TNF: Tell me about your family.
Sara: We are married. June 21st 2002 we were married in a solstice service at a Methodist church here in Montpelier. Our pastor was able to perform the service because, on paper, we were husband and wife. In fact, since we live in VT, we actually had to go through the humiliation of being denied a civil union license because my partner, Danielle, is transgender and her birth certificate still reads “male” though her driver’s license etc… does not. Quirky PA law (she is from Beaver County, PA – hahaha! – totally true) Anyway, she signed on the groom line and we have been legally married for 11 years.
TNF: How did you meet your wife?
Sara: Danielle worked with my Mom as part of a care team for the mentally ill. This was prior to Danielle’s transition, so I knew my present partner as “Dan” first. We spent holidays together for years as my mother would have Dan carry the pager for the clients and she would provide the feast for us (her four kids and families) and Dan would get to come. We became friends and eventually, when Dan transitioned to Danielle, our family was there to support her.
TNF: Do you feel different from other families? If so, how so?
Sara: Let me count the ways… two women heading the household, one of us transgender, four kids from a previous marriage so there is all the step stuff that goes along with that (though I do get along well with my ex and his wife and her kids). Also, Grace, our youngest was adopted at the age of five (with my ex husband) but my husband left before she had been home a year, so Danielle is truly her other parent, though she does have a good relationship with her Dad too.
The thing I miss the most though, if I am to be truly honest, is the social currency I had as a heterosexual. It is all about the little things. My husband and I would go to a restaurant with our children and older couples would smile and nod at us and tell us how well our children behaved. At parent conferences, we were assumed “normal” because we were heterosexual and when Danielle and I attend, it is clear that we need to demonstrate our normalcy – I don’t know how it is communicated, but it really is palpable. As a special educator, I don’t have a picture of Danielle on the wall in my office – just the kids. Not because I was told that it wasn’t OK by anyone and really everyone would say “of course it is fine” – but I know that for some parents, it would only cause uncertainty and fear and sometimes, I just don’t feel like being the poster child for this whole gay, transgender thing.
TNF: Where do you live? Is it tough being a gay couple where you live? Do you feel accepted?
Sara: We live in Vermont and it is the best place in the US to live – it is where the whole movement started and Danielle and I have been truly blessed to have a front seat to the politics of change. We were here when civil unions passed – the first legislation of its kind. No, not marriage, but a start. We literally sat in the well of the House of Representatives when Marriage passed by one vote! And so, in a sense, I do feel accepted. But again, it is the little things. For example, we wanted to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary at our Episcopal church (a very welcoming community) but we’re not going to be allowed to use the Book of Common Prayer to do so because of anti-gay rules with the higher ups. There is a separate but equal service for the gays. Yeah. I feel like the little things are sometimes worse because outright bigotry is easier to deal with because it is right there on the surface and you can reject it, but this other stuff – the institutional lip service of acceptance when deep down there is still a lurking homophobia and you end up knowing clearly that your place at the table is provisional. Don’t get uppity or back out on the street you will go.
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Sara: In a word, everything. They are our legacy. I leave the world a better place for having journeyed alongside these four souls. Now that they are all officially adults (last one just left for college) I can really see the great people they have become. I would choose to hang out with them I think. They are really diverse – I have a country music loving daugher (Annalise) who is engaged to a sweet guy in the military, a son (Alexander) who is a writer/bartender who is headed for adventures in San Francisco but spent his college years racing cars, another son (Christopher) is a talented singer/songwriter who is raising a son on his own and maintaining his sanity and sense of humor, and a daughter (Grace) who is currently taking Boston by storm but whose heart is in Nicaragua with a non profit groups she works with… they are compassionate, funny, wise people with plenty of quirks and charm. Not perfect, mind you, but we definitely support each other and move forward together on the journey.
..Thank you Sara and Danielle for sharing your family story.