The key to a long and rewarding relationship is open communication, according to the recently married local couple Ashleey Houston and Jose Suarez.
“Understanding and not judging each other all the time, being able to sit down and talk to each other, is key to any relationship,” Houston says, and Suarez agrees.
Houston, a 51-year-old trans woman and local showgirl who has been performing for 37 years, grew up in Humble, Texas. She had her first performance as a showgirl at age 14. At 16, she won her first beauty pageant and has earned many awards since, including Miss Texas Continental Elite 2018 and Miss Transexual Universe 2020. She sings in Spanish and English, and dances at several nightclubs like Tony’s Corner Pocket, Hamburger’s Mary’s, BARCODE Houston, and Darwin’s Pub.
Suarez, a 33-year-old native Houstonian and bisexual man, is a gamer who wants to become a videogame designer. While Houston is out performing, he maintains their home and takes care of their pets, a Husky named Molly and two Yorkies named Julie and Carmen.
Having been together for nearly 12 years, the duo has many similarities—including the fact that they both come from big families. Suarez is the youngest of seven children, and Houston is one of twelve. And they’ve both lost their parents, which led the pair down some dark paths.
While Houston experienced a great deal of negativity and transphobia from her siblings, her parents accepted her. Her mother embraced her when she first came out as a gay man, and continued to support her when she came out as a trans woman. She remembers how her mother was proud of her until the day she died. Although her father did not fully understand her identities, Houston says, “He accepted me totally when I accepted myself.”
Brokenhearted by her parents’ deaths, Houston drank every day to cope. Suarez dealt with the loss of his mother similarly.
Growing up, his biological father was absent and one of his siblings often told Suarez that he wasn’t smart enough and wouldn’t amount to anything because he didn’t graduate high school. However, his mother always supported him and even spoiled him with video games and consoles like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, GameCube, and Nintendo 64.
Suarez was heartbroken when his mother died of a stroke. Just 16 years old at the time, he coped by drinking, doing drugs, and hanging out with a crowd that enabled his addictions. He was later arrested and jailed for drug possession.
Houston and Suarez’s lives changed when their paths crossed.
In 2010, Suarez attended one of Houston’s performances as a showgirl. He was drawn in by her talent, moves, and welcoming personality. He asked her out to the movies that same day.
The two soon began dating, and Houston says she realized Suarez was “the one” when he agreed to take care of her sick parents while she worked from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. as a showgirl. When her mother had to go to the hospital for kidney problems, Suarez accompanied her and stayed by her side until Houston got off work. When her mother died, he did the same for her father, who had pancreatic cancer.
“He’s different from what I’ve had before,” Houston admits. “I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is who I want to be with. This is who I deserve to be with.’”
Suarez says he realized Houston was the one when Suarez’s own family wanted nothing to do with him after he got out of jail, and Houston was the only person who stood by him. She believed in him when no one else did, including himself. She often told Suarez, “You need to stop thinking badly of yourself and push through. We’re going to get through this.”
Houston appreciates how straightforward Suarez is with her. She also likes how sweet he is to everybody he meets, and how he lights up every room he walks into.
And Suarez loves Houston’s performances, her directness, and the fact that they don’t hide anything from each other, especially during hard times.
After her parents died, Houston was arrested for a DWI. When she went to jail, Suarez shared with her how her actions hurt his feelings, and she promised she would learn from the incident and never make the mistake again. Suarez decided to trust her and move forward, and she did the same for him when he was arrested for not paying his old traffic tickets. Houston even fought for him by demanding a better court-appointed lawyer.
“At the end of the day, it’s love. We love each other,” she emphasizes.
A year after they started dating, while they were drinking at a bar, Suarez asked Houston, “Hey, if I was to propose to you, would you be able to say yes?” Houston replied, “What? Boy, leave that alone right now, we’ve been drinking.” To which Suarez said, “I meant what I said.”
Houston didn’t accept his proposal because she believed they didn’t need a piece of paper to validate their union for life. But after Houston turned 50, her mind changed. Not only did she want to make Suarez happy, but she also wanted to make sure he was taken care of if she ever got sick. “Being older, I wanted to make sure he would be stable and comfortable if I was gone.”
The couple got married on October 20, 2021, in a small courthouse wedding chapel surrounded by Suarez’s family and most of Houston’s closest friends. They held the reception at Tony’s Corner Pocket, where they danced to the Diana Ross and Lionel Richie song “Endless Love.”
The couple is currently living together with dreams of opening a bar and moving into a bigger home.
“I see us as a common couple that lives their day-to-day life like everybody else,” Houston says. “We wake up, we do our chores, I run errands, and every month we pay our bills. A lot of people ask me, ‘What’s it like to be married now?’ It’s the same thing!”
This article appears in the February 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.