...when love opens you up
You know what's okay to admit to both yourself, and to your partner sometimes? That relationships take work. And not just any kind of work, the type of work that makes you break a sweat, tightens your chest and, at times, can leave you defeated. But with the right partner, the right foundation and the willingness to work through that work–it also can be very much worth it.
For partners of over 13 years, Summer and Kendal, that work is exactly what they have done. And not just within their relationship, but with raising two black girls, who are growing up in a society that does not celebrate. And within themselves as individuals, putting in the work to still learn, redefine and perfect the ways in which they love themselves, and each other.
In one of the most in-depth conversations around black queer love that LBH has been honored to have, we sit down with Summer and Kendal, and talked through their decision to get married, gender roles within their relationship, the foundation of their family dynamic, and the importance of growth, forgiveness and a willingness to do the work in a relationship.
Watch parts of LBH’s conversation of love with Summer and Kendal above or read it in full below:
Summer: I think our pronouns would also be helpful [to share]. So, I go by, she, her, they, them. Really, I just like to go by Summer.
Kendal: My pronouns are they, them, their.
How did you all meet and how long have y'all been together?
Summer: I was actually on Yahoo Personals. I don't even know if that's still a thing because I guess people swipe right or swipe left and double tap. I don't know any of that stuff, I'm out the game. But I first saw Kendal on their profile on Yahoo Personals. And I thought their profile description sounded nice, there were these pictures, I was clearly and obviously drawn to them because I found them physically attractive. I was a little concerned because I saw pictures of a little girl and I wasn't really trying to be around kids at the time. So, I sent them this really nice long thoughtful message.
*Crickets, did you hear the crickets?* No response, no response.
So, that was like neither here nor there. Met a few more people on Yahoo Personals, dated, kicked it around with folks. And [then] when I turned 30, I was talking to a friend of mine and I was like, I'm really ready to settle down. I don't want to do this stuff out here. I really just want to have a family. And so, she was like, I know the perfect person for you. And I was like, you don't really know me. Like we were cool, but we were not friends, and I take the F word very seriously. So, she's like, no, there's this person and I think that they are the one for you. So, after like several drinks, we go back to my friend's house and she pulls up Kendal's MySpace profile and I'm like..
Can I curse? Is it okay to curse? (Shakes my head yes)
[Continues] I was like, that bitch looks familiar. I reached out to that bitch on Yahoo Personals and I didn't hear shit back from her! So, my friend was like, all right, well, we're going to go to a L Word party and they will be there. So, I'm like, yeah, let's go to that party because I want to see what's up. I wanted to go and make sure that they saw what they missed out on ignoring me. And I had on these Lactose jeans, this t-shirt and this DKNY leather jacket. My hair was done. I had long locks back then, I had these green contacts. And I was working out at the time. So, everything was tight. I was ready. As soon as I walked in, Kendal's face, went like this, and then they hid behind the column. At that point, I knew I got them.
Kendal: I didn't see the Personal that she sent me because I just stopped looking at it. I didn't delete it, but I kind of scaled back to focus on school. And I didn't know that I was going to be meeting Summer until like 30 minutes before I met Summer. I was actually really pissed off (about the set-up) because I wasn't intending to meet anyone. I just wanted to have a really chill time. The L Word was on Sunday nights, and so I knew I had to go to work next day. I [wasn’t] trying to be cute and meet anybody. But I was like, oh, wow (after I saw Summer).
Summer: Literally since then we've been together. Over 13 years.
Kendal: Married for 8.
"We are intentional about making sure that they understand that they are valued and loved in a queer black family, and to be proud of it."
How did you all come to the decision to get married considering gay marriage was not legalized in the U.S. until 2015?
Kendal: I didn't actually think that I was going to be married. I knew that I was committed to Summer and that no matter what she was going to be in my life. When I first met her, the thought in my mind was like, I just want to be in her life. I don't know how, I don't know how this is going to work, but I just want to be with her. And after five years of being together, it was like, this is it. I'm done. I'm not going to like be with anyone else. We had moved in together. We didn't move in right away. We took some time to be in our own spaces, but I was like, I know that I'm committed to her. At the time I was like, it doesn't really matter (getting married), but [then] I [was] like yes, it's important. We just wanted to make sure that our family would be recognized and that it would be safe basically. I had Emmy from a previous relationship [and wanted to] make sure that if anything happened that Emmy would be protected.
Summer: When we moved in together, as far as I was concerned, that was it. The commitment was already there. [Then] once New York legalized marriage, and I'm originally from New York and all my family's there, I'm [I told] Kendal I want us to get married. So, I got like this foil and made this little foil ring. And I wanted Kendal to have a beautiful wedding. We got married in So-Ho and spared no expense. I wanted for them to have that experience of people celebrating our love.
And prior to that, we had started making moves for Emmy to become legally my daughter. My thing was, no matter what, Emmy would be protected. But what about Kendal if something should happen to me? And this was at the time where there was a gray area where companies were kind of haphazardly applying rules to folks. I needed to make sure that my family is protected. I have ironclad stuff for Emmy. But what does that mean for Kendal?
Was it hard or difficult to get those protections as a same sex couple?
Summer: There actually was a lot of hoops that I had to jump through at work. And for a second parent adoption for Emmy, there was [also] a lot of paperwork. Everything that we have to do, you have to add a 30% adder of money and paperwork, which is discriminatory. When I adopted Emmy, we had to have a social worker, I had to have seven letters of reference, I had to have an HIV check, I had to have a credit report. I had to provide all of this stuff to demonstrate that I am not taking away, but adding to as a second parent. [It was the same] when we had Storm. We both had a psychological evaluation from reproductive endocrinologists. We had to pay for that, and then they wouldn't even give us like the paperwork of their assessment. At every step of the way, we had to do additional stuff.
Kendal: And we didn't know [anything about the paperwork process], because we didn't have any other people to talk to that were able to say like, oh, this is the thing you have to do, this is the stuff [you need]. There was no other couples that we could talk to and bounce information off of. We were just kind of really flying by the seat of our pants, trying to figure it out.
Do you all feel like gender roles exist within your relationship?
Kendal: We really try to have some kind fluidity in our relationship. There isn't one person that's more heavy on the domestic things. We've established this kind rhythm where we support one another. It's more like, “Hey, I can see that you are really tired and you had a stressful day, I'm going to cook something. Or, hey, I can see that you have a lot going on, I'll do the laundry.”
I know from myself, I did feel like I had to pick a lane of whether I was going to be more masculine or feminine. When I have always felt like I embodied both. And before Summer, any relationship that I was in, I just kind of took on that feminine role. Particularly if I was in a relationship where someone was more masculine identifying, I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with exerting my masculine energy. You look like the fem, so that should be your role. And so, I kind of just acquiesced to that without kind of saying, well, you know, I really embody both. So, I came into the relationship already with this ideology of, I've picked this lane, and I've gotten really good at it, I have a groove in it, so I'm just going to keep on doing it. But it's also something that we are in the middle of deconstructing right now.
Summer: Yeah, I mean, I know that I give off masculine energy, but I consider myself androgynous. I always have. Even before I came out, I was like, I'm androgynous. So as far as like the gender roles, I think people who don't know us assume because I work outside the house and because my energy is masculine of center. But we both had the babies. We both cook, you know? I'm mushy gushy when I need to be needy and rubbed on.
Kendal: And I'm the fix it person right in the house.
"I've never been loved in such an intense way before. And allowed myself to be loved in such an intense way."
Summer: And I'm like, call somebody and let me pay them to do this.
I see that your older daughter was in your wedding. How did you all go about dating one another while also building a new family dynamic between the three of you?
Kendal: It was a lot of effort. It was a lot of work on everyone's part. You do the best that you can at the time with the tools that you have and just try to figure out. Emmy and I had been joined at the hip, pretty much up until that time, and even still, we're very close. So, to now have to divide myself in a way [where I am] able to share some of that love and time with Emmy and then share some of that love and time with Summer. It was challenging. I didn't necessarily feel pulled or in the middle. But how do I bring both of them into this so that they both feel loved? And I think some of the challenges were, and still are, is that Summer and I have some commonalities when it comes to parenting, but I think sometimes based off of our history and just our life experiences, and how we were raised, we [also] have different ways of viewing things.
I think sometimes those differences can compliment each other, but initially it was really difficult because our communication styles are very different. The way that we view child-rearing is very different. And at the time, quite honestly, we didn't, or at least I'll say for myself, I wasn't very good at communicating and saying like, “hey, these are the things that are important to me and these are the ways in which I want to be able to raise Emmy and let's see if we can collaborate on that.” So, it took a long time to get into a rhythm and a pattern where we both all felt like we're in this together. We didn't have anybody to talk or say like, okay, well, you know, how do you do this? And how do you do that? And how do you blend a family?
Now that Emmy is older, she's 20, there are a lot of things that we'll kind of look back on and say, “Hey, we're sorry for how we did X, Y, Z. We realized that we didn't do this in the best way. Is there something that we could do to kind of like make amends for that? Or is there something that we could do, you know, do you feel like you want to talk to us about this?” We really try to be mindful of not just going present to future, and being better parents. But also, really looking at the things that we did in the past and apologizing for it.
Summer: I did not make it easy for Kendal. I actually made it really hard because I wanted to date just them. And it wasn't that I didn't like kids. I have two nephews that I'm very close to, but one that I had around my previous exes. But when that relationship dissolved, there was an impact on the kid. And my thing was, I have no idea if this is forever or for fifteen minutes. I don't want to develop a relationship with your daughter, [because] if we don't work out, then there's hurt for me and her. I don't want that and so I was like, I don't, I don't want to date you two, I want to date you.
[But they were a package deal].
And I had to apologized because I made it very hard for Kendal and Emmy. I'm vying for your mother's attention, and this is not a competition, but I'm competing with the child. How inappropriate is that? How immature? This is a 30-year-old trying to compete with a six-year-old. But I've grown. I love both of my children. Emmy and I have a beautiful relationship and it took a lot of work.
Do you all feel like the life lessons and general life values that you guys are instilling in your children are different because you guys are both black and queer?
Summer: You know, they say that the personal is political, right? This (our family) is very political and radical. [And] we parent from that perspective. We are very clear about how we feel about anti-black racism. We are very clear about classism and cast [systems]. And we are very clear that, regardless of all of this stuff and people trying to hold you down, you still have to figure out how to have joy, pleasure and enjoyment in this world. [And that] the standard is not you. The standard is white, upper class men. And we're all like kind of worshiping that. So, there are always conversations. I think that they wished that maybe we could not have so many conversations.
Kendal: [With them] being black girls, [we are] trying to prepare them. But in a loving and compassionate way. We want this to be a safe space for them. So, that they can tell us whatever that they need to tell us, and share whatever it is they need to share.
Summer: I would say the last thing, too, is that we have a queer family. We have a nephew of trans experience. So, we are intentional about making sure that they understand that they are valued and loved in a queer black family, and to be proud of it.
"When we moved in together, as far as I was concerned, that was it. The commitment was already there."
Is there any advice you would give other black queer womxn who are looking to start a family, or who might be looking to date someone who already has a child in their life?
Kendal: I really hate giving advice because I never take it. [But] the thing that I would always suggest is really listen to yourself, because ultimately you really know what the direction you need to go in.
Summer: Really be honest, humble and communicative. You may believe that you want to start a family, and that you want to move in that direction, but you got to be really clear on what is it that works for you and what you will and will not do and to communicate that.
Okay, last question, what does being loved by them feel like?
Kendal: She's helped me become a better communicator. I was really not good at communicating, that muscle was never really flexed for me before, and so I appreciate that. She's really stretched me in those ways. And it's not only benefited our relationship, but me as a person, and as a human being. I can articulate the things that I'm feeling in a way that's clear and cohesive, and not just kind of all over the place. And the other thing that I've really appreciated, is that I've never been loved in such an intense way before. and allowed myself to be loved in such an intense way. Before I was very guarded. I was very protective of myself, my heart, my little Kendal inside. I never felt safe enough to be able to let those walls down. They were in place when I met her, I was 27, and they were in place for 27 years. They were tight and intact. And even after that, they were tight and intact. Even when we got married, very tight.
Summer: How about now?
Kendal: They are coming down. To be able to really feel love, to know that it's unconditional, there's nothing that I have to do, there's nothing that I have to be, there isn't anything, any type of action, for her to say [to me]I love you. I can just be myself. And that is amazing. Sometimes it's also scary, because I've never felt that before or experienced it. But I am just so happy that we get to be together and go throughout this journey of life together.
Summer: With Kendal, there was an invitation and there was a space of like, not only be you, but have the space to figure that out. I'm an Aquarius, I don't like to be boxed in, in any shape way or form. And they were always one of, yeah, let's go for it, let's do the thing. Just being a huge cheerleader. People think that I'm very confident, and you know, there is some insecurity in there. And they, no matter what it was, no matter what direction, is like, “I got you, let's do this, let's figure it out.” To have that kind of spacious love is amazing. And it's not as if because we've been together for so long, there's still not that spaciousness. We are going through another transformation and another metamorphosis, and even though it has been so incredibly hard, and confusing for me at times. It has also been such an amazing and joyful and pleasurable ride, because they are like right by my side.
Written by: Kee Simone, LBH Editor-in-Chief (@thebaddiegalore)
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