Today we’re sharing one of our favorite family stories from last year. In 2017, Family Equality Council was one of several nonprofit organizations nominated by drivers for Uber to receive a donation from the ride-sharing corporation. We were able to contact the driver who submitted our nomination, Jessika Houck, and we’re proud to share her story here.
A proud Caribbean-American, Jessika came to the United States at the age of 4 after living with her grandmother in Haiti. She spoke with us about her struggles with her identity and family acceptance, finding love and doing her part to elevate bisexual voices, and particularly bisexual mothers, in the LGBTQ community.
ED HARRIS: What was your upbringing like?
JESSIKA HOUCK: I grew up in a typical Haitian-American family. In Caribbean culture, it is common for families to send their children to be raised by family members in their home country while they save money to support their family. When I was four months old, I went to live with my grandmother in Haiti. I stayed there until I was four. My first memory of the United States was moving to Texas. In addition to the new environment I experienced in the U.S., I was adjusting to this new family structure, as my parents were strangers to me. After a short time in Texas, we moved to New York. My parents had a strict, traditional Haitian home. They strongly subscribed to gender roles. While academics were a priority in my home, I was also taught women are supposed to cook, clean and do laundry. It required me to carry a lot of responsibility at an early age; and while I wasn’t aware of it, it shaped a lot of my personality and habits that I still have today. Although my family wasn’t religious, my parents made sure that I went to church regularly. Every week, I caught a bus to Catholic church, without my parents. To this day, I’m not sure why they sent me to church other than they believed that’s what good parents were supposed to do. In addition, they enrolled me into an all-girls Christian academy.
EH: How did your experience at the Christian all-girls school shape your identity?
JH: Going to an all girls school shaped my sexual identity during those teenage years when you’re still trying to “figure it all out.” My parents didn’t know it at the time, but it was at school that I realized I was attracted to women. I never really thought about attraction and relationships until I was surrounded by other women.
EH: After you graduated school, what did you decide to pursue?
JH: I’ve always been a creative person, and my creativity has taken me down several paths. After high school, I got into art school and majored in film and video production. After two years, I focused on screenwriting. Because I studied so many roles and responsibilities in film school, I learned how to do hair while on set. I was shocked at how many people were interested in what I was doing and suddenly I developed a passion for hair. I decided to switch career paths and enrolled in cosmetology school. Before completing school, I found out I was expecting my first child. I was terrified. I reached out to my mother, who at that time was living in Florida. I decided not to take the cosmetology exam and to move to Florida to get extra support from my mom. It was there that I met my first husband, who I started a family with. Shortly after, we had a daughter together.
EH: How did it feel to navigate marrying a man, while knowing that you were also attracted to women?
JH: Having a family was great. But something felt off for me. I felt like I was never truly happy and complete. I felt like I was ignoring my feelings but I felt compelled to continue with my daily responsibilities as a wife and mother. When I got help after suffering from post partem depression, I was able to realize that I was ignoring a part of me that was attracted to women. I had a fear of what I should do next. I didn’t know how my family was going to react, but I knew that if I couldn’t be true to myself, I couldn’t be happy. And if I couldn’t be happy, I couldn’t be the mother my children needed me to be. After separating from my husband, we entered into a supportive co-parenting relationship together and I decided to re-enroll in cosmetology school. I finally felt like I was putting together some of the pieces I felt were missing in my life.
During this time, I also met an amazing woman who I fell in love with. It was an amazing feeling because I felt like I’d met someone I could spend the rest of my life with. It was difficult having these feelings because of the taboo nature of LGBTQ relationships in my culture. I couldn’t let everyone know of my happiness at the time. Little by little, I worked on coming out of the closet. I even brought my partner to public events that my family members were at. Even though that relationship ended, it was the first step for me to come face to face with my identity. After that relationship ended, I moved to California with my daughters for a fresh start. My ex-husband, the amazing man that he is, joined us to provide a support system for our family. I began feeling a lot of pain in my back and had to have back surgery. Because of my back pain, I really was limited when it came to finding ways to support my family. I decided to become an UberEats delivery driver because it provided a safe and stable way to support my family.
EH: It sounds like at this point, you felt comfortable to come out to all your family and friends. Tell us that story.
JH: One day I noticed Uber was asking employees to share their Pride stories. I liked that I could use my creative talents to finally tell my story. To my surprise, they loved my story and asked me to be a part of their Pride month commercial. I felt this was an amazing opportunity to showcase my bisexual pride. I was so proud of what the end product was, I had to share the commercial with my family.
See the commercial here: https://www.uber.com/info/pride/
EH: What’s your relationship with your family been like since the commercial aired?
JH: My father and I have always had a very close relationship. He was very supportive of my involvement in the commercial. My mother and I have always struggled. I think a lot has to with my grandmother being my maternal figure for the first 4 years of my life. Because of that, I didn’t have that maternal connection to my mother; in fact, I considered my grandmother to be my “mother” at that point. Being a mother myself now, I know that kids need to have that close connection with their moms, and as I got to know my mother, there was always some disconnection.While I was proud of my representation in the community, my mother had a horrible reaction to commercial. She wanted to know why would I want to come out so publicly. I knew the importance of my representation as both a mother and a bisexual black woman. It’s frustrating when you live in a world where you or your children can be bullied by adults and children because of who you love. If I could empower one person to feel comfortable about coming out, I knew it was worth it to be a part of this project. Unfortunately, my relationship with my mother has not improved yet. My girls have always accepted me for myself and they understood that mommy likes girls and boys. They were elated that I was associated with some of their favorite LGBTQ stars. I still hesitate at times with dating women around them because of the shame my culture puts on our community. But by living as my true self, I can be an inspiration to them and contribute to raising a generation of kids who accept the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ families.
EH: Since coming out so publicly, how has life changed for you?
JH: This has been a cathartic experience for me. I’ve never been able to talk about my journey, especially with this must honesty and clarity. Being completely out of the closet has made me feel better already. I still feel like we’re already underrepresented in the community as bisexual men and women and there’s a lot of work to be done around bisexual stereotypes. For examples, as a bisexual mother, I worry about how the heterosexual community addresses my motherhood. But my kids are my best friends and awesome supporters and they are proud of who I am and that’s what make me most proud of my family.