Three couples on what it means to be married in the age of equality
By Dan Gentile
Three couples on what it means to be married in the age of equality
Hausbar Farms stirs into action before sunrise each morning with Asher the African grey parrot chirping, “Mom.” Which mom he’s talking to isn’t always clear.
The wake-up call sends Susan Hausmann off to her longtime job at the Texas Department of Transportation, while former Eastside Cafe owner Dorsey Barger tends to an extended family that includes an ark’s worth of dogs, donkeys, geese, rabbits and chickens on two acres of urban farmland off Govalle Avenue in East Austin. Later in the day, she’ll harvest herbs and vegetables for upscale restaurants like Qui and Uchi.
After 18 years together the couple has a knack for finishing each other’s sentences, but that type of domestic affectation didn’t always seem like a possibility.
“We weren’t in the closet, but the gay crowd was underground,” recounts Barger of Austin’s queer culture in the ‘90s. “I remember a time when it felt scary to be out as a business owner, but I didn’t want to live a life of hiding our secrets, so I never did.”
The couple says they did lose a few friends when they came out, and their 1999 commitment ceremony at Laguna Gloria was difficult for some family members, but the only overt discrimination they’ve faced since was from the court system. “Our lawyer said that if anything happened to Dorsey, I couldn’t sell any of her property, but I could pull the plug. I thought, ‘Isn’t that interesting!’” says Hausmann, laughing. “I have a ribald sense of humor,” she quickly adds.
As marriage equality gained momentum, the couple were wed a second time in California for legal purposes, but it still felt symbolically important to have a real Texas wedding. In 2015, on Barger’s 52nd birthday, they held a cowboy boots and blue jeans affair on the farm. It took three ceremonies in total, but their marriage finally felt official.
“I really do feel like with the Supreme Court decision there is a respect for our relationship that I didn’t feel before. The relationship hasn’t changed, but it feels legitimized now, which is a great feeling,” says Barger.
Hausmann admits that she might be a little oblivious, but at this point her sexual orientation doesn’t feel out of the ordinary. Even when the farm faced overly harsh zoning protests from neighbors and was nearly forced to shut down, it didn’t cross her mind that it might’ve been a response to her sexuality. “I really don’t think about being gay. I’m not in La-La Land, but I just don’t think about it every day,” says Hausmann.
Hausmann and Barger know that not every couple has the luxury of that peace of mind, but hope that unions like theirs can serve as a counter-example to some of the stereotypes and fears about LGBT lifestyles. “For a long time there really was this fear of gay people being depraved, and there still is,” says Barger. “But then you take a look at us, and it’s this boring old couple that just wants to get up to take care of animals in the morning and have a fire at night.”
Some outsiders see Austin as a progressive blue bubble inside a red state, but despite the city’s reputation for tolerance, Evan Garza and Michael Brodeur had real fears about moving from Massachusetts. In 2014, same sex marriage had already been legal there for a decade, so Texas had a lot of catching up to do.
“It had been normal for so long in Massachusetts that I had sort of stopped thinking about it,” says Brodeur. “It was a little crazy coming from a state where gay marriage was about as commonplace as EZ-Pass on the highway.”
The couple moved after Garza accepted a job on the curation staff of the Blanton Museum of Art. The opportunity to focus on minority artists in exhibits like “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s” (opening February 21) wasn’t the only draw; the couple had a history with Austin. Garza and Brodeur originally met by chance at SXSW in 2007 and developed a quick chemistry by bonding over then-buzz bands like Beach House and Deerhunter.
“Right after we talked and flirted, immediately I texted a friend and said, ‘I swear to God I just met the love of my life at 6th and Red River,’” says Garza.
That original Southby fling led Garza to move to Boston to be with Brodeur, who worked on staff for Boston newspapers for years and currently writes a column remotely for the Boston Globe. Garza proposed at the tip of Cape Cod in a Provincetown harbor, where they later held a short ceremony centered around the Walt Whitman poem “Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances.”
“When the minister said, ‘I now pronounce you husband and husband’, the entire room erupted like the Red Sox just won the World Series,” says Garza.
Once in Austin the pair began exploring the city’s LGBT scene by attending events like Gay bi Gay Gay and Queerbomb, as well as becoming regulars at Cheer Up Charlie’s. They’re hesitant to generalize Austin’s gay community compared to Boston’s, but so far it seems less buttoned-up and more rooted in the type of counter culture weirdness that is fading from the city’s identity at large. It makes an act like wearing gender neutral clothing feel both transgressive against the city’s weird-washing and inspired by its greater ideals.
“That’s why Austin’s great. If you’re gay or straight, it empowers you to do your own thing and let others do their own thing,” says Brodeur.
Same sex marriage equality doesn’t just encourage the couple’s personal sense of empowerment, they also see it as having a transformative effect on straight culture. Rituals like rehearsal dinners and wedding ceremonies help families relate to each other. Joining those traditions places gay identity in a much more relatable context, but it’s also disruptive in showing that relationships and lifestyles don’t need to follow a mainstream path.
“Liberation is liberating,” says Garza, “and not just for the people who are being liberated.”
Family tradition is as much about adapting to the future as it is about celebrating the past, a concept exemplified by Kris Swift, designer, and Adam Jacoby, owner/operator, behind Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile. Their restaurant and retail space is a modern update of Jacoby’s family’s cafe and feed store in the West Texas town of Melvin. But unlike Austin, with a population of 150, residents in Melvin would be hard pressed to find a vegetarian meatloaf or a neon hand-blown glass vase. You also wouldn’t find an openly gay couple.
“There wasn’t much of a gay community in Melvin. I was the gay community,” jokes Jacoby.
Despite preconceptions about rural Texas intolerance, the town couldn’t have been more accepting when Jacoby chose to come out in 2012. Swift’s family, Canadians transplanted to South Lake, Texas, were equally supportive. Shortly after the couple met at a mutual friend’s birthday party at 219 West, it became clear that family was an important part of both of their identities.
“When Adam and I started talking to each other, something that we had in common was that our families are our rocks. It was something that could be read on the surface, but was very deep,” says Swift.
In many ways the couple serve as contemporary representations of those families. Adam carries on the Jacoby stable-to-table legacy by feeding their ranch’s antibiotic-free beef to hungry Austinites under a roof built with wood from the family barn. The son of a general contractor, Kris’s father instilled in him a practical side of interior design and his mother’s career as a child development author influenced his work ethic, as well as instilling a desire to have children of his own. The couple, who got engaged in 2015, plan to explore alternative routes to parenthood once they’ve officially tied the knot.
“Me and my brothers joke about the race to have the first grandkid,” says Jacoby. “We’re at a slight disadvantage.”
The pair had envisioned themselves marrying on the pier of Swift’s hometown thanks to his Canadian citizenship, but the announcement of same-sex marriage equality in Texas changed that.
“Both of our moms texted us within three minutes of each other,” recounts Swift. “There [are] not very many times in life when I can say I was overcome with emotion, but I absolutely was. We laughed and we cried.”
The Supreme Court decision paved the way for Jacoby to propose to Swift under the stars at the Oohla Bean resort in Driftwood. “He asked me to marry him and I said absolutely, of course, 100 percent yes.”
Their ceremony will be held on the bluff behind their restaurant later this year, and although the details are far from set, they expect Adam’s grandmother’s strawberry cake from the restaurant’s dessert menu to make an appearance. For wedding gifts, a guest couldn’t go wrong picking just about anything off the shelves of the Mercantile, whose candles, trinkets, and practical design objects could be considered a de facto registry of Swift and Jacoby’s favorite things.
“Other than our families, there’s nothing that reflects the two of us more than Jacoby’s,” says Kris. “So it only makes sense that we get married here.”
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