Natural Awakenings Reader Profile: Special Pride Month Edition: Rachel & Amanda Engel
Name: Rachel Engel, business development manager at ShiftMed. Married to Amanda Engel, the counselor at a Long Island high school.
Favorite quote: “Be your own reason.” Levi's used it back in the ’90s in an ad that stuck with me all these years. Every time I question anything, that quote pops into my head and helps me clarify my thoughts.
When did you come out, and what did that journey look like for you?
I came out to myself when I was about 15. I realized I was having different feelings, and although I wanted so badly to feel “normal” and like boys the way my friends did, I just didn’t.
I started telling friends in 1999 when I left for college and could separate myself from having to face them. The support from my friends was amazing. A few of them were younger, so I know they went back and told their parents so that they could process the information with the help of an adult, but most of them either thought they already knew or were just happy that I was happy.
Telling my parents was a little harder. I know they wanted what was best for me and what would make my life “easier.” They wanted to make sure that I had explored all my options before cementing the idea of being “gay.” Once they saw how happy I was in a relationship, they became a lot more understanding and accepting. Things were so different then, and I’m grateful that I had the love and support that I needed along the way.
Amanda came out to her friends right before she met me. They were incredibly supportive and loving. She came out to her brother and then her parents after she met me. They were also very loving and supportive and welcomed me into the family.
Were there unforeseen emotions and feelings along the way?
Quite a few. Back in June 2011, when it became legal to marry your same-sex partner in New York—that was something I never thought would happen. To be alive and in a beautiful and loving relationship at that time, to be engaged to my girlfriend and know that we would legally be considered the same as any other married couple, was an emotion I’ll never forget. I married that person a year later. Her name was Abby, and she and I had spent years together. We had a beautiful wedding and honeymoon. Another unforeseen emotion was her being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and passing away nine months later. Having the chance to marry Abby was one of the best memories life has offered me. I was able to stand by her side for better or for worse and until death did we part. I took care of her through her illness, something I may not have been able to do if we weren’t married legally.
Another unexpected feeling was falling in love again—not necessarily moving on, but moving forward, with Amanda. She is loving and caring and incredibly supportive of me. Now we have a 3-year-old, Ruby, and another baby on the way. I’m so grateful to have Amanda as my wife and life partner. I love her endlessly.
Do you have a specific memory that conjures up your journey of living a life of truth and authenticity?
I’ve never been one to “stay in the closet” for long when meeting someone new or starting a new job. My entire teenage and adulthood have been a journey of living my best life and being as authentic and truthful to myself as possible.
How have you overcome self-imposed as well as societal limitations?
I try not to think too deeply about limitations. I’m the product of a family of Holocaust survivors. I’ve heard stories of sadness, terror, horror, loss, struggle, grief, and depression. We lost so many incredible family members, but I am here today because my grandparents were “lucky enough” to have made it through World War II. Their stories give me the strength, compassion, empathy, knowledge, intelligence, and confidence to keep going. Whatever feels like it’s too much, or too hard, keep pushing. Someone I’m related to went through far more and far worse than I can ever imagine, and that’s why I’m here. I use that gratitude to keep pushing forward.
What advice do you have for gay people struggling to come out?
It gets better. It does. Find a group, a person, a book—anything that helps. Just be true to yourself and things will fall into place. It takes time. Anything good does.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a parent?
There was never a time in my life that I didn’t want to be a mom. This was always a top priority to me.
Did you have concerns about discrimination or difficulties you or your child might face?
Being a lesbian mom, part of a two-mom squad, of course, I have concerns. I never want my babies to feel discriminated against. I never want them to be made fun of or asked questions that they’re uncomfortable answering. I’ve been in close contact with Ruby's teachers and her circle of school friends to keep conversations open. If another child questions why Ruby doesn't have a daddy, or why she has two moms, we’ve come up with answers that are easily understandable and make Ruby feel special to have the family that she has. Luckily we live in a close-knit community with many same-sex couples with children, so she’s not alone.
Was the decision to have a child something you and Amanda agreed on from the start?
Absolutely. We actually met on a dating app, and it was one of the questions that we asked each other when getting to know one another.
Just to add in: I am Ruby's birth mom, but Amanda is my equal partner and couldn’t be a better mom to Ruby. Ruby calls me Mama, and Amanda is Mommy. Amanda is now carrying our next child, from the same donor. So Ruby will be related to Amanda’s child, and that to me is so special. It’s a bond that we dreamed of having for our children, and although the journey wasn’t easy, we are so excited for what’s to come!
What advice do you have for gay couples thinking about becoming parents?
Having children is incredible. They give you hope and love that you’ll never ever be able to understand the depth until you feel it first-hand. Being gay should not define whether you will be a good or bad parent. Find a community that feels like a safe and supportive place to start your family. Don't give up on your dream.
On Life in Long Island:
What’s it like raising children as a gay couple in Long Island?
It’s like raising children like anyone else. We typically have to correct people when they ask where her dad is or who the birth mom is, but we never allow it to become an uncomfortable conversation. Typically if someone assumes something, it’s just because they didn't know, and once they do they are really happy to know us. We live in a city by the beach where there are a ton of same-sex couples and families. We’re really lucky to have this community.
What's your favorite activity to do with your child?
I have two sisters and a brother, and Amanda has a brother. We spend a lot of time with our family. Ruby has five girl cousins, another girl cousin on the way, and a brother or sister coming as well! She’s surrounded by so much love. We spend weekends in the park, at soccer games, taking road trips, and putting our toes in the ocean, and then we do seasonal activities like going to the zoo, apple picking, and so on. We love anything that keeps us active and having fun. We also love a good movie night snuggled up with popcorn and a Disney flick.
What local causes do you support?
I’m on the board of Katie’s Art Project, a nonprofit that connects kids facing life-threatening illnesses with artists through “collaborative programs to create a lasting legacy through art, music, and dance.” I joined in honor of my late wife, Abby, as it was created by our best friend and her lifelong friend, Stephanie Klemons.
Any final thoughts?
I feel so lucky to be gay. Sounds crazy to some, but it’s given me the opportunity to keep my eyes and heart open. I have compassion and empathy for so many living things. I want what’s best for my children, my wife, our life, and the lives of everyone good in this world. I want my child to know how much we love her and how much we wanted her. We climbed many mountains to get to where we are now. My parents were right when they said it’s not easy, but it is so worth it.