“Fish Out of Water”
It has been very difficult coming to Des Moines from Minnesota. Minnesota in my experience is much more progressive. Moving to Des Moines was very much like going seventy five years into the past, for me. I don’t want to disparage Des Moines because it has really gotten much better. But you don’t see people like me, other African American lesbians of a certain class, here. Being perceived as being weird has been, for me, very isolating. Now, in Minnesota, I could find my tribe. There were other similarly weird people there. My wife, of course, is one of those weird people, okay? But here, for weird people like myself, there is no air. We are fish out of water. There is no air. So they leave. I have befriended people throughout the years who could not stay and save themselves so I’ve found it far more difficult to befriend people because I knew it would be difficult for them to stay around. It’s been difficult, and it’s made me very reclusive.
Not only am I weird because of my sexuality and gender here in Des Moines, but I’m also weird because of my intelligence. That can either benefit you or hinder you. I’ve never been interested in institutionalized education, but I’ve always craved learning. I read everything. Several years ago I formed a partnership with some professors from Iowa State University and developed research on this bio-based building material. Ultimately the team fell apart because, to people who have academic expertise, I am a fish out of water. I have to work very closely with academia, but I don’t have the credentials, because I am a non-academic. I can do the work, and people see the work when I present it. But I don’t have the credibility.
One of the early challenges I had was visibility. If you grow up in a community of color, of black hued folks, African communities, they have red haired children. But Des Moines is not as diverse as other places, so people did not immediately recognize me as being the mother of my children, which was very difficult. That’s still a challenge with some places, but we have been visible and out and active all of my sons’ lives, so people can see us. When we were in the NICU I was concerned about the quality of care that my children were receiving because of the hostility, although veiled. The assumption was that if people knew you were gay, women would assume that you were somehow interested in them.
The whole notion that just by being in love with a woman and having a child with her that I somehow had designs on the nurses was just some crazy happening.
When the twins were little, Sandi and I had a family membership at the YMCA at the twin cities. When Sandi got her job at Drake we transferred down here and got a family membership. We went to the Y downtown and I had lost my card. The membership director was at the desk that day and we told them that we had a family membership and they went “how do you have a family membership?” Ultimately we were told we could not return to the Y because our family was not recognized, despite the fact that we had bought the membership. What we did was go to the Human Rights Commission and file a complaint. It took a number of years, but ultimately we were successful in forcing the Y to change their definition of family to include families like ours, as well as non-traditional households.