Interview by Tia Williams
Our Family celebrates families led by Black trans and queer women. The series delves into some of the challenges and triumphs they face. ELIXHER recently had the opportunity to chat with Minnesota-based couple Shannon and Ngowo Nash-Miller about what family means to them, what it’s like being new parents, and more.
ELIXHER: How do you define family?
NGOWO: For me, when I think of family I don’t think just the immediate two people you see in front of me. But the larger queer community.
SHANNON: Chosen family is really big to us. You know, this family [Points to herself, Ngowo and their baby.] makes it interesting because before I had a kid it was still valuing chosen family. Now it feels normal. You choose the person you marry and then you have a kid. We’ve had some family kind of show up, but for the most part it’s chosen family.
ELIXHER: How long have you been together?
SHANNON: We switch. Sometimes it’s seven years, sometimes it’s eight.
NGOWO: I’ll go for eight because when we got married it was seven and that was a year ago.
ELIXHER: How did you first meet?
SHANNON: In the club.
NGOWO: At a social event. That was our go-to response.
SHANNON: At a lesbian social.
NGOWO: It was really the club.
ELIXHER: We heard that’s where a lot of people meet.
NGOWO: Yeah, it was at this club on Amsterdam [in Atlanta] called the Red Chair and they would have lesbian night on Saturday nights. This was going to be the last night that they were at this particular venue. I was like, “Alright, let me go in here and see what’s going on.” And I walk in there and I spotted Shannon.
SHANNON: Oh Lord. I thought we were having this magical moment of like, “Oh, we saw each other across the room and it was so sweet.” She was not checking for me, so I walked up to her.
NGOWO: If you know me, I’m a more reserved, calm kind of person. So she was with a group of girls and I’m thinking one of them could’ve been her girlfriend, right? I was kind of playing it safe. I was waiting, checking out the scene.
ELIXHER: That’s why you can’t go to the club in packs.
SHANNON: Well, I left the pack and went over to her. It didn’t really go like that. The first 10 minutes I kept saying her name wrong and she didn’t like that.
NGOWO: That’s something I’m a little sensitive about.
SHANNON: Don’t say her name wrong!
NGOWO: It’s really easy. Go. Wo. So she walks over to me and we start having a conversation. We left there and went to another club, then we left there and went to breakfast.
SHANNON: Oh, at RJ Thomas [an Atlanta grill]!
NGOWO: And the rest is history.
ELIXHER: Tell us about your family.
SHANNON: We live in Minnesota, Minneapolis.
SHANNON: It’s a suburb of Minneapolis. Yeah, Atlanta will always be home. It’s really hard to position ourselves outside of Atlanta but truth be told we’ve been here four years. We gotta start claiming it. Ngowo really loves her job.
NGOWO: I really do. It’s one of the first jobs where I feel valued and appreciated. Viewed as a creative thinker.
ELIXHER: You’re a graphic designer?
NGOWO: I’m a senior web designer.
SHANNON: Sometimes people think I take care of her but she makes way more money than me.
ELIXHER: Where do you work?
NGOWO: Best Buy Corporate as a Senior Web Designer.
SHANNON: I’m a professor at Minnesota State – Mankato.
ELIXHER: Is being a parent anything like you expected?
SHANNON & NGOWO: [In unison.] No! Not at all.
NGOWO: I knew from experience that parenting was a lot of work, but I had no idea how demanding this would be. I cannot tell you how tired I feel. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in like a year, since she was born. I love her to death, but it’s a lot of work.
SHANNON: For me, it’s better now. Working and having a lot of projects going on and now they’re slowing down, so trying to work really hard and work throughout the night makes it hard.
ELIXHER: Tell us about Isley.
SHANNON: [Cooing.] She’s so sweet. She’s not a big crier. She only cries when she wants something.
NGOWO: She’s a little spunky.
SHANNON: She’s spunky!
NGOWO: She likes to have her way. Believe it or not at the young, tender age of 11 months. She knows what she wants and she’ll go for it.
SHANNON: The daycare described her as feisty. She gets along well with other kids.
NGOWO: She’s very friendly though. When we’re out having dinner somewhere, if another kid comes by, Isley will do everything in her power to engage with the other kid.
SHANNON: We make sure to get her out. Not because we wanted to all the time, but it was kind of like, “We’re about to go, so you’re gonna go.” One thing that’s been true for us going into this was we wanted to maintain a lifestyle that involves traveling and eating out.
ELIXHER: There are pictures of her on a plane on Facebook.
SHANNON: Under one, she’s been to Chattanooga, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Boca Raton, Florida; and New Orleans, Louisiana. She does great on planes and goes out to eat a lot.
ELIXHER: How did you choose Isley’s name?
NGOWO: We knew we wanted a gender neutral name and so we actually put out a request to our larger Atlanta community to see if there were any suggestions. We couldn’t come up with a name we really liked. So Shannon’s cousin named her son, Braxton, and we absolutely loved it! We even threatened to use it. She made it a mission to find us a name. The first name we got from her was Daley. And then we were like, “Nah, we don’t really like Daley.” Then someone suggested Georgia.
SHANNON: I considered Georgia. I really thought long and hard about her name being Georgia. Anyway, she’s who she’s supposed to be.
ELIXHER: What are some adjustments you’ve had to make since becoming parents?
SHANNON: We can’t argue for long. Arguments are short now.
NGOWO: Very short-lived because this kid has to be fed, diapers got to be changed.
SHANNON: Being a professor, I like to work whenever I want to work. But in actuality that doesn’t support a family. So you actually have to stop. It’s different being a professor and how you have to show up.
NGOWO: And it does require a lot of planning. Meal-planning. Planning for the week.
ELIXHER: What has been the biggest challenge raising Isley as a same-sex couple?
NGOWO: At a professional level, I want to say that my job was very welcoming. They actually threw a shower for us when we were pregnant. They’re constantly asking about how Isley is doing. They have us bring her in because they want to see her.
SHANNON: A lot of people would ask us about that. We’re in Minnesota! We’re thinking about race and I’m not sure how you can structure this. We’re trying to make sure that we involve her in a lot of racial diversity. But we still have challenges. She’s in a daycare with children of color. Isley, truth be told, has a best friend at daycare. At daycare, we’re trying to setup a playdate with her best friend’s mom and she’s looking at us real sideways. So, while our daughters are really close and play together at daycare, us being a same-sex couple means that we may sometimes have to deal with a parent not wanting their kid to play with Isley because of us. And that’s devastating. We don’t talk about it a lot, but it is painful. Isley doesn’t know right now and at some point she will know.
Tia N. Williams is the woman behind The Buddha In Me, an agency of artists, speakers, poets, and activists based in Atlanta. The Buddha In Me specializes in providing quality programs to educate, enlighten, and entertain. Tia recently received her M.Ed. from the University of Georgia in College Student Affairs Administration.