VH1’s documentary series I’m Married to A… follows real life couples who are making love work despite unconventional and often difficult situations. A lesbian couple, Alex Felix and Gemma Beristain, will be featured in the episode that airs on May 5. Alex is from a conservative family and is in the closet. We speak to both Alex and Gemma about filming the episode and the background of their relationship.
AfterEllen: Where do you live?
Alex & Gemma: We live together in Pasadena, CA, along with Gemma’s son and our two dogs, Cookie and CoCo.
AE: Where did you grow up?
Alex: I grew up in La Puente, CA. I’ve been there all my life. It’s predominantly a Latino neighborhood.
Gemma: I was actually born in the Philippine Islands before migrating to Southern California, in the Silverlake district. I consider myself an Angelino.
AE: When you were growing up, did you know any gay people?
Alex: No, not really. The first time I saw a gay couple was when I was 12 years old. They were two butch-like women holding hands, and I was confused but I never openly questioned it, but I did think, “What the hell is going on?”
Gemma: I grew up in Silverlake, a very liberal and artsy community. I had my first gay couple encounter when I was 10 years old. I was selling chocolates for school fundraising and I knocked on a neighbor’s door. A very stylish, perky male answered the door and bought a chocolate bar. He then called out, “Honey, do you want one?” and a male voice said yes, walked towards him and put his arms around his waist. I remember gawking at them as the front door closed, but afterward, it didn’t feel awkward at all. In some strange way, I connected.
AE: How did you two meet?
Alex: We met at an all girl Spring Break event in the desert, but we weren’t there to party. We were actually working the event. She introduced herself to me, and I liked her confidence from the start.
Gemma: Yes, we locked eyes at an annual lesbian four-day event. We were working the event, so the first day we jump started a conversation and had breakfast the next day. What’s funny is, I actually tried to set her up with another girl. Then a week after the event, I texted her. This time, with intention to ask her out to dinner with me.
AE: Ha! So you met at Dinah I assume. When did you know that she was the one you wanted to marry?
Alex: During our first dinner, we actually had a long conversation about our shared views on having a family. I really liked that and that really opened up the possibility of pursuing a long term relationship with Gemma. About six weeks later, we were having one of those all night telephone conversations and I asked if she wanted to give us a try, and to be my girlfriend. She said, “Yes! Absolutely.” Our honeymoon phase didn’t last long because as soon as we openly shared our relationship with friends and those within our circle, there was drama caused by some and others trying to come between us. There were moments when I questioned if I really wanted to continue with the relationship but I always stood my ground, because I did see her as a longtime partner, someone I would marry and have a family with.
Gemma: Alex and I have a hundred differences between us, but we do share three important commonalities. First, we believe that when two people love each other, that love has to be strong enough to carry them through life’s challenges. Second, we want to build a family that capitalizes on our love and commitment to each other as a foundation; we want to teach our kids to understand that a same-sex marriage has the same validity as a traditional man-woman marriage. Third, a family is defined by the uniqueness of love and should not be judged by narrowmindedness. That moment in time when I said yes to being a girlfriend, I pretty much knew I wanted to pursue her beyond a girlfriend. I was ready to marry her!
Gemma (left) and Alex
Photo courtesy VH1
AE: Of course others caused drama! Oh, lesbians. Glad you made it through that nonsense. Who proposed?
Alex: Gemma beat me to the punch.
Gemma: I proposed!
AE: How did you propose?
Gemma: It was about four months after our first date. We had dinner at the same restaurant and I came prepared with an engagement ring! But let me tell you, I proposed to her many times before she actually said yes, via text!
AE: Why did you decide to tell your story to the world?
Gemma: There was an open call for I’m Married to A… and I thought to myself, there must be others out there who can connect with our story, so I decided to send an email to the casting director. A month later, I receive a callback for a video interview! Alex had no idea I did this and I surprised her at the last minute with the news We really thought that our whirlwind romance was worth sharing with the world because of the important human rights issue of marriage equality and same-sex partnership acceptance. There are hundreds of similar Alex and Gemma stories out there and they need to be heard! Capitalizing on our story is that little something we as a couple can do to make a difference, even thought it’s not a grand splash, but it is a direction toward making same-sex couples un-invisible. We are undeniably worthy of marriage equality.
Alex: Telling our story made me stronger and helped me realize what I truly wanted. There are others in the Latino community that are possibly in the same predicament as I am: scared to come out to their families so they live a double life. I hope that my struggle and story can also give them strength to deal with their own issues.
AE: Gemma, are you out?
Gemma: I’m what you call quasi-out. My two sisters, immediate circle of friends and colleagues accept me openly. I don’t really promote that I’m gay. People come to their own conclusions.
AE: Was it difficult dating someone who is not out? If so, what were some of the difficulties?
Gemma: Cautionary dating — that’s how it was in the beginning but as time went on, it got more complicated as we wanted to have a normal relationship. Well, as close to normal as possible. So we had to face the inevitable of sharing the news with non-judgmental family and friends within our “safe” circle so we can spend time together with them as a couple.
AE: Alex, were you out to anyone when the show was being filmed?
Alex: Yes, during filming, I was out to my siblings and a few trusted friends. I actually told my mother about being gay when I was 18, but that didn’t go well. My mom refused to accept it, and she fell ill from the stressful news. To feed on my guilt, my stepdad blamed me for my mom’s condition, so it’s a touchy subject that was never discussed, until now. I really don’t want to put my mom through more stress.
AE: Why do you think your mother is so opposed to you having a same-sex relationship?
Alex: I come from a family well-rooted in traditional Latino culture of marrying the opposite sex and living life happily ever after, so a same-sex relationship is a cultural taboo. Also, she says that I don’t look like or act like a tomboy, so I am not gay. My mother plays the protective role with me and she means no harm. Her exposure to a different lifestyle is limited and I believe she doesn’t want me being ridiculed by others.
AE: Do you think she will come around or do you think her opposition to your relationship too ingrained?
Alex: Well, my mother and I have not discussed the subject since the day of the VH1 shoot. My mom called me that night and she said that she loves me and will always love me because I am her daughter, but she did request that I not mention my personal life with my partner or to bring up the subject. I don’t think it will be something that will be accepted soon, so my partner has to be very understanding of this.
AE: What lesson do you want viewers to come away with from watching this episode?
Alex: I would like viewers to be less judgmental of people who live different lives. Love transcends labels.
Gemma: Understanding is a powerful act. I would like to see our viewers exercise awareness and understanding when it comes to same-sex relationships. Love is love, no matter what color, shape or gender.
Catch Gemma and Alex’s episode of I’m Married To A… on May 5 on Vh1.