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It Takes a Village

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1991: Catherine Llewellyn kisses her son, Ryan, who looks happy to receive the affection.
1991: Catherine Llewellyn kisses her son, Ryan, who looks happy to receive the affection.

A lesbian couple in Houston celebrates Mother’s Day.
by Donalevan Maines

Catherine Llewellyn and Cheryl Robin are a Houston Heights couple with some good reasons to celebrate this Mother’s Day. Llewellyn says a loving LGBT Houston “village” helped raise her twenty-two-year-old son, Ryan. “I didn’t buy him clothes for ten years because friends would say, ‘Oh my God, look at that outfit!’ and they would get it for him,” she says.

“I love every single one of my aunties and uncles,” adds Ryan, who has recently completed massage training and is preparing to take the exam to get his license.

“He and I had a little talk when he was just a baby,” says longtime “villager” friend Marilyn DeAngelis. “I held him in my arms and said, ‘You are going to grow up in a very warm atmosphere with some very special people.’”

The addition of a child added diversity to Llewellyn’s circle of LGBT friends, adds DeAngelis. “All of his birthdays and graduations and plays—oh my God, did we go see Ryan in plays!—there was so much tenderness and love.”

Ryan calls Llewellyn and Robin his two moms. Llewellyn owns both a chair-massage company and a firm that provides interpreters and translators.

Last Mother’s Day, she recalls, “Ryan cooked for us, which is not always my favorite thing, and he wrote us homemade poetry—I love anything he writes. He was broke, so he gave us each a gift certificate for a free massage.

“I was pregnant when I took my tests for massage school,” adds Llewellyn.

Llewellyn is a pioneer among lesbian women who have had children by artificial insemination. “I went to San Francisco to look for donors. There were no clinics in Texas,” she explains. “I had always wanted to have a child. I talked with some doctors, and I decided that I wanted my son to know who his biological father was.”

Ryan looks just as happy hugging his mom in 2012.
Ryan looks just as happy hugging his mom in 2012.

Mentioning this to her doctor—“one of my best friends,” Llewellyn says—“I asked him if he would be the donor, and he said, ‘I would be honored.’ At his office, I went for two days of insemination, and a week later,
I was pregnant!”

Although Llewellyn and her doctor agreed to a contract that spelled out their rights, they later found out that the document wasn’t legally binding because it was signed before Ryan was born. Regardless, there haven’t been any problems, and Ryan’s dad has played an important role in his life, especially providing medical care for him.

“The baby was born two weeks late,” says Llewellyn, recalling that on the day Ryan was born, she was re-thinking her decision to give birth without drugs when Ryan’s dad came in and asked, “Do you know what day it is?”

“I said, ‘I’m in twenty-five-hour labor. I couldn’t give a shit what day it is!’ He said it was his birthday,” recalls Llewellyn. “I thought, ‘That’s cosmically weird.’”

Ryan says it’s cool having the same birthday as his biological dad. “He comes over once a year and we celebrate our birthdays,” says Ryan. “And he taught me how to ride a bike.”

Ryan learned about the opposite sex as he was growing up by watching movies and television. “I would see kissing, so I got off to an early start,” he says. “The first girl I kissed, I was in pre-school. She was a little black girl named Joy. When I was in kindergarten, my mom would bust up our forts when she found me in them kissing a little girl.”

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Two moms in 2005: Catherine Llewellyn (r) with Cheryl Robin, her partner since 2000.
Two moms in 2005: Catherine Llewellyn (r) with Cheryl Robin, her partner since 2000.

A native of Santa Barbara, California, Llewellyn was sixteen when she moved from the Bay Area to Manvel, near Alvin. “I was the unruly teenager who was sent [to Texas to live with] dad.”

In 1978, she graduated from Alvin High School, then struck out on her own in Houston. “I discovered gay bars,” she says. “The Old Plantation, Cuddles—oh, we had good times.”

After working for a collection agency, which is where she met DeAngelis, Llewellyn opened her own collection agency and private investigation firm. “It was a very negative business, but it made me a lot of money,” she says. To deal with the stress, Llewellyn would get massages, and that led her to become a massage therapist.

“Besides getting out of a negative business, getting into a positive business, you’re paying it forward in every way,” she says. One of Ryan’s perks of being Llewellyn’s “little bundle of love” was getting a five-minute massage every day as a baby.

However, Ryan also remembers some kids in elementary school making fun of him for having two moms. “It almost turned me into a bully,” he says.

Both mother and son say their worst experience was being shunned by the Boy Scouts. “Living inside the Loop, I guess I was a little sheltered. [That episode with the Boy Scouts] hit me in the face,” says Llewellyn. The year was 1995, and progressive parents in the Heights were thrilled that Llewellyn and Robin were going to lead a Scout troop for Ryan and his friends.

“We got our uniforms. Then some scumbag redneck parents complained,” recalls Llewellyn. “I bitched. I wrote to United Way. I tried to get publicity. [Finally I just said] to heck with it. I put Ryan in karate.”

Ryan with his “aunties”: Doug Scott (l) and Neil Sackheim (r).
Ryan with his “aunties”: Doug Scott (l) and Neil Sackheim (r).

Ryan also enjoyed performing in a number of productions at HITS Theatre, his favorite role being Sky Masterson, who sings “Luck Be a Lady” in Guys and Dolls.

Ryan and his two moms count themselves lucky to be a part of Houston’s LGBT guys and dolls who comprise the “village” that helped raise Ryan.

The feeling is mutual, says their friend DeAngelis. “He just touches my heart every time I see him and who he has become. He’s turned into a quite polite and gentle boy—very, very sensitive. He’s curious and yet independent. Very, very loving—so many of Catherine’s qualities.”

Asked about the prospect of raising a family of his own, Ryan replies, “I hope to have a good one. I hope to find my soul mate. I would like to raise a child of my own, or adopt. Everything will fall into place.”

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

 

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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