If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
- Audre Lorde
Not long after women are born, we find ourselves gaining awareness of our consciousness as we are somehow already walking down the path that the world has predetermined for us. We are peppered with images of “happily ever after” with the man of our dreams from our earliest moments of consciousness. As long as we can figure out how to give a pretty smile, be polite, and check the boxes offered to us, everything is supposed to work out just fine. But what about those of us whose dreams look just a little bit different?
Three and a half decades ago, two young girls were born on opposite sides of the country. Despite the fact that they wouldn’t meet for years, their paths toward each other started to take a similar form.
Our families truly wanted the best for their daughters. And in the 1980’s, being a good parent of a daughter meant that you joined a church, and you taught your daughter the importance of purity. Purity culture dictated everything about us- the clothes we wore, the media we consumed, and who we were able to spend time around. It taught us that women were to be subservient to men. We learned about the “sins of the flesh” and that “the heart is deceitful above all things.” Consequently, we were to ignore our own desires, and follow the direction of the those leading our church.
As you might imagine, this sort of indoctrination did not celebrate critical thinking or self-exploration. If we were to develop as good, God-fearing women, we would follow the path set before us which was the only path to happiness. And this path definitely did not include being queer.
Early on, we both noticed feeling much more drawn to women than men. Having friendships with girls that felt much more intense than the friendships of our peers. Being enchanted by strong, captivating women. And not feeling the same interest in dating boys as many of our then female friends experienced.
We were surrounded by messages from church telling us that queer people were disgusting and unnatural. That they were destined for hell. We watched our queer friends who dared to be honest about their sexuality be physically beaten at home and school - disowned, and kicked out of their houses. We saw them being targeted at school- having their tires slashed, having their cars run off the road, and being verbally and physically attacked by their peers. Worst of all, we didn’t know any queer adults who could help us figure out how to navigate what we were feeling. So, we attempted to ignore it.
Eventually we both followed the path blazed for us by society as we understood it - we kept our heads down, did what we were told in order to survive, and married men. All while trying to suppress a deep understanding that something wasn’t right… something was missing. We assumed there was something wrong with us- maybe we were broken? By all the standards we knew, we had done it! We were young, married, and successful! So why weren’t we happy? Where was the fulfillment that was promised?
Eight years ago, we met through work. There was an instant charge between us- something special that neither of them had felt before. Neither of us knew what it was, but we knew that we craved being around one another. Over the next several years, our friendship grew into something special. We were in constant communication--texting and talking all day every day. We became each other’s support and confidant. And at the same time we were both separately realizing that we were incredibly unfulfilled in our marriages. That we had both found good men, and had good lives, and still could not make ourselves feel anything.
One night, there was a text exchange that confirmed what we had both been feeling- there was something more between us than friendship. We knew, within days, that we would have to completely walk away from our old identities to follow what we knew to be true. However, the truth was undeniable, and the truth is- we are supposed to be together.
We knew that we would have to burn down our lives as we knew them to move toward our truth. We would have to redefine ourselves, answer painful questions, lose relationships with friends and family members, and step away from the privileges we had experienced when we were in straight relationships. This was going to be one of the most difficult things both of us had ever endured. But, once we knew, we knew. It was not a question of if, only of how.
Learning to be together has taken a LOT of unlearning of old, problematic thinking. We have had countless difficult conversations with loved ones. We’ve been shamed, rejected, and insulted on more occasions than we can count. All due to us choosing one another and refusing to continue to conform to others’ definition of us. Many of these obstacles nearly broke us- individually and as a couple.
However, through countless hours of conversation and counseling, we have learned to come together in hardship. To choose each other above all else every single day. To navigate the deeply seated, insidious voice of internalized homophobia that leads to a world of anxiety and insecurity. And most importantly, to stand strong in ourselves despite the pressure of the outside world.
We have also found that we gained more than we lost. We’ve learned who are truly our unconditional supports. We’ve stepped away from people-pleasing and learned to set kind but firm boundaries. More than that, we’ve learned to practice true authenticity.
The path to today has sometimes been grueling. But it has also been filled with priceless moments of love and connection that is deeper than we ever thought we could know. It’s certainly not been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it.
Learning to stand in our truth is the most powerful thing we could have ever chosen to do, for ourselves as individuals and our daughter. Our future is us and our family. The rest is ancillary.
Article by Rachel Johnson-Yates and Kristina Johnson-Yates; both photographed by Marissa and Rui of Photographers in Hawaii