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Shaneda and her wife

Shaneda (right) and her wife

Two and a half years ago my wife and I tied the knot during a snowstorm.

We had planned to have a courthouse wedding that ended in a reception at Baltimore’s Phillips Seafood restaurant. I knew that my family wasn’t going to attend, so I didn’t waste time sending out invitations, and she only invited her immediate family. Also, a few of our friends came from New York to celebrate with us. With her family, our friends, and a presider, I think our celebration came to a whopping 15 people.

To our dismay, at the last minute all of Baltimore courts closed because of the storm and we had to find a place and someone to preside over our wedding within minutes. I thought it was hilarious when my wife called me at the hotel I was staying at for the night to tell me the news. I mean, aren’t these the typical things that happen the day of any wedding? I knew we would prevail because it had been the motif of our then two and a half years together. A friend of a friend knew of a selfless lesbian that had a license to preside, and so we were married January 3, 2014.

On the outside, my masculine and stoic appearance held my depression, insecurities and self-loathing at bay.

I can’t say I knew that we would be married when we first met. I was in a tumultuous situation with my traditional southern Baptist mom and was fairly homeless when we met for our first date in New York City’s West Village. My mind had always drifted to these places of despair every time I was put out and abandoned by my family. I was 22 years old, a semester away from a Masters in Social Research from Queens College, working at two non-paid internships in the city and my life looked bleak. I was staying on the couch of a friend who was out of town, but whose family was gracious enough to let me in to sleep. I had just weathered two relationships back to back that both ended badly and didn’t know if it was in fact God punishing me for my “carnal sins.” On the outside, my masculine and stoic appearance held my depression, insecurities and self-loathing at bay. However, inside I was fighting a constant battle–a battle between my traditional Christian raising and the liberation of living my truth in all its facets.

Though moving away provided the necessary separation for caring for myself and putting my household first, my wife and I are sometimes left secluded.

All things considered, my wife and I probably weren’t in the best place to embark on a new relationship. We both say we weren’t aiming to, but I know it was meant to be. For her to love me at a point that I felt depleted with nothing to offer said something about her character. What we found in each other is a sense of relative pain and brokenness as well as a willingness to create a positive whole family unit that we always wanted. I believe to this day, that yearning to grow and learn as a family has served us throughout the test of time. A couple of months after meeting, we lived together. Eight months after that we moved to Maryland. A year later, I started a Ph.D. program at Howard University and my wife began her graduate education shortly after. I don’t think that I could have survived the level of toxicity that my mother’s house had symbolized and I don’t believe my wife wanted to live in the space and life she had experienced prior to me. So we moved with nothing and started a life in the DMV.

When we moved, I continued to struggle with the decisions I had made to choose my partner first and embark upon this journey of self-discovery, but I took it day by day. Months after moving to Maryland, I had a meeting with some family members to discuss my disappointment in and pain from how they treated me since I have been “out.” I was wishing for some comfort, but received a lot of bible rhetoric. This prompted me to delete a shit load of my family members from my Facebook and further widened the separation between me and my mother. This was a first step to taking care of me. The next step involved me constantly having to come to terms with choosing the family in my household against all odds. I realized that even after I proposed, I got extremely upset when only one or two people from my huge family congratulated or reached out to me. I was just beginning to understand that unfortunately this journey would mean fewer and fewer loved ones.

I learned how to create a family and community that serve my needs.

Though moving away provided the necessary separation for caring for myself and putting my household first, my wife and I are sometimes left secluded. However, what I learned in retrospect is how to put our family first. I learned how to love a woman through her flaws and all. I learned how to appreciate what is versus what I think it should be and create a family and community that serve my needs. I’m learning that love is about holding someone when they are broken, picking up the pieces together and weathering storms of unemployment, surgeries, family dysfunction, abandonment and more by being consistent and always showing up. I know that I still have more practice and more to learn, but the only way that I have learned it is by doing it.

I didn’t have many examples of the unconditional love that I needed as a child, but I work on loving my wife and myself so much, in hopes that it will come easy when we expand our family. We’ve been married for two and a half years, weathered many storms, but continue to put our family first. For the work we have done, we are rewarded with the family we always wanted, filled with unconditional love and support. It is by no means easy and we are not the best at it everyday, but we continue to show up and challenge ourselves to be better people, partners, lovers and supporters.

This is a love that I’ve been waiting for.

Shaneda is a wife, aunt, godmommy, sister and friend. She is currently a Ph.d student in sociology at the illustrious Howard University and her research focuses on black women activists’ self-care. She is an undercover poet, chef and yogini. Shaneda writes to empower and influence all women in love.

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