So,they call us the Shannons.
Her mother, Mina Shannon, she’s 86, and lives upstairs in the guest room, and our daughter is Josie shannon. I could be Shannon shannon if i really wanted to,” said Shannon Batson, prompting laughter. “Or just shannon.”
Try to keep this all straight, so to speak: Batson lives with her partner of 14 years, Denise Shannon, their 9-year-old adopted daughter Josie, Shannon’s mother, Mina, their three dogs Linus, Wit and Blossom, two cats Koi and Venus, seven hens and one rooster, in a 100-year-old house on two acres of land that was the home of the Herrera family and its renowned metalworking business. To say that it’s generally a whirlwind of activity in the Shannon household would be a BIG understatement.
Over the course of a long discussion at their dining room table in their home north of Mueller (in “NoMu,” Batson joked), punctuated by frequent laughter and digressions, the barking of dogs and the ringing of the telephone (both women work from home), they presented a portrait of a family comfortable in its own skin and, by the very fact of its being led by two gay women, opening minds in a variety of ways.
“Because we’re different from the majority of folks, and our family looks different, I hope to inculcate in Josie a tolerance for difference,” said Shannon. “There is such richness and diversity and I think if you can appreciate difference, it just makes life more fun. There’s some benefit that there’s not the added challenge of trying to overcome traditional gender roles. We don’t have that challenge. We can sort of take on whatever role we want at that particular moment.”
The yin and yang of their relationship, and how they balance each other out, was on vivid display. Whether the couple was sparking stories or finishing one another’s sentences, their rapport was clear. Batson is more social and the cutup of the two, while Shannon tends to be more introverted. Their relationship began as a friendship, which is one key to their success.
Batson, who never imagined she would find love and was considering single parenthood, said they have a shorthand with each other, adding, “Honestly, I think it’s just that we are real good friends, we like each other and we laugh a lot.”
“I never wanted a kid,” Shannon stated flatly, before Batson interjected that she did want a family and had considered the range of options, from sperm donors to artificial insemination. At one point, they decided to remain a double-income, no-children couple, but after a month or so they both felt something was missing. “I wasn’t really into her getting pregnant. I did not think she would be a good pregnant person,” said Shannon.
They settled on the idea of adopting a girl from China, which, because of that country’s prohibition of gay adoption, came with its own set of logistical hurdles. Suffice to say, the 22-month process required the couple to jump through hoops and pass muster with a local social worker, but it was ultimately worth it. They brought Josie home when she was 10 months old.
Their daughter has yet to encounter any negative feedback regarding her nontraditional family, but if she does, her parents seem confident that she’ll handle it with panache. “She’s a kind person. She’s very empathetic, which not all children are automati- cally,” said Shannon. “We’ve tried, without making a huge deal of it, to prepare her for a time when [acceptance] might not be the case.”
Batson agreed, adding, “She thinks it’s very odd that we can’t get married every place.”
For this couple, the hardest part of parenting is making time in their schedules for Josie, Shannon’s mother, Mina, household maintenance and professional pursuits. Still, they both credited the self-sufficiency of Mina as a huge plus.
Mina was living in El Paso when her husband passed away in 1992. As she got older, maintaining her own house and traveling to and from Austin became harder. She’d always gotten along well with Batson when she visited, so just over a year ago, she moved in. “I thought it would alleviate her loneliness and allow us not to worry about her,” said Shannon, adding that Mina loves to knit, play tennis and solve crossword puzzles. “She’s a lovely person.” They affectionately call Josie and Mina “the bookends,” as the oldest and youngest members of the household. “It’s been great for our daughter too. I think all the way around it makes such sense,” Batson added. Their eclectic house, tucked away toward the middle of a fairly large lot, offers plenty of privacy for summertime excursions and outdoor activities. Josie loves jumping on the trampoline, and the tennis court, which came with the house, is used often. They initially wanted the land for a pool, but the house needed a good amount of work, so that’s where they invested their resources. Batson’s cousin held her wedding reception there, and they both said it was a perfect place for children (the entire two acres are fenced in) as well as entertaining, which they do frequently.
It’s also where both women work. Batson, a recruiter for Dell, works to strengthen the technology company’s already robust relationship with the LGBT community through a range of out- reach efforts. “Dell is very supportive of its LGBT employees,” Batson said, noting that the company recently shot a number of spots for the online “It Gets Better” campaign, spearheaded by the activist Dan Savage. A multigeneration Texan by birth, Batson came of age in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying communication at Mills College, a liberal arts school in Oakland, and architecture at California College for the Arts in San Francisco.
Shannon has worked with the Funders Network, a group of philanthropic foundations, for almost 11 years, focusing on reproductive health and rights. The group provides strategic leadership and guidance so that member organiza- tions can ensure equal access to the information that women may need to manage their fertility and promote sexual health.
“I’m moved by injustice, but the principle focus of my passion in the political sense has been around women’s human rights,” said Shannon, who has worked in the reproductive rights and justice movement for more than 20 years. “I think certain beliefs involving sexuality–particularly the belief that sex is for procreation only– are at the core of resistance to both reproductive and LGBT rights.”
It’s an issue that’s been close to Shannon’s heart since her 10 years of work in Washington, D.C. with Catholics for Choice, which, according to its website, is part of the “great majority of the faithful in the Catholic church who disagrees with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.” She still serves on that group’s board of directors.
Batson and Shannon had relatively smooth coming-out processes. Shannon said that she always knew she was gay (“I swooned over Julie Andrews and Suzanne Pleshette–I’m aging myself, aren’t I?”) and even worked at a gay bar in downtown Austin called Friends and Lovers when she was in college. Batson, a self-described “kid in a candy store,” came of age in San Francisco in the late 1970s through the 1980s, the era of Harvey Milk and the early years of the AIDS epidemic. She realized she was gay in high school when she met her “boyfriend” in the drama club at Westlake High in Austin and they hit the dance floor at places downtown like the Pearl Street Warehouse (not long after, she had her first girlfriend). Needless to say, she found the Bay Area to be extremely affirming and ended up marching in her first gay pride parade there.
When they aren’t working and dealing with everyday parenting issues, the Shannons are like any other family–cooking up delicious meals, relaxing at home and playing Pictionary or charades, reading while their daughter buzzes around the living room, or maybe playing croquet outside if the weather’s good. Family dinners that aren’t at home might be at Justine’s, Guero’s or Asti. The Shannons recalled their first date with the kind of sweet- ness that can’t be manufactured. Dancing at The Ritz, when it was a fairly intimate club and before it became the Alamo, was where they connected. They both described it as low-lit and romantic. “I only had eyes for you,” said Batson. “We could’ve made a 7-Eleven romantic,” added Shannon. This busy couple said they were planning a date night for their 14th anniversary, which was a few weeks away at the time of the interview. “Maybe for 15 we’ll have a party,” Batson said. Meanwhile, their sprightly daughter, Josie, will be growing into a young woman soon enough, and it’s something they both look forward to.
“One of the incredible things about being a parent is–I mean, being someone who didn’t want to have kids at first, I always thought, what a hassle. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever really want to, not just have to, but want to sacrifice for a child,” said Shannon. “That comes so easily and naturally.”
“What’s really important with kids though, for me, is to always remind myself that I’m not making a little me. She’s her own person,” Batson said. “We’re just there to guide her, to love her, to support her, to make her feel good about herself, and she’s her own person. I mean, she’s got a mind of her own and she’s a confident little girl.”
She added, “This whole idea that you’re just giving this being a stable and secure launching pad from which to go out into the world is a great feeling. And who that’ll be, we’ll just wait and see.”