Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.

By Haley Loveday

My wife is 13 years older than I am. When Prince died we were sitting in Mellow Mushroom and she cried real tears and I laughed because I didn’t understand that she actually felt that loss. She makes fun of me for my “Free Britney” fervor and my nostalgia for Lisa Frank and my lack of Indigo Girls lyric knowledge. I love Disney and Harry Potter in true young millennial style, and she puts up with it because I will watch her favorite movie, “The NeverEnding Story,” as many times as she wants to let her feel like a kid again. Her first crush was Elisabeth Shue in “Adventures in Babysitting” and mine was Rose from “Titanic.” Despite our age gap and our vastly different tastes in music, we fell head over heels in love. We bonded over our love of New York City, she read my writing, I listened to her CD, and our ages didn’t matter. Gender didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except that we wanted to spend every moment together.

Flash forward to present day, five years later and we’re married, have a two-year-old daughter, two dogs, and a nice little middle class life. My wife owns her own business and I’m a stay-at-home mom, who gets to write to my heart’s content. We are the very definition of the American Dream and yet almost every day we have to define and defend our relationship to people in our community. But not because we aren’t accepted, which is sometimes the case, but because people in the South are preconditioned to never even fathom an alternative dynamic of two women or two men together other than traditional familial roles: mother/daughter, sisters, father/son, brothers etc. The idea that the two women playing with the little girl at the playground are married and are her mothers is just too hard to comprehend.

Being a lesbian in Alabama is hard. We’re raised in the church, or at least church adjacent, and are preached to that homosexuality is an abomination, then we grow up and go to college and find out that when we kiss a girl and like it Katy Perry doesn’t burst out of the closet to save you when Christianity catches wind of your new found realization. I was lucky when I came out. My parents were accepting, although it did take a bit to sink in. My friend group was accepting and extremely supportive. It was almost like it was just an extra layer of myself that I hadn’t really explored yet so, when I did, everyone just said, “that makes sense,” and moved on. Which is why it is so hard for me to understand my wife’s perspective when she might shy away from holding my hand in certain situations or how she is hyper-sensitive to her surroundings when it comes to us as an open couple in Alabama. She came out in 1997, when she was in college, and her reception wasn’t a warm one. She’s seen the ugly side of things that I was shielded from by my support system.

When we started dating, I didn’t give any consideration to what our age difference might mean or how it would affect our relationship. We just jumped in. The question: “Are you mother and daughter?” happened more often than I’d have liked, but it wasn’t until we had our daughter that she started getting, “Isn’t being a grandmother the best thing in the world?” It’s happened a lot. My wife has a beautiful streak of white in the front of her dark hair. It’s very Rogue from X-Men. I love it, but she has started worrying about whether or not she should dye it. Worrying about wrinkles. Worrying about her appearance. The perception of a colloquial South has taken a toll on her, all because Southern society is trained to ignore anything outside of their “norm” and to assume they know what our connection is without question. It makes her feel like she doesn’t belong in our family in the eyes of the Bible Belt community around us.

Through the younger generation, I see hope. They are unafraid to ask questions and have a respect for gender pronouns and sexuality that we didn’t grow up identifying. Not knowing the “what” is okay and understanding the “who” is more important. There is no need to label anyone. Every family is different and understanding that assumptions can be powerful and hurtful is extremely important. I look forward to raising my daughter unveiled of a patriarchal haze that is soaked in religion and is extremely outdated. She will see love and have no need to label it. She will feel loved and know love without bounds or oppression, because I will teach her that love is never wrong and always welcome. I look forward to watching us all evolve as we grow through new seasons. Hopefully we’ll all see the day when we no longer need to mind the gap.

Haley Loveday is an independent writer from Huntsville, Alabama, where she lives with her wife, daughter, and their two dogs. She loves to travel, drinks apple juice in a wine glass, and is happiest when staring at a full bookshelf.