoir. My Lesbian Husband. “Two become one. The empty bottle is thrown away. Lose yourself. Become someone different, a compound person, joined and lost.” She moved to Minneapolis, vowed never to get married, and “banged and shattered” her way through an early adulthood that resembled “a corridor of mirrors, a hallway of opposites” where the lesbian culture of the day viewed relationships as the dysfunctional vestiges of straight culture, an exercise in futility and self-denial. Those theories crashed down around Borich when she met Linnea, the woman who would turn out to be her lover of 12 years. “Do you think we’re married?” Borich asks Linnea at the book’s beginning, which sets her off on an exploration of couples and their impact on one’s identity. —Eric Hanson from Lavender Magazine, September 24, 1999
from Lavender Magazine, September 24, 1999
My Lesbian Husband is a labor of love, and it is magnificent….Borich’s prose has a rhythm that can only be tapped by a writer who’s willing to get down to the original iambic backbeat: the heart. In a passage from a chapter called “What Kind of King,” her meditation on kings has the quality of a spoken-word piece, a jazz poem. If you listen while you read, you can hear scatting overtones of Ella Fitzgerald….. There are drug kingpins and kings of the road, the King of Kings, the King’s English. There’s Linnea’s and my king-size King Koil mattress.” She pauses to wonder “what, if anything, this catalogue of kings has in common with Linnea in her two-toned wing tips and creased trousers,” and the reader knows the answer: Everything, of course, and nothing at all. —Ellen Lansky