In Search of a Better Neym and Meaning: Trailing Spouse, Trailer Trash, Sidecar?

Vespa SidecarImage via WikipediaIf you’re looking for something cheerful to read this morning, move along, because this one topic is not.

A reader a while back pointed me to a  blog,  Secret Confessions of a Trailing Spouse A support blog for those who chose to follow… then started to freak the fuck out; And when not freaking out, lots of posts about making stuff …”

It looks like the blog author is in academe, but the issues are certainly familiar to expatriates and accompanying spouses/partners (yes, this pc term is a darn mouthful).  She writes by way of introduction, “Trying to wait without waiting. Married to a PhD, currently not career-bound, potentially a trailing spouse, but not completely ok with the idea of putting my eggs in his basket. Or letting him take my eggs and his basket to another city. Or something?”

From one of R.B.’s post:

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. (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.

Check out her blog here.  She has a good list of resources for trailing expatriates and trailing rebels. You might also want to read (or not) the Trailing Spouse Track (article RB linked to) where another TS under a pseudonym writes, “Career-wise, I need a reason not to stick my head in the oven….” in reference of course to the poet, Sylvia who was “trailing” her husband Ted in academia.