La Verne Magazine
Spring 1999

"Defining Family"


Without Boundaries: Same-Sex Couples Redefine Family

by Stacie N. Galang
photography by Erica Paal


Juggling work, school and children, Laura Garland and Elaine Ahumada have taken a step back from their relationship to redefine themselves individually.

Just moments from the end of the 20th century, nothing seems all that shocking. The "Jerry Springer" mentality pervades the airwaves and saturates everyday conversations.

Yet, interspersed between tabloid television and talk show frenzy, "theirs" is a pretty normal existence -- in fact, self-admittedly mundane.

In a world not quite ready to accept their lifestyle, same-sex couples are a burgeoning societal subculture.

They have created unique connections with their birth families and extended circle of friends -- heterosexual and homosexual.

Three couples reflect on their experience as same-sex couples.

Case in point: Rudy La Brada, 33, a University of La Verne panelist for the "What color is your rainbow?" program, a discussion panel sponsored by the ULV Housing Department, and his partner Mike, 36, who asked that his last name be withheld due to job retribution fears.

They are a typical upwardly-mobile young couple, almost too typical.

Together for six years, they have recently purchased their dream home, a six-bedroom palatial house in a gated community with the obligatory pool, spa and waterfall in the backyard. Their nuclear family consists of their Yorkshire terrier Max and their two black cats.

Rudy wants children. Mike is a bit apprehensive about the idea.

Rudy, a charming Latin man, loves to talk. His phone and pager are never out of hand's reach. When he speaks, he gestures along with the commentary.

Mike, more reticent, prefers to listen while Max sits comfortably in his lap.

Rudy and Mike do not think of themselves as much of a novelty. "We're like every other double income family without children," Rudy says. "See, I don't think we're that unique, other than that we're two men living together. We're blessed financially. We don't have to worry. We do everything together."

Both help to run Rudy's real estate business. Although Mike is an elementary school teacher, he still manages to contribute to the business. He calls Rudy daily at lunch to check in and to get his list of business tasks.

Their daily regimen seems diametrically opposed. "I get up, and Rudy stays in bed," Mike says. "My days are pretty routine; I live by the bell. With Rudy's business, we never know what's happening from day-to-day."

While Mike's days are pretty standard, Rudy's can be hectic."I bring chaos into Michael's stable life," Rudy says. "I'm bouncing off the walls, and Michael adds stability. I keep the hurricane; nothing is ever calm when I'm around. Everyday is different," he adds extemporaneously.

Beyond their day-to-day existence, they enjoy traveling. Their genre of choice: cruises. The convenience makes a cruise ideal. And Rudy can take a much-needed departure from the phone.

As if their lives were not routine enough, they meet with Rudy's mom every Wednesday. Rudy serves as secretary for Tuesday's Child, a non-profit organization for children afflicted with or affected by AIDS. He is also president of the homeowner's association. "It's important to give back to the community," Mike adds.

For the future, they would like to formalize their relationship. Perhaps children will enter the picture. Rudy would like to adopt a hard-to-place child.

As a teacher, Mike says he realizes the impact parents play in a child's life. He insists that if they adopt, one of them would have to stay home with the child. Right now, he is not sure if he is prepared for that change. "The sad thing is that Mike would be the better of the fathers," Rudy says. "Max likes Mike better."

The couple in transition: Elaine Ahumada 34, a doctorate student at the University of La Verne, and her partner Laura Garland, 44, a master's student at the University of La Verne. Partners for nearly six years, Elaine and Laura have taken a step back from their relationship to redefine themselves individually.

Like other couples, they struggle to coordinate their busy schedules. "Basically, we came to a crossroad," Elaine says. "I'm busy. Right now, I'm in the doctoral program. I practice karate 15 to 20 hours a week. We haven't been able to spend time."

At the outset of the relationship, Elaine, a marketing director for the Public Administration Department at the University, says it was really romantic, but together they have had to backtrack a bit to develop more of a friendship. Elaine and Laura dated for a time and eventually moved in together. A year and a half ago, they decided to physically move apart. Laura is finishing her master's degree this summer. She works as a school teacher.

"Laura wanted to spend time with her kids," Elaine says. "That's been the hardest thing. When you're busy, at least when you come home together, you connect."

"As a family, life was stressful. I don't think we had any different time than a heterosexual couple," Elaine says. "It's hard to raise children; it's not always fun; it's just a reality,"she says.

Elaine speaks with an air of informality about her relationship. She never really imagined herself with children. "When you love someone, there are things that are not the ideal, but you just deal with it," she says.

This process of redefinition has taken them to a kind of a rocky stage in their relationship. "We've had harder things to overcome," Elaine says. "We totally love each other. We're soul mates. We don't want to have expectations." Although they are the best of friends, they know they need growth.

Tension exists between Laura's children and Elaine. Laura has a 14-year-old daughter and a 15-year old son who live with their father. "There's a lot of different messages," Elaine says. "I didn't feel a sense of family when we were living together."

Family takes on many meanings for Elaine. She says she feels fortunate to have a blood family who is accepting, but she also has friends who are not blood-related and who are a part of her family. "Well, I love family," Elaine says. "I think it's really important; it's a group of people, but not necessarily your birth family. Laura's definitely a part of my family."

Marriage is more of a formality for this couple. In the beginning of their relationship, they entertained the idea, but Elaine and Laura have taken a different stance on the issue. To them, gay and lesbian marriages focus more on civil rights.

"If I have a good job and pay my taxes, why shouldn't my partner receive the same benefits [as straight couples]?" she asks.

The mature couple: James Dunne, 62, a professor of education at the University of La Verne, and his partner Jack, a retired teacher and artist.

Introduced to each other at a dinner party by a friend, James and Jack will celebrate 25 years together this summer.

It is a relationship James never imagined he would find. For a time, he longed for a family with children and tried straight relationships. "I stopped buying into society's version of what an awful person I was," he says. He describes himself in his youth as somewhat of a nerd. "I thought I was the only gay person in the world."

James has come out to the University. "The essence of me is not that I'm gay, but it's a part of me," he says. "If you don't know I'm gay, you don't know me."

In his life, family has moved beyond the immediate blood ties. "Family is to gay people, a wonderful collection of supportive friends who have shared histories and shared interests," he says. Truly, it is the network of extended family who are relied upon for holiday gatherings.

James says his relationships are not restricted solely to gays, and he readily admits that most of his friends are straight. His closest friends are all involved with art or some application of it. It is an enormously important part of his and Jack's life.

As new residents to Portland, he and Jack try to keep up with the art scene in the city, attending gallery openings, plays or operas as often as possible. When they lived in the Los Angeles area, they always had season tickets to the philharmonic.

A pensive man, he reflects on the gay experience. He is reminded of the dearth of role models in his more formative years. "Oftentimes, it seems in my generation we have a history of oppression," James says. He says he would love that the state of marriage would exist for him but realizes that, ultimately, it's a different lifestyle many are not ready to accept. "We really want a place at the table, but we are gay," he says.

These three couples do not pretend to represent the rest of their subculture. And those "Jerry Springer Show" guests who provide ample substance for our conversations, are more aberrant. So what were you expecting?

Into the 21st century society slowly creeps. In the next millennium, society will undoubtedly struggle to define normalcy -- whatever that means.



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