As Told To Veronica R. Wells
Divorcing My Wife And Reconnecting With My Mother (Part 2)
In the first part of JaLissa's story, she shared the memory of coming out to her parents, telling them that she planned on marrying her college girlfriend. As her parents were making strides to be more accepting, JaLissa and her wife decided to divorce.
VW: I was telling my mom that I’m going to interview this girl who’s gay and her dad is a minister blah blah blah and I was like but I think she’s divorced now. And my mom was like, ‘She’s divorced from the woman?’ And I really think the assumption is that if two women get in a relationship, you’re not going to have the same type of problems you would with a man because there’s the gender difference and two women should be able to relate to one another on a different level. But that wasn’t the case for you?
No it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all. There’s a lot of stereotypes around what it will look like. Because we do assume. But think about it in the same way as sisters. Sisters fight all the damn time. So there is this whole idea that it’s just so easy. This whole idea that men ain’t shit and once you’re not in that place, it’s just so easy. But it’s not. You still have very bad patterns that you adapted from your family or from other relationships that you just emulate in your relationship and they’re not it.
I think part of me always knew that were things that--it stems from the part that I was telling you that we were so back and forth. A lot of the toxic parts of our relationship stem from there because we never really had boundaries. There was never a time where I stood up and said, ‘That was too much’ or ‘This is not enough.’ We were just getting by because we were trying to figure out what we were doing. And then once I started saying ‘I’m dating other people because this isn’t you and that’s ok.’ She wasn’t ok with that. And then it became a control thing and it became a trust thing.
I knew well before I graduated college that it wasn’t healthy. There was a night where I had started to date someone else and Natalie and I lived together in the on campus apartment with two other people. And I was at this other girl’s house and she like blew up my phone. On some like super crazy stuff. And I’m like, ‘I’m not answering this.’ And by the time I got back home, she had been drinking very heavily and was threatening to kill both of us. And so, after a lot of bargaining-- because I’m bargaining for my life and hers-- part of me was scared but I didn’t know that it was scary at that time. I just thought that it was right. I thought that us being together and me loving her could save her from all of those problems.
We pretty much were together again for the rest of that year. And then we took a break when I was a senior because she had graduated and moved to D.C. at that point and I was like, ‘Oo I’m a senior. It’s college Ima just do me.’ And so we got back together and I moved to Tulsa. It still...there was a lot of...I just still didn’t trust her and I found out she was still cheating and a couple of other things. There was never really a time when it was just all good.
And again, I thought that marriage would fix it. I thought that once we decided to commit...a girlfriend title, wasn’t, in my mind, strong enough to make her commit. And so I was like 'Welp if we get married, surely...’ A lot of straight couples do this too. Or ‘If I have his baby, surely this will be enough.’ But it’s not. It has nothing to do with that. And so even when we were engaged, she cheated on me, we broke up for a minute, a hot minute and then it was like, ‘You know what I forgive you. It’s okay. It’s okay.’ It was so much ‘it’s okay’ but it wasn’t. And so I never really---even though I knew that it wasn’t the most healthy choice, I never really made the decision to let it go or move on.
Did a part of you feel like you fought so hard for this relationship that you had to make it work?
Yup. I put so much--And again, remember, at this point, I had come back out right before we got engaged, we had been talking about getting married. We didn’t make formal plans to get engaged but when I came out to my family and I told her their reaction-- when I came back out and also announced that we were thinking about getting married--I think for her, it was like, ‘Oh shit. I really do have to marry this girl because her mom is tripping and she’s about to lose her whole family.’ And for me, that whole ‘me and you against the world’ became true but in a nightmarish way. Then it was ‘Well, we have to do this because I done told my momma.’ I had put so much energy into it and I had lost so much and we were going to make it work or so we thought.
So we were married about a year and a half. The first few months, [my parents and i] didn’t really talk. We were talking more than we were--because for a while we just didn’t actually talk. I went from talking to my mother 2-3 times a day to just not dialing her number. Once we got married, I was very clear in the meeting that we had that there was no more just me coming to Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter. Like, if we couldn’t come, they just would not see me on those days. And holidays, as with most families, are always this big time. And so that first Thanksgiving that we were married, I didn’t go home because we weren’t invited. And they were just like, ‘Oh ok, she’s for real.’
They Facetimed, we chatted a minute but it wasn’t like normal. And then the next year, on my anniversary, my dad text both of us. He never said ‘Happy Anniversary.’ but he wrote,‘Thinking about you two on this special day.’ I was like ‘Oh ok, that was nice.’ We got something here, right? We’ll take it.' And then for Christmas, we were invited, we went and my mom actually bought her a Christmas gift. She bought her the same gift that all the daughter-in-laws got. And I was like ‘Oh ok, this is good.’ Again, it still wasn’t...like my parents came to visit us and they stayed in a hotel. Which is so not like my family. They always stayed with me. So I was happy that they came and we still hung out and we still did some stuff but they weren’t completely ok so they stayed elsewhere. And my dad even told me, ‘You know, give your mom some time. At least she’s here.’ And I was like, ‘You know what I can accept that.’ At least they came to see me but she’s just not ready. So we were talking more. It just wasn’t anywhere near where it was.
So then when I called to tell my mom that it was over, she just said ‘I’m sorry.’ And it felt so much more than just like ‘I’m sorry that it’s over. It was almost like a I’m just sorry.’ I could just feel her pain in knowing that I had been going through this, at this point, for six years and that we never had the chance to just be mother and daughter and for her to just talk me through some of these situations. It came down to the fact where it’s 3 in the morning and I’m leaving my house a broken mess because we just decided our marriage was over.
You know we’ve [my mother and I] never explicitly just sat down and said this is where I was when all of this happened. But we’ve done a great job of addressing it in a roundabout way. Which, I think for me, part of that was--I’ve been ok with that because I’ve completely forgiven them and I’ve completely been able to move on but looking back on that I can remember how painful it was. And it still doesn’t feel comfortable because I remember. And so we’ve done a lot of sharing gratitude for our relationship being healed. We’ve talked about the healing but we’ve never talked about the brokenness of it all. She has apologized. My parents both have apologized in their own way. But it’s never been an explicit conversation. And at this point, I don’t really think that I want that or that it’s necessary.
The Black Church is a huge part of your story but to me what’s so interesting about your story is that you’re going through all this but you never lost faith in God. What do you think is the reason for that?
I think it was really stressed to me that I had to have my own relationship with God. And part of that was because I kind of just was not about doing things just because that’s what we were supposed to do. So I did question a lot growing up. And not just religion but I questioned ‘Why we didn’t use the front door?’ or ‘Why we didn’t sit in the front living room? That’s stupid We have a whole living room of furniture why aren’t we sitting in here?’ So I never really took the faith because it was passed down to me. I mean, I did. But I also took it because it felt right. Like I felt comfort in-- first it was this God that they had shown me but then it was this God that I started to learn for myself in this very personal faith that I had. And it was very different. Part of that I didn’t feel comfortable in my family’s church was because we weren’t a praise and worship style church. For a while we had really old people so we were singing hymns and I wanted to sing--like what would be Travis Green now. I wanted that kind of worship and I was vocal about that. That’s what felt right to me. So when I went to college and I was in gospel choir, that kind of transformed my faith because I was able to meet God in this way that was real to me and it wasn’t just because my mom and dad told me that ‘This is what you do.’ So I think that they had a good part in that for sure, in making this a very personal thing. But they of course would obviously feed me the foundational pieces they believed.
I will say that I was very fortunate in that I never can remember hearing homosexual bashing. I heard messages of intolerance but I don’t remember my dad ever going on those rants that we often hear in the Black church. Now, I do remember dinner conversations about so-so’s choir director and his feminine ways and how he swishes across the choir stands. And I remember having a couple of older cousins who were gay and everybody just being hush hush about it.
I don’t think that the Black church is doing justice at all to this love and tolerance message. I don’t even want to say tolerance. This love and acceptance message. Because we can tolerate all day but that’s not what’s going to bring people wholeness. We need to accept people where they are and who they are. But after having been exposed to the same group in college and to hear just the hate for the gay community coming from Black people… Even when I first came out to my friends, my statement was, ‘I was molested so I’m gay.’ And I equated those two things for a long time. Like I was gay because I was molested. And it took me many years to get back to ‘Well, yes I was molested but I don’t really think those things are connected.’ So I think the Black Church--we are still a long way from preaching equality. I think we’ve made some strides.
Even in my own family I see. I have a brother that’s a pastor now and I see way more acceptance. We have conversations and it’s like, ‘I don’t even know if homosexuality is wrong anymore.’ And it’s like ‘Wow, look at y’all. It only took ten years...but whatever.’ And I think that as people just become educated and I think we’re developing more of conscience. People are starting to read the Bible as a whole and not just pick out the pieces. But I still think if somebody gets thrown under the bus, it’s the Black gay community. The Black Church trampled on women for so many years and they’re still doing it in many ways. But for a lot of years it was socially acceptable to trample on the gay community so then that’s where the energy went. And now there are so many people who are fighting against religion. And I see articles all the time about why the Black Church is losing millennials. And one of the main reasons is how we treat people.
What would you want to say to a young, Black girl who might herself in the same situation as you, growing up in the church feeling like maybe something is wrong with her because of something like her sexuality?
I would tell her that she’s perfect and that there is a space for her and there is love for her and she can, if it’s not her blood family-- she can create a community that’s beautiful and loving and filled with good energy. And most of all, I think that what I would say--and I wish someone had said it to me before I tried to kill myself for the first and second time-- is that she’s not alone. It’s lonely and she might feel trapped but she’s not alone. There are many people who don’t even know her name that are rooting for her and hoping that one day they can meet and that they can help each other grow and move through life.