How did you and Joanna meet?
It was the summer of 2007, we were both 26 years old. Joanna was part of the organizing team of the one and only Dyke Trans* March in Berlin. Joy had just moved back into town from California and was asked to be part of the Awareness Team, providing support regarding the mental and physical safety during the March. We met during the meetings that happened afterwards and hung out at parties. We weren’t looking for a serious relationship, yet entered a connection that was beautiful, fun, creative and supportive.
How did your family come together and get built?
We both knew we wanted to have kids and chose to have kids through insemination. There were few role models for us and our journey to parenthood was shaped by obstacles, as it was not a legal option in Germany to get pregnant as a lesbian or single woman using insemination. We still decided to create our family on our terms. We were lucky to get pregnant fairly quickly each time and both children were born 2 years apart in home births in our home in Berlin.
We entered a civil union in order for both of us to gain parental rights, and had to go through a step child adoption (medical exams, house visits by social workers, reviews of financial and family circumstances, … ). It is a whole process that takes a lot of time and puts sleep deprived parents under a lot of pressure. A homophobic judge then denied the step child adoption, arguing that while it would be in the best interest of the children, he didn’t agree with the way we became parents. We weren’t the only lesbian parents. We appealed alongside other families and won and we are now both the legal parents of our children.
Not much has changed for rainbow families since, while marriage equality was established in Germany in 2017, lesbians still have to adopt their wife’s children, even if the kids are born into the marriage.
Having two kids so close together was one of the most amazing and most challenging things for our relationship. Joanna and I are very multi-passionate, meaning that we each have more than one thing that we care for, that we want to see happen and give our attention to. Becoming parents has on the one hand fueled our productivity in multiple ways, and on the other hand it has brought us to our limit more than once.
Both children have had health problems that have left us sleepless and worried for long stretches of time. We both have a strong desire to work, while wanting to be there for our kids, and often we felt torn with what that looks like for us and how to divide time up amongst us as parents.
Artwork by Joanna Soyka – www.joannasoyka.com. “About the sad child and good reasons for change”.
Joanna writes about the above picture: “The sadness and exhaustion on Lucky’s face (our 2 year old) paints a pretty good picture of our general state at that time: cold, frustrated, disappointed, and I am pretty sure no one could remember what the sun even looked like; kid one sick half the winter, kid two all winter heading towards chronic bronchitis, one adult burned out, N°2 almost… And all together stuck in the daily grind. “
This is one of these situations where the support of our friends and community was immeasurably important for us. Joanna got the following assessment from her friend: “If you are having a hard time in your relationship during stressful times that is ok. It sounds like you both don’t question your love for each other and your compatibility in of itself, you are simply having a hard time in these circumstances.” This little statement gave both of us a lot of relief. It didn’t change our circumstances, yet it opened up the perspective to reconnect with each other, rather than turning against each other. We wanted to create change together, helping each other grow as individuals and as a couple.
We were able to refocus on our core values as a couple and as a family. We reached out for support, we went on a rainbow-family health retreat and we made the decision to create a big change: travel the world together.
To continue the quote from Joanna’s artwork: “Of course there’s no better time than complete misery to get moving and inspired to make big changes, find some health, move at least to contentment, a lot of sunshine and maybe even a sensible degree of happiness, right?!”
People called us brave for making the decision to travel, yet for us, it didn’t seem brave – it seemed like a way out of the misery and to refocus on what we want in life. We were seeking happiness and ways to thrive with family, entrepreneurship, community and travel.
We started our travels five years ago. We have tried to settle down again in between, we even moved back to Berlin and gave the whole system of school and such a try, yet within that we don’t thrive. We are now committed to world-schooling our kids and keep on traveling. Currently we are spending the pandemic times in a beautiful beach town in Portugal.
Tell us a little bit about the kids and their passions!
Eliasz (9) and Lucky (7) both love animals, water and reading. They are very curious, and love getting to know new places in nature and cities alike.
Eliasz loves sports and competitions, puzzles and video games. Lucky is a storyteller and collector of beautiful things. They both care about the environment, they pick up plastic they find in forests or on the beaches, they feed stray kittens and befriend bugs and lizards. They want to cuddle and protect everything that moves. During the pandemic they became avid readers and spend at least two hours a day reading fantasy and mystery novels on their ebook readers.
Why is pride so important to you as a family?
Being involved in intersectional queer activism has always mattered to us individually and as a family. Stonewall was a riot by people experiencing violence and discrimination at the intersection of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, clasism, police violence, state violence. Yet to this day these experiences and identities are oftentimes played out against each other. We care about social justice and visionary activism that offers empowerment, accountability and change. Joy has been a “professional lesbian” for over a decade – as a counselor, educator and manager in non-profit organisations serving women and trans*people who have experienced various forms of violence or discrimination. When Eliasz was born Joy started her own coaching practice serving people from LGBTQIA+ and migrant communities (www.coaching.lgbt).
As an artist and designer Joanna has worked with many LGBTQIAP+ organizations, and supported queer communities with art and activism (www.joannasoyka.com).
We always wanted our kids to be confident and proud of our family, and that is how we show up in the world. We love pride events as political protests and empowering celebrations. Lucky loves to dress up in all things glamorous, and the kids design their own protest signs.
How did you get connected with Only Human?
In January, Portugal went into full lockdown. Everything was closed and you weren’t allowed to leave the house for more than 10 minutes, unless it is essential for work or medical reasons. We thought this is the right time to try out online classes for the kids. We were skeptical, particularly when the classes were only held as a lecture, and the kids could only use the chat to ask questions. How fun or engaging could that even be? Well, then there was this teacher talking about bugs. And she was funny, and Eliasz was sitting there listening, drawing, engaging and constantly asking us to type in the answers for him (as he hadn’t yet learned to type in English). That teacher was Danielle Shepherd. And we noticed she wore great T-Shirts. As Danielle never got to see what happens on the learners side, we decided to write her an email thanking her for the impact she has had on us and our kids. In a dire time, she has brought fun and learning into our home. We also complimented her on her T-Shirts.
A little thank you email can go a long way. Turns out the T-Shirt are from Only Human, where Danielle works at. We were inspired by each other’s community centered work and wanted to support each other.