Our Family: Desiree and Vanessa
Our Family is a series that celebrates two-mommy families and delves into some of the challenges they face. The goal of the series is to depict same-sex parent families in a way that is authentic and dispels myths associated with same-sex childrearing. Desiree, a 33-year-old minister, gives us a glimpse of her family—her partner Vanessa, 34, and their daughters Shana and Grace, ages 11 and 6.*
ELIXHER: How do you define “family”?
DESIREE: A unit of people that love each other through thick and thin. A safe place.
ELIXHER: Tell us a bit about your family.
DESIREE: We are a family of four: my partner, our two girls and me. The 11-year-old is biologically my partner’s daughter from a previous marriage. The 6-year-old is mine biologically, also from a previous marriage. My partner Vanessa is beautiful, laid back, easy-going. She’s in the military. Me? Well, I’m the type A to the max type of person. I love to organize and get things done. I’ve been a minister for fifteen years and a Christian schoolteacher for ten. Our daughter Grace is very outgoing, free-spirited and sensitive. She loves to dance, sing, and be the center of attention. Shana loves to read and is very caring. She keeps her feelings to herself and can be moody at times. We live in Virginia.
ELIXHER: How long have you and your partner been together? And how did you know it was the “right” time to blend families?
DESIREE: We’ve been together for five years. Things didn’t quite start with the best timing for us at all. I was in the process of separating from my ex-husband and fell in love with Vanessa. She was and is my best friend. She had already been separated and then unfortunately became a widow before finalizing a divorce. If we were to do it again, we would definitely change the timing of everything but it is what it is and life goes on. Our love truly has been the glue and has helped us overcome obstacles that sometimes seem from hell.
ELIXHER: What was it like falling for your best friend?
DESIREE: Growing up, I never had the desire to be with a woman, so I never saw it coming. Vanessa, on the other hand, had already identified as bisexual. Our relationship shifted when we became emotionally connected. Then I started to desire being intimate with her. It freaked me out! [Laughs.] It took time, self-evaluation and understanding of self to help overcome that. It took becoming deaf to everything around me. Now I’m very happy and blessed that it happened. We had our great friendship as a foundation.
ELIXHER: What’s a typical day like for you and your family?
DESIREE: Vanessa is out the house by 6:30am while Shana gets up to get ready and is out by 7:30am. Next I’m waking up Grace and she is out by 8:45am. Then I’m off continuing my job search as well as maintaining the house. I typically try to go for a run between 7 and 7:30am Monday through Friday. Shana comes home at 3:45 and will start homework while Grace gets home at 4:15, the same time my partner gets home from work. We continue to work on homework and then eat dinner. We do showers and prayers then see how many marbles (that’s an incentive system we have) the girls earned for the day.
Vanessa and I then try to watch some TV, read or talk before our own bedtime. Sometimes I try to finish household chores. In the midst of this, we have a dog. So the dog is walked and fed throughout the day. Every Tuesday night we have family night where we make sure we have an easy dinner and homework is done early so we can spend an hour bonding. Everyone talks about the highlight of their week and the low point and then what they learned. We also quiz each other on a Bible verse that we are all studying during the week, along with a life principle.
ELIXHER: You mentioned earlier that your partner is in the military. What are the challenges you face with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still in place?
DESIREE: It’s been extremely challenging. I feel like we’re being robbed. We don’t get the same benefits. There are educational grants, medical and employment opportunities we don’t receive. We’re unable to go to family events. I’m not as giving of Vanessa. I believe in fighting for my country but if something happens to her, I wouldn’t even be recognized as her partner. She’s good enough to fight and die for everyone else’s rights but she’s not good enough to receive equal rights on our own soil.
ELIXHER: You’re a minister and you’ve worked as a teacher at a Christian school. Are you open about your sexuality? What has that journey been like?
DESIREE: Yes, I openly serve God and there’s no reason to hide my sexuality. I don’t feel like it’s something I need to announce, but if you’re connected to me, then you’ll know. I reconciled my faith and my sexuality by studying. That helped with the biblical aspect. I allowed myself to see another perspective—that was a long journey. It’s something I have to consistently deal with. Not everyone in my ministry agrees with same-sex relationships and there isn’t one way to address that. You have to consider who is speaking and whether speaking out will cause an argument or raise awareness. You must consider those factors on a case-by-case basis and ask yourself if this person is open.
ELIXHER: What advice do you have for other gay Christians?
DESIREE: Pray. Pray and seek out other people who are gay Christians. It’s such a discouraging and lonely place to be. You have to fight and allow yourself to meet other people. It’s therapeutic for your spirit.
ELIXHER: At what age and how did you explain to your kids that some families have two mommies and what was their response?
DESIREE: We thoroughly explained it to Shana when she was 10. We would have done so many things sooner. She was actually quite shocked. But since we have shared our hearts with her, things have been so much better. We had been living together for 2 years in what was crazy tension. We focused on explaining the fact that we love each other like a husband would love a wife and a woman would love a man…but that we are two women. She had questions about having babies and we explained the donor aspect.
Grace knew that my partner is like another mommy to her since, after all, she takes care of her just like her mommy. She knows she has her biological mom and another mom, and that we love each other very much. She has a hard time understanding that we are going to get married, as we have talked about that with both of them to see how they feel and make it a family discussion. She says that it’s funny because girls aren’t supposed to marry girls.
ELIXHER: Why didn’t you “come out” to the kids sooner?
DESIREE: I wish we came out sooner to our older daughter, Shana, because it really limited our relationship. She never saw me as a mother, only her mom’s best friend. We were trying to be so careful, trying to protect them. She just saw me as being overbearing and nosy, as someone trying to be her mother when they’re not. That was very confusing for her and ended up resulting in academic and behavioral problems. Now that we’re out, it’s like night and day.
We talked to other couples and read a lot of material on the subject before we did it. One key factor for me was how much you have to keep coming out to children. They need that constant exposure every day. You have to do what heterosexual couples would do like be affectionate–hug in front of your kids so they see that it’s very natural. Now our younger daughter will tell her friends at school that she has two mommies and her friends tell her that’s so cool!
ELIXHER: What has been the biggest challenge raising children as a same-sex couple?
DESIREE: Finding other lesbian couples with children so that our families can relate and provide support for one another. Our girls need other children to relate to as well as us.
ELIXHER: What has been the greatest gift?
DESIREE: The fact that we have God intertwined in our family through everything and we all love Him dearly and acknowledge Him in everything. He is our source! Besides that I would have to say the love that my partner and I have for one another. After all that we have been through…divorce, rejection, persecution, threats to custody, enormous amounts of legal debt, family drama, death…we truly have made it.
*Names have been changed.