Couples Chronicles — Interview 27
To Meet Both of Our Dreams
First published in June 1989
© 1999, Demian
Carol and Michele duBois, 30 and 28, started dating 4-½ years ago, and count that as the beginning of their relationship. A year later they made a commitment that includes totally sharing their finances. Then, after trying for 11 months, one of them conceived a child through alternative insemination by anonymous donor. Going through a doctor for fresh sperm and fertility drugs brought the cost of their attempts to $300 per month. Insurance covered part of the process until insurers learned that the sperm was not from a husband. The boy, Evan Nicholas, is now 13 months old [in 1989]. Carol and Michele jointly own a home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Carol, a software specialist, first came to Colorado Springs while singing with the New Freedom Evangelistic Team, a group that travels throughout the US and Canada visiting mostly gay churches. Michele, who Carol calls Shellie, is a programmer-analyst.
What did you first think of each other?
Michele: We were on our way to a valentine’s …?
Carol: No, an early Halloween party.
Michele: October 15, 1984. Our cars were unreliable, so we called the party’s organizer for a ride. She didn’t tell us she was giving a ride to anyone else.
Carol: When I ducked my head down to get in the car, I nearly ran right into her.
Michele: I thought, “Oh my God, she’s cute! And if she’s cute, she can’t have a brain in her head.” I was amazed I thought that stereotype because I’m very much a feminist.
Carol: She thought I was straight.
Michele: Yes, well Carol is very fem.
Carol: We got to talking there in the back seat and continued all night. We were enthralled with each other. The first thing that impressed one with the other was that we both knew what a VAX was [a type of computer].
Michele: We liked each other and started dating. I wanted to commit immediately, she took a year.
Carol: I had broken up with somebody about six months before meeting Shellie, and I had just started looking at women again. I wasn’t ready to make any long-term commitment.
Shellie was the best thing that ever happened to me. We spent six days of the week together.
Michele: Which wasn’t enough for me.
Carol: And this was real dating. Holding hands was a “big thing.” I thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Michele: I felt the same. I liked the love and warmth that Carol exuded.
Did you both want children?
Michele: It was important to Carol. I had thought about it in previous relationships, but never seriously. I had made a decision when I was 11 that I wasn’t going to have kids, but that was more so I’d stay career-minded.
Carol: Plus, when she found out she was a lesbian she thought she didn’t have a chance to have kids.
Michele: Yes, it was like, well, unless parthenogenesis does exist, so much for trying to have babies.
Carol: When I realized I was a lesbian, I just figured I’ve got to find another way to do this and never gave up the idea.
When did you know you were gay?
Carol: When I was 18. I became attracted to one of my dorm mates and luckily she happened to be attracted to me.
Michele: And you called yourself bisexual the first year.
Carol: A couple of years actually, until somebody asked me “Why bisexual, rather than gay?” Looking back, I realized I had been attracted to 20 million women and one man.
Michele: I came out in high school with my best friend, who I knew since kindergarten. We were 17 when we started sleeping together. One night, we declared ourselves married.
We convinced our parents that it was O.K. to have sleep-overs, which became more physical with hugging and eventually kissing and so on. It took us a long time to add little bits.
We didn’t admit to ourselves we were lesbian until we were 18, about 11 months into our sleeping together, when we read a positive article on the church and homosexuality. Everything we’d read before was very anti-gay and we didn’t identify with those images of wretched people.
Where and how were you raised?
Michele: I was raised mostly in Great Falls, Montana, and in Colorado Springs. My parents are Nazerine, a very fundamentalist faith, and my father is a minister.
Carol: Extremely fundamentalist. Some of the Nazerines don’t believe in dancing, wearing jewelry …
Michele: … having the opposite sex in the same swimming pool …
Carol: … seeing a movie …
Michele: … playing cards, and women can’t wear sleeveless dresses. Some of the elements are pretty radical.
My parents were in and out so far as how strongly they identified with the church’s rules. That made it weird. I never knew where my parents stood.
In the church’s 1976 manual there is a paragraph that begins “We recognize the depth of perversion which leads to homosexual acts.” It goes on from there to get worse. I wasn’t homosexual, I wasn’t perverted. I was a normal person.
While my parent’s church wasn’t supportive, my best friend and I did go to her Methodist minister, who was. He didn’t use the word “gay” because he knew we weren’t ready to deal with what was going on.
Carol: My background is a lot different from Shellie’s. My blood family’s roots are in the South and the Ozarks; places like Arkansas, Missouri and Alabama.
I was raised in Southern California by an atheist father and a Catholic mother. At the time, I didn’t know her religion because she had stopped going to church because of my father. I was encouraged to go to any church I wanted and became a Christian when I was 17.
I was luckily free of a lot of prejudice when I realized I was a lesbian. I used the word “lesbian” the first night I was attracted to this other woman.
Once I figured out I was gay, I started seeing the oppression around and there weren’t a lot of resources available. Also, it was difficult for me to go to them because I still had picked up prejudice against gay people as I was growing up. I was surprised the first time I went to MCC that they were actually singing Christian songs. It took a while of being in the gay community before I was able to dissipate those prejudices.
Do your parents support you being gay and your relationship?
Carol: My father was never a very involved parent. My mom now is really supportive, she’s absolutely wonderful. It took her a while. She was judgmental at first, then a year or two later she came around.
Her first reaction when I told her we were going to have kids was “How can you bring a child into that environment?” By the time we were getting ready to get pregnant, she was very supportive. She has come out to see us three or four times and is very supportive of our future plans. She’s been wonderful.
Michele: A very involved grandmother.
When I first came out, at 18, my father volunteered to “cure” me of my lesbianism by having sex with me. Fortunately, I’d had some exposure to the gay community and had heard of this kind of thing happening. This man was a licensed clergy and this was his reaction!
My mother learned I was a lesbian when I was 19. My lover’s step-father had found out about our relationship and made threatening phone calls to my parents. He said he was going to make sure they never worked again in Montana, and was going to try to run my parents out of town if they didn’t get their awful daughter away from his step-daughter.
Neither of my parents really approve or like my coming out, but my mother has said that if this is what I was going to do then they were going to accept me.
Carol: They came out for our wedding, and her mother gave us some wonderful hand-made engagement gifts.
Michele: They are definitely trying.
There was a two-year period during which I had nothing to do with them. When they didn’t invite the woman I was living with to my sister’s high school graduation, I told them that if they couldn’t invite the person who I considered my significant other, then they weren’t inviting me as who I am. They were inviting their fantasy of me.
I eventually contacted them and they were really glad that I did.
How many previous significant relationships have you had?
Michele: I’ve had two, each lasting two years.
Carol: I’ve had one, lasting nine months.
Michele: We’ve not had any significant relationships with men.
Are you “monogamous?”
Michele: We’re very, very monogamous.
I tried an open relationship once. It closed itself real fast because we broke up over that issue. My experience taught me that while in theory it sounds wonderful, in practice that’s not how I can live.
Each of us said from the outset that we were monogamous.
Did one of you change your last name?
Michele: We have both changed our names. My birth name is Shellie Kaye Kelley.
Carol: She hated it.
Michele: Having a rhyming name was not a thrill.
Carol: My birth name is Carol Anne Johns. When Shellie suggested we change our names when we got married, I thought it a great idea. At the time I was afraid of loosing my identity, so I told her I’d hyphenate but not get rid of my name entirely.
Michele: Hyphenating would have done me no good — it would still rhyme — so at our Holy Union I changed my last name to Johns. That is the last name our son is born with.
Carol: This year we both changed to duBois. It was a very good move.
Michele: We wanted to change to something not our birth names, something neutral.
Carol: We watched all the credits of TV shows and movies, and read the telephone book. Shellie wanted a nature name.
Michele: We considered things like Blackhawk, Wolf and Fox.
Carol: She liked a name in my family history: duBois (pronounced do-bwah, only they pronounced it doo-boys). It means “of the woods,” which goes along with the nature thing that Shellie wanted. I liked it because it was French and it was the name of my favorite grandmother’s favorite grandmother.
Which of you is Evan’s birth parent?
Michele: We don’t like to answer that question if we feel that somebody just wants to know who’s the real parent. We don’t feel that way about this interview, but often we play that response.
Carol: With straight people, mostly.
I gave birth to Evan. Shellie is going to take her turn. When Evan is about three we’ll have another child.
Michele: It’s important for me to feel equal in our relationship and to participate as fully as I am able.
My mother is so invested in the concept of birth parents and to whom the child is genetically related.
Carol: We made it very clear to Shellie’s parents that this is their grandchild, and if they want to see the next grandchild, they had better treat Evan as their grandchild. They have been good about sending Evan stuff, acknowledging birthdays and Christmas, and they have come out to see us.
What does Evan call you?
Carol: He’s supposed to call her Mumsie and me Mama, but what are his first words? “Cat! Cat!” We have three cats. He loves them and the first four words he ever spoke …
Michele: … were in reference to them …
Carol: … and then finally he said Mama.
Michele: And mama is interchangeable for both of us. Actually, he’s starting to make some differentiation now. He’s saying mummie or mommie.
Carol: We love the little kid. He’s wonderful.
We encourage any gay folks out there that want to become parents and who think they’d be good parents to go for it, through adoption, surrogacy or insemination.
Michele: But if you have reservations, explore them before committing to a child.
Carol: Children are hard work. Just like with heterosexual parents, it can put a big strain on the relationship. You want to make sure your relationship is stable.
Has it strained your relationship?
Michele: The communication stuff. We’ve don’t get to spend as much time just talking whenever we want to.
Carol: We have to remind ourselves to get a babysitter every now and then so we can have time for just the two of us.
Michele: In the last year-and-a-half we’ve become more isolated from the gay community. We have socialized more with our straight friends because they are having babies too. Babies have been our 100 percent focus.
Are you out at work?
Carol: We are both out at work. My company has her listed as my spouse. She comes to all the spousal events.
Michele: With my work, I hold a security clearance. I told them I was a lesbian in my initial interview so I wouldn’t fear losing the clearance or my job.
When Carol was pregnant I wanted people to know that I was taking a vacation in nine months and there was nothing they could do to keep me during that time. I got about a month off.
Carol: They treated her like any non-pregnant parent. Also, our entire medical team was extremely supportive. The doctors and staff at the Catholic hospital listed me as married, with Shellie as my spouse and emergency contact.
Michele: We knew they were well aware of our relationship when our friend, who works in the blood lab, came down and said that she had heard the lesbians were down there giving birth.
Carol: She figured it must be us!
Does your workplace have benefits for non-married partners?
Carol: My company runs a program called Valuing Differences, which promotes keeping prejudices out of the workplace and working together in harmony. The idea is to value the contributions made by everyone; their differences help them become better workers. Hiring, firing and promotions are protected from discrimination. You can’t even tell jokes that are anti-gay.
They are trying to get the benefits to be equal and I am working on some benefits right now with personnel. They haven’t been faced with people who are willing to come out and give them a situation that wasn’t just theoretical. The problem is that my company has to work with their insurance company.
Michele: A couple of years ago I approached my company, a private defense contractor, to have Carol and any future children covered under my insurance. They said the insurance company would not cover any person not legally married to me and would only cover children if they were my birth children or if I adopted them. I was disappointed, but I’d like to pursue it again now that I know my company is self-insured; the insurance company only runs the insurance program for them.
Have there been any difficult areas in your relationship?
Carol: Not very many.
Michele: We talk out most things pretty easily.
Carol: Usually before they get to any kind of major point.
What kinds of major points?
Carol: We have different concepts of religion.
Michele: I am hot and cold on Christianity and organized religion. It changes week to week, year to year.
Carol: I’m a very strong Christian. She became a Christian right after we got together. I didn’t realize that she wasn’t when we got together.
Michele: At the time, I decided to return to Christianity because it felt real good to me.
Carol: She has been struggling with this issue and I don’t think anything has been resolved in her mind.
Michele: It was a difficult issue for her when I decided I didn’t know what I believed.
Carol: She’s exploring and I’m learning not to confine her to my ideas of religion and belief.
Michele: Family size has also been a difficult issue. Carol, who is an only child, wants a house-full of kids really badly. I think two is more than enough.
Have you ever sought counseling for any conflicts?
Carol: We’ve both gone to therapy at one time or another and if we ever needed to, we’d go to couples therapy.
Michele: If our kids or the family ever need counseling, we are open to it.
Carol: We are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure personal growth for ourselves, our children and our relationship.
Have you drawn legal documents?
Michele: We have nomination for guardianship, wills …
Carol: … durable power of attorney …
Michele: … and a document for the baby which allows me to have full rights with schools and hospitals when Carol’s not available.
Carol: There are not a lot of discrepancies in the way that we think about important issues. We are in agreement about things like if we were to (God forbid) break up, how the property would be divided, and the fact that we would share custody of Evan and any other children we had.
Michele: That’s not in a written agreement and I know it should be.
Carol: Technically it should be.
What do you see as the future of your relationship?
Carol & Michele: Being old …
Michele: … ladies, rocking our grandkids or great-grandkids.
Carol: We hope that at least one of our kids will want to have kids themselves.
Michele: If not, there’s always great-nieces and nephews.
Carol: Her sisters have told us that if anything happened to them, they’d like us to raise their kids, which is wonderful.
Michele: We plan to work on our commitment and our relationship for each other and for the family we have. We don’t treat this as a throw-away relationship.
Carol: We manage to do very well and we’re very happy with each other.
Shellie would like to teach math some day. I’d love to have a bunch of land with some horses on it. We’ll achieve each other’s goals as we go along because that makes the other person happy …
Michele: … just figuring how to meet both of our dreams.