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Couples Chronicles ó Interview 29
Itís Never Going to Break Up
by Demian
First published in August 1989
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Sonny Rivera, 37, and Pam, 38, have been together for more than 10 years. Sonny, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, served as president of the Lesbian Mothersí National Defense Fund [was later called the Lavender Families Resource Network, and is now no longer operating] for four years. Pam, who prefers not to give her last name, is a media distributor. They raise two boys, Cameron, 6, and Elliot, 3 ½, in Seattle.

Sonny, whatís your family background?

Sonny: I was raised in Bakersfield, California, which is why I donít live there now.

My dad was a truck driver. My mother manages a department store/cafe and has done some migrant farm work. I had some conflicts with her over her Catholicism. Both parents were very Catholic.

Did you have conflicts with your mother regarding your lesbianism?

Sonny: No. It wasnít until my senior year at Wentworth College in Spokane, Washington, that I finally got sexually involved with someone ó she was my first lover. It lasted two years.

When did you first know you were a lesbian?

Sonny: Iíd always known. I had a crush on Linda Edwards from second grade through most of high school. I used to walk her home even though she lived in the opposite direction from me.

I knew I really loved women, but I couldnít do anything about it. I innately knew I couldnít tell anybody.

How many primary relationships before Pam?

Sonny: Three. My third lover was the first one to actually say she was a lesbian. The other two werenít out and one of them definitely was not a lesbian ó we just happened to get involved. Prior to Pam, two years was the longest.

Pam, what about your background?

Pam: I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. We were non-practicing Protestants.

My father, a federal meat inspector, died when I was three years old. Then me and my mother, a receptionist/bookkeeper, moved to Vancouver, Washington, where I grew up.

My mother died while I was a senior at Washington State University.

When did you first become aware of being a lesbian?

Pam: I always knew I had different feelings. I was into athletics and never dated in high school or went to the dances. I hung around my girl friends.

I really didnít ďdiscoverĒ I was a lesbian until I was a junior in college. Thatís when I became involved with my first woman lover, which lasted, on and off, about two-and-a-half years.

What led you to that discovery?

Pam: Iíd always carried the stereotype of lesbians being real diesel, butch, dyke, tough women. I found out by accident that my college roommate was a lesbian, and she was just like a sorority girl. It blew me away. Thatís when I became aware that everyday people are gay and lesbian people.

How many major relationships before you and Sonny?

Pam: Three, the longer two of which ran two-and-a-half years.

Thatís how I knew about Sonny and me. When this relationship passed three years, I knew it was working. I gave her diamond earrings on that anniversary.

How did you meet?

Sonny: We met through a friend. I lived in Spokane at the time and Pam lived here in Seattle. Every time we got together we became a little more intimate.

Pam: We flirted.

Sonny: We flirted a lot.

Pam: We were real attracted to each other, but we were connected to other people.

Sonny: We knew each other for about three years before we actually got involved. We didnít see each other that much, just twice a year.

Pam: We wrote letters and talked on the phone.

How did it become a relationship?

Pam: We both became single at the same time.

Sonny: By that time I lived in Seattle and I was seeing Pam more often. I knew that her relationship was over, but she didnít know it yet. I was waiting for her to finish and get through her stuff.

She didnít make a commitment until my old lover from Spokane came into town. I booked my ex a room in a motel and spent the night with her. The next morning Pam said she wanted a commitment and I said, ďGreat!Ē Thatís all I was waiting for. That was the last time I was with anybody else.

You have a ďmonogamousĒ relationship?

Sonny: Yes, itís one of the glues that help keep our relationship stable.

What other relationship glues?

Sonny: A couple of years ago we started going to couplesí counseling and that has made our relationship even stronger.

Also, we have an extended family of lesbian couples who have been together from six to 15 years. They validate our relationship and we get feedback from them. It helps our relationship remain solid.

How did they become an extended family to you?

Sonny: We all had children through artificial insemination.

Pam: We had all taken a workshop based on a book written by Jean Illsey Clark called ďSelf-Esteem: A Family Affair.Ē Our lesbian momís support group has been ongoing for six years now. Itís a closed group, so itís always the same people. It has pulled a lot of us through hard times.

What kind of hard times?

Sonny: Having children can be stressful as well as a blessing. It can be stressful when youíre a lesbian parent, deciding to have a child through artificial insemination, when you are already alternative.

Lesbians have to think a lot about the decision. The steps we choose can be more complicated, especially if we decide to inseminate on our own, as we did.

Pam is the biological parent. In this society, the non-biological parent has no legal right. [Pamís will nominates Sonny as legal guardian of the children - ed.]

The first time in the hospital was tense at times. When you see a husband comforting or holding a wife, no one really pays attention. But when you have one woman doting, holding and trying to support her partner in labor, you get weird looks. People want you to hurry up and get out of there.

The second labor was fine because we had a student nurse assigned to us who happened to be a lesbian. That made it a lot more enjoyable.

Why did you decide to have children?

Sonny: Whatís life without children?

Part of it is cultural, since Iím a Chicana from a large family. I have five siblings. There were always kids in the family and relatives having babies. It seemed like a normal course to take. However, when I came out as a lesbian I figured it would not be part of my life.

Pam: When we saw other lesbians having children through artificial insemination, I realized that it was something I really wanted too.

Since I donít have any living parents or siblings, it seemed important to me to extend my family in some way, and that seemed the most natural way to do it.

It took us two years of talking and watching how other relationships survived having children. It still didnít scare us away.

Scare you away?

Pam: Being parents is hard work. When child-free friends come and visit, Iím sure they get irritated because itís hard to talk when both our sons are in the same room.

When did you know you were ready to become parents?

Sonny: I donít think we would have made the decision to do it if we felt our relationship was rocky. We felt pretty solid at that point. I remember thinking, ďI know Iím going to be with Pam for the rest of my life.Ē

Itís funny because our relationship is a lot stronger now than it was before we had the kids.

What has made it stronger?

Sonny: Couplesí counseling.

Pam: Family of origin stuff. Itís a real eye-opener.

You mean dealing with your histories?

Both: Right.

Sonny: Iím glad we have gone and are going. It was, and still is, very important to us.

What problems have you dealt with?

Sonny: Our second son was sick a lot as a baby. It was a real stress on our relationship and we werenít being very kind to each other.

A friend in our lesbian momís group confronted me, saying that we needed to change the course of our relationship or else we were going to break up. We found a psychologist who we think is just wonderful. It really turned our relationship around.

I always work on letting Pam be herself instead of trying to make her just like me. Itís still a hard one for me, but itís a lot better than it used to be.

Our relationship isnít perfect, but we certainly feel like itís never going to break up.

That woman in your support group saved your relationship.

Sonny: Yes. Those women are like family. Itís wonderful. We know everything about each other, weíve shared so much of ourselves. Pam didnít want her name used. Is it a problem that one of you is more out than the other?

Sonny: It holds me back sometimes. They usually donít just want me to talk, they want my partner too.

Pam: Thatís just the difference in our personalities. Sheís more politically active in the lesbian community and I choose not to be.

I do march in the Gay Pride Parade every year with Sonny and our kids under the ďLesbian Mothersí National Defense FundĒ banner. For years we have spoken on ďsensitivity and health careĒ in university classes.

How have you talked to your children about your relationship?

Sonny: From the time Cameron entered preschool at 18 months, he knew that some of his friends have a mom and a dad, a lot have two moms, and some have just one mom or dad. We talked about it freely from the time he was able to talk.

We donít hide anything about our family. Everything is up front. To him itís normal that people are diverse. He knows that we chose to have him.

Elliot has asked at an earlier age, asking questions that Cameron hasnít thought of yet. Heís already covered the issues of racism, ethnic backgrounds and skin color.

The schools our kids go to are high parent-involvement institutions, and we always try to do our part to educate people about our family and our lifestyle.

Pam: Thatís always been important to both of us. If we tried to cover up something, then our kids would see that. They would think that we felt something was wrong with our relationship. We donít want them to ever feel that way.

Sonny, do you look Chicana?

Sonny: Oh, yes, Iím full-blooded. I get asked a lot to be on boards because Iím so visible in the community.

Pam, whatís your racial background?

Pam: Iím half Swedish, with some German and English.

Whatís the racial background of your children?

Pam: Theyíre half Hispanic, half of what I am.

Sonny: We used a donor who was a relative of mine. It just happened that he was available and willing, otherwise we wouldnít have tried so much for ethnicity. But now they kind of look like me too, which is real fortunate.

Do you have plans for any more children?

Sonny: Our ultimate decision is to stay with just two. Itís a good idea to not let the kids outnumber the adults.

About a year ago I went through a pain of wanting to have babies. I came to the realization I really didnít want another child, I just wanted a baby. So when anybody I know has a baby, I just go over there and get my baby fixes.

The two children we have are perfect. They are great kids. And itís enough.

Did you consider adoption or foster care?

Sonny: No, I knew that having kids is stressful, but having kids who inherited other problems and issues would add more stress than we wanted.

I have controlling issues. I wanted to control the prenatal care of the children we had.

We have friends who have adopted and we support that choice. We never feel that people have to do things the way we do. People are diverse and what works well for them is what is good and right.

Have your feelings toward each other changed over the years?

Sonny: Yes, I donít see Pam the way I did in our first year. I see her more realistically. I have a lot more understanding of why she is the way she is, which makes me not get so angry.

I used to feel emotionally protective. Now I feel Pam is stronger than I ever thought she would be. I see her as more of an equal partner. She is quite capable of taking care herself.

Instead of trying to control ó I have a little ďchild of alcoholicĒ in by background ó I try to let go and let Pam be herself.

Pam: I know a lot more and appreciate more about Sonny than I did when I first met her. The more I know about her, the more solid I feel.

Emotions are stronger now than theyíve ever been.

Sonny: I never thought that I would be in a relationship that was as committed and as strong as the one Iím in. I felt so different as a child ó especially in adolescenceó I thought I was going to live my life alone.

I feel very lucky and Iím glad that Pam is my partner. And I love her very much.

Pam: I love her.

What has been a high point in your relationship?

Sonny: The kids.

Pam: The birth of our two kids. Our perfect children. Well, they are perfect.

Sonny: Itís neat to have kids together and watch them together. We get a lot from our boys.

Pam: Weíre just a real family and it feels really great.

A designed family.

Pam: Yes, weíve had control over this family. No accidents happening in this house. These children were very well planned and thought about before they were even conceived.

Did it matter whether you got boys or girls?

Both: No.

Sonny: Not at all. We just wanted healthy.

Pam: Actually, itís been great fun having boys because they drift toward things Sonny and I werenít allowed to have when we were kids, like toy trucks and cars. Itís fun buying and playing with their toys.

Iím sure we would have been just as happy having girls, but Iím real happy having boys.

You become a kid again when you have children, thatís for sure.

What is the future of your relationship?

Sonny: I donít see any major changes for a while. First we have our family, then our work and then the gay and lesbian community. Those things take up a lot of our energy and time. I see ourselves being very busy in the next several years.

In a way itís kind of fun and also kind of hard to always keep on track with each other. We have to learn how to take more time to be with each other emotionally and mentally.

Pam and I will always be together. I canít visualize us not being together.

Pam: We talk about retiring, growing old together.


Sunny Rivera contacted us on December 19, 2000. She is now the president of the first-in-the-nation Gay Lesbian Parent-Teacher-Student Association of Greater Puget Sound. She adds the following note:

I was just checking in to let you know that we are still together going towards 22 years now. Our two boys are now teenagers; a senior and freshman in high school. We are still doing great and now we know, for sure, that we are going to be together forever.

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