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Thursday, January 22, 2009



One of the great things about being a gay couple is that there is always the chance that both partners can have the same first name. It can happen in heterosexual relationships, where Pat and Pat or Chris and Chris are opposite sexes, but it is a lot more prevalent in the gay world.

To most people, we are The Bills. Inasmuch as neither of us is willing to give up the name Bill and go with something different, like Will or William or Billy or Willy or Liam or Wilhelm, “The Bills” is usually how people refer to us. It is as if we don’t have separate identities. One annoyingly smug person refers to us as The Bill Sisters, which fortunately has not caught on with anyone else.

In our early years together, before we merged into a single proper noun, people would refer to us as Red Bill and Brown Bill, matching us to our hair color. A colorblind friend referred to us as Red Bill and Black Bill. Even if with distinct identities, this wouldn’t work anymore, as both of us are now Bald With Gray Bills. Some identified us by our height: Big Bill and Little Bill, or our age, Young Bill and Old Bill. Those don’t work anymore, either. Back surgery shrunk Other Bill down to my height; and now I look significantly older than Old Bill, so most people think he’s the youthful one.

When we are introduced as Bill and Bill to people, 100 percent of the time, they ask: Doesn’t that get confusing?

No, it doesn’t. Have you ever spoken to someone who has the same name as you, and you think, Am I talking to myself or talking to him? Neither have we.

Bill’s family refers to us as Billy (him) and Bill (me), or Bill (him) and Other Bill (me), but when I say Other Bill, as I frequently do in this book, I mean him and not me.

So, maybe it does get confusing for other people, especially when you call on the phone. Naturally, Bill always answers, but it is sometimes questiona-Bill as to which one is it with whom you are speaking. This is compounded by the fact that we sound alike on the phone as well. Ten minutes into a conversation, people have realized they are talking to the wrong Bill. Then the other Bill is put on the phone, and the caller has to start all over from Hello, Bill. If this happens to be a long distance call, we are not bothered, because we like it when our friends pay The Bills .

Having the same first name isn’t such a bother, until someone brings up the issue of gay marriage. Naturally I am for some form of gay marriage, but I’d prefer not to call it marriage. We would certainly be disagreea-Bill to the requirement of taking the other’s last name. Hyphenating wouldn’t help, either. It would only serve to blur our identities, making us even more indistinguisha-Bill. What a great excuse for the government not to ratify gay marriage: It would send the IRS into a tailspin to try to resolve a joint tax return filed by two men with the same first and last names.

I don’t know why last names seldom seem to come into play when we are referred to. Although most of our close friends know our last names, some acquaintances don’t. I think most people feel uncomfortable with such formality. They find that objectiona-Bill. But I think it’s better than using a description-based name. If we ended up with the same first and last name, people would have to call me “The Older Looking But Younger Aged, Gray and Bald, Naturally Shorter Bill Whose Original Last Name Was Wiley.” Or just “The Bill Whose Original Last Name Was Wiley,” for short. That is too much like “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” an arrogant non-name. I find that dispica-Bill. And I don’t want to have to create some kind of graphic image to take the place of my descriptive name, but if I did, it would be some variant of the question mark.

Contributing to the confusion, because we have lived with each other for 15 years, we have grown to look somewhat similar, at least in the face. We have been asked countless times by store clerks, pharmacists, people standing in buffet lines with us, as well as just passersby, if we are brothers. Most of them ask us if we are twin brothers. This has happened so often that we have rehearsed answers. At the same time Other Bill says “yes,” I say “no.” This makes the inquirers most irriti-Bill. Gay men are used to couples who have the same haircut and facial hair, which I guess is the only criteria that some people need to suspect us as being former womb mates.

Using Bill 1 and Bill 2 wouldn’t work, because that’s just as confusing as Bill and Bill. People would think, “I can’t remember which one is Bill 1 and which one is Bill 2.” We could sharpen the images, I guess, if we ran around in long red underwear with “Bill 1” and “Bill 2” silk-screened on our chests. That’s how Thing 1 and Thing 2 in The Cat in the Hat did it. But I’m not willing to don that wardrobe. This is Florida, after all; no place for red woolies.

We are friends with another Bill couple in our town. Occasionally we cross paths at a party. Obviously, we have friends in common, so in addition to having The Bills to invite, the party-givers have both para-Bills to invite to their party. Those Bills have it easy. One is a realtor, and he is always in town. The other travels for work and is almost never at home. So they are referred to as Sella-Bill and Invisi-Bill.

In line with that, I’m thinking the best solution to this is to take the most blatant aspects of our personalities and base our Bill names on that. I can get grouchy and in a bad mood at the drop of a hat, but I find peace in tinkering around the house, learning how to do things myself. Very Capa-Bill. The other Bill is a big, furry, cuddly and sweet Beara-Bill. He is technologically challenged, though. He can’t even figure out how to use the television remote control. So there you have us. Conversely, if you get confused, Incapa-Bill works just as well for him as Unbeara-Bill works for me. Totally believa-Bill.

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