Tammy & Lisa - #blessed
I met and fell in love with Lisa (the cutie in the scarf) and Tammy (sporting the floral print) last year. Lisa and I met at a workshop and one of the first things she joked about was the "gay agenda." In her words, "The gay agenda looks like grocery shopping with my wife. That's the true gay agenda." Naturally, we hit it off right away. Since our first encounter, Tammy and Lisa have become role models and family for me as well as many others. I can't wait to share their story with you!
Name: Lisa Heilig
Hometown: Davie, FL for Lisa
Work: Resource Development Specialist, Metropolitan Community Churches
What is your favorite book? The Color Purple
How do you identify? Bisexual/queer
Do you have any favorite queer resources? As a resource specialist, I have many, but personally, I regularly turn to Autostraddle for fun!
Name: Tammy Johnson
Hometown: I don't have one
Work: Collection Management Librarian, Columbia Theological Seminary
What is your favorite book? Linden Hills
How do you identify? Queer
Do you have any favorite queer resources? The Lesbian Herstory Archives
What would your couple hashtag be? #blessedtobelongtoeachother
L - This is 23 years of history together. You might want to just dive right in.
How did you meet?
T - We met in church.
L - That’s where you meet all the good girls and the bad ones too!
Tell me more!
T - We were both attending an MCC church that no longer exists. We hit it off. She was in seminary and I was recently out of the military. So, we became friends.
L - Yeah. We were friends for two years before we ever thought about anything romantic.
T - I was dating a lot of people, a lot. I didn’t want to be tied down to anyone.
L - But I chased her until I caught her.
T - I remember exactly when she caught me. We were walking down the quad at Emory and she was talking about who she was going to see in January and I was so pissed off. I was like, “Wait a minute, I love this woman. What the hell is going on? She’s got a date?”
L - I knew before then - back in November. I was in my third year of seminary and the pastor asked me to guest preach and lead communion. I had never celebrated communion in that church and Tammy was a deacon.
T - Yeah, I thought I was going to go the whole nine yards and be ordained and everything.
L - So we met at the church and she showed me where everything went. And I swear, she was standing behind the communion table and - this is the god’s honest truth - there was a light surrounding her and I was like, “Oh my god.”
Tell me about your first date.
L - There wasn’t a date really, just a transition.
T - But I remember when everyone found out.
L - We were trying to keep it quiet. I had just been in a break up with someone in the church.
T - And I had been through a slight break up as well.
L - So we were trying to keep it to ourselves. We went to a restaurant that we thought no one else would be at, but the pastor of the church was there and there was no way around it. It was all over our faces and then everyone else found out.
Since then it’s been you and me, babe.
T - That’s us.
How did your families respond?
L - My family met Tammy at my graduation. Tammy was just a person I was in a serious relationship with. They really liked her. We didn’t say anything about our relationship, but I mean they knew!
T - They’ve always been supportive of us. It’s not like I can go tell my mother, “Oh, I broke up with Lisa.” I think the first thing she would say is, “Why?” Then she would adopt Lisa over me.
L - Same!
T - She’s always been really supportive. Initially, I started dating women around 14-15 years old. I didn’t officially come out back then. I would occasionally date guys and even went to prom with a guy, but then would go see my girlfriend after those kinds of things.
One time I was home for the summer and my brother said, “You’re nothing but a dyke,” and my mother jumped in and said, “People are people and its none of your business!” Then, when I got in the army, I officially said, “Yeah, I’m queer” to my mom and she said, “Yeah, I know.” I never came out to the rest of the family. They were used to seeing me with women and they just knew.
Did you serve during the time of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?
T - Yeah, I mean, it was problematic but if they asked me I would say “No.” One time there was a situation where they started checking rooms and I had this woman spending the night. But I was prepared. We had the other bed already messed up, so what could they say? A lot of people got in trouble that night, but I wasn’t one of them.
You’re a biracial couple, let’s talk about that.
T - Ahhhh
L - Oh god.
So, between the two of us, up until recently, she has been the most educated. She has two masters degrees, not that education has anything to do with it, but we’ll go in stores and I’ll watch them follow her around in a store.
T - Yeah. We’ll all be in a store and they circle around me.
L – One time, we were in Florida driving back from Saint Augustine and our son was with us. He was 8 years old at that point. We stopped at a McDonald’s. When we walked in, you could just feel everybody stop and look at us. And I mean, nobody had a white sheet…
T - … but we were not welcomed. We got the Happy Meal and got out of there. We didn’t even get ourselves something to eat. We just got him something to eat and left.
L - I have to say, my eyes are open more now. One time, I was driving through rural Delaware (of all places) and the person I happened to be with was a female African American colleague. She got pulled over for DWD (driving while black) while I was in the car and I will swear to this day that she was not speeding.
Tell me about your son.
L - He’s my biological son; he looks like me but acts like her. When we started dating, he was five years old. So I was really cautious. You know, I’m not just going to introduce anyone to my son. They actually got along pretty much as soon as we started dating. Tammy and I have similar values about family and children. I think that’s one of the things that have kept us together for so long. Family is important to us.
Tell me about co-parenting.
L - Here’s a little-known fact, Tammy was a dance mom.
T - Yeah I was. But I wasn’t a typical dance mom.
L - Our son was a dancer until he injured his back. During that time, I was working two jobs - a social service job and a minister job - so Tammy took on carpool duty.
T - I mainly worked behind the scenes with sets and what not.
As far as co-parenting went, I tried to come off as the bad cop.
L - No no no, here’s the thing about Tammy. You would think that Sergeant Johnson would be the badass, but when it came down to it, I was the enforcer.
T - Yeah…
L - Tammy would just yell and when she was through it, it was done, but with me there would be consequences. It’s also worth mentioning that we always consulted one another for the big things. And again, we have very similar values.
I believe our values have come through to our son as well. He’s an assistant manager at a coffee shop now and one of his big interests is sustainability.
He’s also really concerned that everyone is treated fairly. He won’t put up with anyone treating anyone else unfairly. He’s been known to ask customers to leave his coffee shop if they’re harassing women.
T - Yeah, he won’t take it at all because he grew up seeing it. Like, when we did a college visit to Florida State. I tried to use the restroom, but they told me I was going to the wrong restroom and wouldn’t let me use it. So he’s seen things.
L - And I mean, he obviously grew up with two really strong women.
Did anyone question your co-parenting?
T - I don’t think so.
L - We were good parents!
T - Yeah. We were fine. I mean his father was alive as well.
L - And if we ever needed a male perspective we had a lot of men to turn to, but we were really good on our own.
To be fair, we have always been very intentional about where we live. We have only lived inside the blue bubble. If we had lived out in somewhere like Loganville, Georgia, it would have been a problem back then.
T - Nope. We were two women who had a son together as well as the racial aspect. A lot of the little towns around here are still segregated. It’s ok if we go and I stay in my place, but sometimes it’s hard to know what my place is. So we just don’t go. People talk about day trips to state parks, but we avoid that. I’m like, “Nah, I’m good, you’re not going to lynch me out there.”
At what point did you have conversations about race with your son, Taylor?
T - We had the talk early on. Before I graduated seminary, my sister got a divorce and we moved in with her. She needed help. She had a boy and a girl. The boy was Taylor’s age. We lived there for a while and we had a lot of conversations about race.
L - In the neighborhood we lived in then, Taylor and I (as well as the Korean family around the corner) were the only folks who were not black.
T - So Taylor…go ahead.
L - This is one of those infamous family stories that lives on but is absolutely true. Well, we were riding with the boys in the back. We were taking them somewhere in Stone Mountain and we passed a truck with a big Confederate flag. So our nephew pops up and says, “Oh, we don’t like that flag,” and our little white boy popped up and went, “Yeah, we don’t like that flag.” And our little nephew pipes up again and says, “Yeah, that’s the flag they used when we were slaves.” And our little white boy says,” Yeah, that’s the flag they used when we were slaves!” And Tammy and I looked at one another and went, “Oh crap. We have to tell him he’s not black.”
T - So yes, we had the conversation a few times.
What are you passionate about?
L - Well this isn’t my real answer, but we kind of love really trashy TV. It’s our guilty pleasure.
T – We’ll leave it right there without naming what we watch. Actually, we can name one that’s not trashy, we love RuPaul’s Drag Race.
L - Yeah. We love RuPaul. I also love clothes and looking cute. The other day Tammy asked me, “Why do you have so many clothes?” And I responded, “Because you keep buying them for me!”
T- It’s true. I do because it makes her happy.
L - And it does!
Tell me about your careers.
L - Seriously Tammy has had a really awesome career. In 2013, she was elected Staff of the Year. Think about it though. She’s a black queer woman working at a seminary in the South. She’s awesome about what she does and I mean, smart is sexy.
T - And she’s amazing at her job.
L - So here’s the background. Some of the best ministry I’ve ever done was in a church in Orlando for two years when they were going through a lot of transitional bumps. When I left there, I felt good about what we accomplished. I feel good that the mayor and the drag queens both knew me. Our main focus though was reaching out in the Latinx community. No one else really was and we lived in one of the largest concentration of Spanish speakers in Florida. We even started to build a bilingual outreach to the queer community in Orlando.
When I left, I started my doctoral work and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do.
Then Pulse happened June 12, 2016. Pulse is located 1.4 miles from the church I served. Our church had a great relationship with Pulse. So when this happened it was personal. These were people I knew. It was my neighborhood and it was my church.
T - Hold on one second, if Lisa hadn’t gone there and done that work the church and Pulse might not have had as close of a relationship.
L - Yeah, it was my thing. I did a lot of work to build relationships with the Latinx community and I am thankful that they, and their current Senior Pastor, have continued to minister to the Pulse community for the past two years. I’ve recently heard that even two years later, not a week goes by without some sort of ministry directly related to Pulse. Even then, they were the first church to hold a worship service after the shooting even when the city asked them not. They said, “We’re a church and we’re going to have a service.” They packed the church out with 250 people. Pastors came from all over and a survivor came out and spoke.
Here’s the thing, everyone keeps saying it was a hate crime against gays. No. This was an intersectional issue. The shooting happened on Latino night. And as much as I love that city, most still aren’t addressing the loss to the Latinx community. In a lot of ways that’s really frustrating. To this day I have not found any organizations who are coming at it through the lens of spirituality, sexuality, and race. A lot of folks are getting two out of the three, but not all three. My doctoral paper addresses these intersections in regards to Pulse and the ways that that church really incarnated the love of God at these intersections and took the church to the streets.