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Interview on The Image Deconstructed!

I am thankful to the wonderful folks at The Image Deconstructed for interviewing me about Let Love Reign - be sure to check out the entire interview by clicking HERE.

This long-format interview asks how and when Let Love Reign started (6 years ago!) and where this project is going (i'm currently working on a book proposal and looking for a publishing agent!).

In the course of the 6 years since I started Let Love Reign, I have met, interviewed and photographed 55 couples from all over the United States.

I can't wait to make this project into a book!

 


Kenneth + Dennis

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

Dennis knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Kenneth after only one night together.

To hear Kenneth tell it, it's all about timing. When he was first introduced, via text, to Dennis, he wasn't ready just yet and didn't show up to a planned movie date. A month later, Dennis texted him, asking Kenneth if he was at the same club at that very moment. As it turns out, they were indeed in the same place at the same time, and they haven't looked back since. 

While acceptance hasn't necessarily been universal, the support they've found in one another has carried them through: Kenneth gave Dennis the security and strength to shed the double life he was living. Dennis gave Kenneth the reason to be honest with himself and to live his true self. After all, he believes that everyone has the right to show their commitment and their love the way they choose to--and that includes an eventual marriage to Kenneth in their home state of Oklahoma.

And for what it's worth, stories like this one, of love at just about first sight, of knowing you'll marry someone upon meeting them for the first time, are universal. They transcend culture and geography, and most certainly sexuality; after all, Dennis' mom also married her husband of 10 years after only one night together.

Amy + Chera

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

When Amy nervously called up her mom to come out, to tell her mom that she was in a long-term relationship with Chera, she was prepared for the worst. Little did she know that her brother had come out to her mom four months earlier, but no one had let Amy in on that particular tidbit of news. So that means, as Amy likes to joke, that of the four children her parents have, half of them turned out gay.

Chera’s parents, who are a bit more old school, didn’t initially appreciate the news, and screamed and screamed and screamed at her when she told them over a pay phone back in 2000. After Chera missed the holiday celebrations that year, her mom called her and told her that she simply missed Chera too much and wanted Chera back in her life, but on one condition: Chera was not to talk about “it,” or shove “it” in her face.

 You can almost hear the shrug in Chera’s voice when she tells this part of her story. And while both women have made peace with this condition, and Chera’s parents love their two grandchildren, as Chera explains, it’s not like she’s any different. She was the same person before the news as she was after the news, and no amount of talking about it or ignoring it would change that.

 She gives the same line of reasoning when asked about dealing with those who oppose gay marriage: it’s not like gay couples are any different, or that now that more states are legalizing same-sex marriages, that people will become gay. They will be who they were and who they were meant to be regardless.

And in Amy and Chera’s case, they’re a recently married couple that loves their two kids and one another, whether it remains spoken or unspoken. 

Bradley + Trey

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

If there were ever a case for the happiness that living as your true self can bring, it might just be Bradley and Trey.

For the first three years of their relationship, they navigated the pressures of conservative life in North Carolina with caution: a simple night out for dinner could mean running into a family friend, and could result in rumors and whispers and discomfort. And in fact, back in 2009, when Bradley was first outed--as opposed to coming out himself--he did indeed have to face an extremely difficult time and deal with the strain it put on his relationship with his mom.

But while it initially brought pain, it ended up being the best thing that could've happened. It turned out that his brother would be supportive and accepting right from the beginning. And as Bradley's relationships with his mom and his friends healed, they've come out stronger on the other side. As he explains, now that there's complete honesty in his relationships with friends and family, he finally hasn't had to hide or check or deny any part of himself.

For Trey, his friends all know and love Bradley, but when it comes to his family, he wants it to be a natural process; after all, to him, sitting his family down to "break" the news to them holds such a negative connotation, as if he were preparing them for bad news. But Bradley isn't bad news and is the exact opposite, as this is the happiest and most accepted Trey has ever felt.

The freedom they've found in moving to LA has brought even more happiness, as time and time again, the two speak effusively of the fulfilling and happy (there's that word again!) life they're building together. And one of the most exciting things is still yet to come--as Trey puts it, they're lucky to have the opportunity to take advantage of the fight that those who have come before have fought, and to make this, the happiest they've ever been, official. 

Jorge + Fausto

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

In 1996, Fausto threw a housewarming party and invited a small handful of people. At the last minute, every single person would cancel, all except for his co-worker, Jorge. Normally, when nearly 100% of your guest list cancels on you last minute, you get pretty upset. But this night, for Jorge and Fausto, would be the start of 19 years together.

Jorge, when asked about his thoughts on those against marriage equality, pointed out a concept that in the 21st century, is practically a truism: America is all about opportunity and equality--the very reasons why so many people have come to this country. Fausto, born in the US but raised in Mexico, came back to the US at 27 to build a career. Jorge, born in Mexico, moved to the US with his family at 11. Both men would end up at the same venerable insurance company in SoCal and between them, have a combined 48 years of experience at the same company.

Both also hail from a traditional Mexican family, which meant that when Jorge first moved in with Fausto, they pretended to be roommates whenever family visited--down to dressing up a guest bedroom as Jorge's room. So even though it may have taken some time for everyone to come around, Fausto's parents now lament not getting enough phone time with Jorge, and Jorge's siblings regard Fausto as family. 

And to think, it all started because a bunch of people canceled on a party, but the only one who didn't would end up being the only one who really, truly mattered.

Robbie + Allan

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

Robbie and Allan share a story of extraordinary timing. On a Saturday night in 2008, Robbie (who was not yet out and hiding the truth from his friends and family, and maybe to some extent, himself) came across Allan’s Match profile and sent him a “wink”. On Monday morning, Allan, who was only logging in to cancel his expiring account to prevent another credit card charge, came across Robbie’s wink, sent him a self-admitted “nuts” email (it contained multiple post scripts, all reading “call me call me call me call me”) and canceled his account.

 The very next night, the two met, and have been together ever since.

In another show of perfect timing, Robbie and Allan would then sort of accidentally get married on 9/10/11, a date many other couples probably planned for meticulously. Along with 25 friends and family, the two set off for a weekend in Boston, where an unexpected judiciary conference sent the two traipsing all over the city in an attempt to find a judge to sign their license. They would eventually find seemingly the only judge left in all of Boston—an elderly juvenile court judge with an oxygen tank in tow—and got their license signed.

As for Dylan, Robbie and Allan’s son, his story actually started the very night his parents met. On their first date, Robbie and Allan talked about how much they both wanted children. Just weeks before leaving for India to start the surrogacy process, they found Anne, a local surrogate who would help bring Dylan into the world, and into a family who loves him more than he could possibly know. But Dylan will one day come to understand how much he was wanted and how hard Robbie and Allan had to fight for him—just all in due time.  

Vickie + Deb

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

Everyone knows a couple like Vickie and Debbie. You know, the one that always comes up with awesome things for everyone to do, the one everyone loves and admires, but is secretly maybe a teeny tiny bit jealous of because all anyone is looking for, really, is their very own Vickie or their very own Debbie. The telltale signs are all there: they have a group of supportive, involved friends affectionately dubbed “the tribe,” they host weekend getaways for said tribe full of very Texan things like shootin’ and four-wheelin’, and their Texas wedding (after a smaller, legal ceremony in New Mexico), was a huge party with hundreds of guests.

But unlike the stereotype of “that couple”, where the seemingly untouchable mystery is part of the allure, Vickie and Debbie practically ooze with friendliness and warmth. Whether it is Vickie’s good-natured teasing of Debbie for spoiling her two grown, adult daughters (Vickie had to institute a spending limit of $250 whenever Debbie took them shopping), or Debbie’s delightfully sheepish recounting of how she spent so much time with her parents after a bad breakup that they began setting her up with women, there is just an undeniable familiarity, an openness to the way they share their story and invite you in that makes it clear why they have a veritable tribe of friends in the first place.

 And it is this connection back to friends, to family, and to the community that the two women share about over and over. It’s the friends who stay with Debbie every Monday and Wednesday while Vickie is at work to support the couple through Debbie’s diagnosis. It’s the brother who at first didn’t accept things but ultimately was in the wedding party, the mother who spent three years straining the relationship before coming around with gusto, the father who was a deacon in the Church of Christ and now looks forward to hosting weekend getaways for the tribe.

 So while everyone knows a couple like Vickie and Debbie, there is only one Vickie and Debbie, and we’re left wishing we actually knew them.

Amy + Dana

(c) 2014, Catalina Kulczar

(c) 2014, Catalina Kulczar

When Dana was 12 years old, a negative family reaction to the accidental outing of her cousin, along with the fear that no one would ever accept her, led Dana to close part of herself off, and to deny her feelings. Amy, who had always known about herself, joined the service, and had to hide that part of herself. Both women would end up getting married and starting families before coming out and ultimately, finding one another. 

Dana was outed by her ex-husband—while in a hospital of all places, where her son was receiving treatment for brain cancer. But unlike her cousin years before, Dana’s family was completely accepting of it, having, as she says, grown out of their fear.

After five years of marriage, Amy could no longer pretend anymore, ended the relationship, and came out to her parents, who stopped speaking to her. Her father passed away 12 years later, still never speaking to her.

But like it is with most stories of full, complex lives in this full, complex world, there’s still happiness to be found in each corner despite what may have passed, and there's certainly much happiness to look forward to. Between Dana and Amy, they have three great kids, a two year-old grandson, and a dream Hawaiian wedding in the plans. And as Amy said, until she met Dana, she didn’t do things like hold her partner’s hand in public, but all of that has changed. It may have taken her 40 years, but together, they got there, and they’re not looking back.

Keri + Ann

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

There must be a deeper story here, because when Keri and Ann are asked to share how they met, they laugh (perhaps a little too heartily), and Keri asks Ann to tell the “modified version”. And so, the modified version goes something like this: the two women met at Ranch Hill (a bar!, Ann offers up, almost apologetically) in January 2008, and in December 2008, while Keri was in Singapore on business, Ann got a bunch of friends together and moved Keri in to her house.

So, while jokes can be (and were!) made about U-Hauls, Keri and Ann knew they had both found the one for them, and didn’t waste another moment. What followed next wasn’t a discussion about marriage, but about kids: both women wanted children and thus began rounds of IUI, and finally, IVF the fourth time. Ann became pregnant with twins Harper and Holden, both of whom exhibit the gift of perfect timing, as they adorably bellow out “yay!” when Keri first mentions them.

In the middle of it all, Keri and Ann actually did get married back in 2010, with a big ceremony and everything. Like the story of how they met, there’s a deeper story here: it wasn’t legal, but they consider it their special moment, and all that’s left is the paperwork. In every other regard, they’re already family.

Charles + Aaron

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

Charles and Aaron are not like most couples. First of all, they've been together for twenty years, when many of their friends are on 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and even 5th marriages. Second, when Charles returned from a month-long European trip just three weeks after they met to find that Aaron had written him a letter for every day he was gone, he asked Aaron to start couples therapy with him. If they were going to be in it together for the long haul (as they have been), Charles wanted them to start things off right, and for six months, they attended therapy and learned how to fight and disagree without hurting and alienating. 

And third, their 2008 Santa Monica wedding went from lawfully unrecognized to legal, to illegal, and back to legal again. Indeed, an emotional roller coaster that most couples probably don’t experience.

Most couples probably also don’t have a brother-in-law who would threaten to keep nieces and nephews away, or a sister who, upon a later-in-life conversion to faith, would move from total acceptance and understanding to a complete denouncement of the relationship.

But then again, Charles and Aaron are not like most couples. They are twenty years strong. They see how they actually complement one another, even when those differences that make them so complementary can sometimes make them fight. When the easy way out is to just give up and call it quits, they don’t, and they choose to work through it. So in a way, maybe the roller coaster of legality ultimately didn’t matter—they made it through in the end. And what matters is that the support they do have from family is strong, unconditional, and freely given, much like the support shared between the couple themselves.

Connie + Julie

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

In some ways, Connie and Julie seemed to have waited half a lifetime for one another. 

Raised in Houston by her grandparents, Connie never really understood why her female friends worried about boys so much all the time. (For her, it was actually kind of easy when it came time to call it quits with a high school boyfriend!) But she did understand that she should marry someone kind and ambitious and smart, and she did exactly that. Over six years of marriage, she would have two amazing kids (now 21 and 18), but always just knew that something was wrong, that something was missing. 

Julie, on the other hand, always knew, but she beat her feelings back, fearing it wouldn't be well-received. It wasn't until a yearlong relationship with someone in college, and a girlfriend in grad school, that she would come out to her mother, who indeed did not receive the news very well at the time. After a heartbreaking end to her relationship and receiving a complete lack of support, Julie would spend the next ten years beating her feelings back once again.

Fast forward to March 2013, when the two would meet at a birthday party. By May 2014, they were engaged, Connie proposing with the ol' "ring in the glass". She adorably decries it as cheesy, which Julie even more adorably insists it wasn't. But even though it took Connie 15 years after her initial realization to find Julie, and Julie over 10 years of a private struggle to find Connie, the two simply can't get married, unless they could raise the funds to throw a forced destination wedding. 

The pain in Connie's voice is palpable when she explains how much she took for granted the right to marry. How she never once questioned or thought about how simple it was to pick up a marriage license, to share a happy day with friends and family. How she never once imagined, back when she was 23 and marrying a man, what it would feel like to be denied that right. And so both women speak candidly about the need for empathy, for people to just try to understand what it feels like from the other side.

In the meantime, they have a new lifetime to look forward to, a lifetime where Connie can proudly declare her love for Julie while standing atop a chair, and they are met with applause and cheers. And eventually, hopefully, their wedding will be greeted with the same.

Carol + Sallie

(c) Catalina Kulczar. 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar. 2014

It is a bit poetic, to say the least, that Carol met Sallie at an event for a local Houston-based philanthropic organization called Kindred Spirits. 

Carol spotted Sallie, who had slipped in 15 minutes late, and immediately wrote a note on the event agenda and showed it to the person sitting next to her: "Who is the redhead who just entered the room?". Three margaritas and one first kiss later, the two women haven't been apart since.

Earlier this year, Houston passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (or HERO) under mayor Annise Parker, who is openly gay herself. HERO extends equal rights protections to LGBT individuals in employment and housing situations. Those calling for repeal have accused Parker of making it a "personal" issue. For Carol and Sallie, they fail to see how that is a valid criticism--of course equal rights is a personal issue; they are, after all, people. And they happen to be two people who have held off on marriage because they cannot yet be legally married in a state that holds personal significance and meaning for them. 

But in the meantime, they'll enjoy wearing what they've affectionately termed their "pre-engagement" rings, hanging out with families who have, over time, come to accept and love them for who they are, and creating memories that will one day slip seamlessly into the history of a legally-recognized union.

In fact, they've already started. That very piece of paper that Carol wrote on when she first laid eyes on Sallie? They had it laminated, the first in what will be a long line of family memorabilia. 

Marcos + Mikee

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2013

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2013

A dog named Rita, a biography of Malcolm X, a shirtless handstand after a bike ride on a hot summer day, and Friendster.

It was the combined forces of the list above that would conspire to bring Mikee from Michigan and Marcos from Toronto together in New York City. Initially, Mikee and Marcos didn’t want to be introduced via a mutual friend because, ugh, just because they’re both gay doesn’t mean they want to meet each other, but it all eventually worked out.

Marcos, having Friendster-stalked Mikee after an initial pot brownie-fueled meeting, moved to New York in July 2005, drunkenly confessed his love for Mikee in August, and moved in with Mikee in October. Nearly nine years and a cupcake commitment ceremony later, the two are not legally married, but own a place and two dogs together. They’re practically married.

As a committed couple in a long-term relationship, the two acknowledge how lucky they are to live in the bubble of NYC, where they don’t actively experience the hate and the persecution they read about in the media. But as much as they are physically removed from these instances, it takes them back to the memories of being bullied as children for being different, which not surprisingly, isn’t so different from the things that those against gay marriage do and say.

But as Mikee says, proximity can fuel or mitigate ignorance—lack of proximity can drive the fear and bullying rhetoric, and close proximity can lead to understanding and acceptance. They’ve seen it from purposely spending as much time as possible with their nephew from rural Michigan, who could tell that the closeness that Mikee and Marcos share went beyond friendship, to Marcos’s traditional Chinese family, who see gay marriage as a non-issue since it has been legal in Canada for so many years already. And they’re confident that the longer same sex marriage is legal here, in the United States, the more people will forget that it’s an issue.

The first step to that, however, is full equality in all 50 states. 

Crista & Jess

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

Jess and Crista make a lot of people very, very happy.

In 2010, two years after an epic six-hour first date that started over drinks and ended with a shared steak meal, they began making ice cream together, coming up with imaginative and inventive recipes inspired by childhoods in Maine and Florida. A chalkboard wall covered in ten prototyped recipes later, the duo attended Penn State’s Ice Cream University, quit their jobs, and began producing as Phin and Phebes, which, as any ice cream connoisseur will tell you, makes freakin’ awesome ice cream. As if all of that wasn’t enough, they also moved in together, renovated an apartment, and got a dog, indicative of their shared inability to sit still.

 It’s easy to believe, then, that Jess and Crista want to live in a world where there is love and happiness; after all, ice cream probably doesn’t belong in an unhappy one. And in their little bubble of a progressive Brooklyn, it’s all too easy to forget that there are people who are ruled by misunderstanding, maybe even hate or fear. But all it takes is that one look they’ll get or that one comment thrown their way when holding hands while walking to remind them. It’s having to be conscious of pronoun use around new acquaintances because you never really know and maybe it’s dangerous and unwise, or maybe it’s just fine and they have nothing to worry about. Either way, for Jess and Crista, and other LGBT couples, you don’t really know until you know, until you’ve already taken that first step, thrown caution to the wind, and revealed that part of yourself.

But for days like that, when uncertainty and caution linger at the periphery, just sit back, crack open a pint of Banana Whama or Vietnamese Iced Coffee, and let the happiness and love take over. 

Blake & MacKenzie

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

It was love at first sight, many sights later.

Appropriately, it happened during an archery session in Queens. Literal arrows, Cupid’s arrows—in this case, there was no difference and suddenly, the way Blake had always seen MacKenzie was no longer the way she always saw her. Blake ended the day by kissing MacKenzie on the cheek but it wouldn’t be until the night MacKenzie called her feelings for Blake a “crush” instead of a “girl crush” that it would be a real kiss: a first kiss, and as the two women tell it, an inevitability.

MacKenzie always thought it would be a given that she would get married. She had talked about it with her boyfriend, but that was before. Before the crush and the sweaty palms, before Blake’s confidence and swagger, before Blake. And then MacKenzie would come to experience the total and complete realization that, overnight, she went from having the right to marry the person she loved to having to fight anonymous legislators and strangers who didn’t know the first thing about her for that very same right. 

For Blake, marriage was perhaps just another way to define a straight relationship, and she had spent most of her adult life self-defining her romantic relationships. But then MacKenzie happened, and DOMA would be struck down, and she would come to see just how many rights were tied to marriage, and how that could be important, not just legally, but personally. She and MacKenzie would still define their relationship on their own terms, but a legal marriage should be part of that definition if they wanted it. It should be a part of everyone’s definition of a relationship if they wanted it.

And so it was, love at first sight because the sights that had been seen, and the things that had happened before suddenly didn’t matter so much anymore.

Georges & David

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

It is a tale often told: the story of two New York City parents, both juggling the demands of a busy career and a growing family of two young sons. Tristan, the elder son, who at first didn’t want a little brother, but now can make Noah, the little one, laugh and laugh and laugh. Both sons were conceived on the very same day, just three years apart. Both sons were taken home, to a renovated NYC apartment, two days after birth. Both sons entered a loving household, one where both parents dreamed and hoped and ultimately, carefully planned, for children.

Georges and David know they’re lucky, maybe even luckier than most. After locking eyes across a bar on the practically hallowed grounds of Fire Island in 2006, the coincidentally-can-both-speak-French pair married in Montréal in 2007, and in 2009, had Tristan via gestational surrogacy. Georges, an obstetrician, slipped into a pair of scrubs and “caught”—how he charmingly refers to delivering babies—Tristan himself. Noah followed, also via gestational surrogacy, three years later, rounding out their household of boys.

And so their tale is one often told, but perhaps not one told often enough in the LGBT community. As Georges put it, for gay couples, children are never unplanned, never an accident, never a surprise. The hurdles involved, whether for surrogacy or adoption, are numerous and difficult to traverse, but it just proves that when there’s love, persistence, and trust, a family can still come together, hurdles be damned.

Anna & Elise

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

(c) Catalina Kulczar, 2014

Since the night they met, they haven't spent any night apart, not really. In fact, after Elise proposed to Anna, the two women made it a point to have an involved engagement. They made it a point to prepare themselves to spend an entire life together, to learn the big things and the little things, to get used to their individual rhythms. This is, after all, the couple that decided the first version of the proposal (on a rainy West Village corner using a straw wrapper) needed redoing, resulting in a second proposal on their living room couch with a proper ring and a bouquet of thistles. 

But for Anna, it was also important that the people around her understood that her commitment to Elise was a serious one, that it was not just a phase, that Anna would not eventually move on and "try something else". She had met Elise, she had fallen in love, and she wanted to marry her. There was absolutely nothing different about her love for Elise from anyone else's love for their partner, and the long engagement was the time to prove that. Besides, there was something about a long engagement that seemed to honor the LGBT relationships of eras past, when a simple professed commitment was as close to legal legitimacy as it could get. 

 And so Anna and Elise took their time, and two years after the second proposal, got married. By that time, they had lived together, had spent just about every single night together, and had proven to themselves that they would endure. Everything was practically old hat by that point--or so they thought. Surprisingly, but perhaps understandably, there was still something very serious and sacred about the actual act of getting married, something that would be difficult to put into words, but would carry an unspeakable weight.

 It was their right to marry that carried that unspeakable weight.