Courtesy of Barlow and Grimes. Barlow (left) and Grimes.
Dade Barlow (a.k.a. ElectricDade on YouTube) and Tiffany Grimes married twice: first, as a same-sex couple, in 2010, then as man and wife in 2012. But the journey to their second nuptials was rife with so much confusion and despair they weren't sure they'd make it to their final "I do."
The charismatic duo met in the summer of 2008 when Barlow, then identifying as female, was looking to reinvent himself in a town far away from his family and former faith. He grew up a strict Jehovah's Witness among ultraconservative relatives and friends in Arizona. "I wasn't even allowed to read outside my faith, only literature provided by the church," he recalls.
Barlow was expected to submit to paternal authority, which is how he ended up married at age 19. "My father strongly encouraged me to marry at a young age. But it didn't fit, and I was very unhappy."
Because the sect doesn't allow divorce, Barlow felt trapped. "But once I started working full time, I got more exposure to other ideas," he remembers. "I began noticing all the things that didn't jibe. Nothing [the church had] been telling me was true." As alternative beliefs and ways of life flickered into consciousness, Barlow left his 7 1/2-year-marriage and relocated to a small town in Oregon.
Six months later he braved a dyke-themed night at a local bowling alley. At the event, dubbed "Lez Get Together," his eyes landed on a cute, gregarious cisgender lesbian from California named Tiffany Grimes. Like Barlow, Grimes was new to the queer scene. She'd recently left her husband of 13 years to grapple with her romantic feelings toward women. Their attraction was immediate.
"We went on a hike for our first date," Grimes says, "and we've been together ever since."
They married on the lush vineyard Agate Ridge in Eagle Point, Ore., on September 4, 2010. Surrounded by sunflowers, they stood barefoot at the center of a circle made up of 40 family members and friends, who brought gifts that signified the couple's love. After exchanging personal vows, they had their first dance to "Better Than Love" by Griffin House. Soon all the guests, who'd been saged with "joy" prior to the ceremony, were swaying sans shoes in the cool, tall grass. "We're a little 'woo woo' here in Oregon," Barlow jokes. "It was so beautiful," Grimes says.
A year later, however, the honeymoon halted. Barlow's realization that he was a man, not a lesbian, became an unbearable state of being. But broaching the topic with Grimes was tense and freighted. "I had just identified as a lesbian and rearranged my whole life," Grimes remembers thinking, "and now I have to come out to my family and friends again." She couldn't believe the irony of divorcing a man to embrace her same-sex desires only to end up with a man yet again.
Nine months of silent contemplation, as well as heated discussions, ensued before a watershed moment in couples counseling: "Our therapist made me shut up and listen to Dade. I really heard him for the first time. It's not a choice. It's just who he is. I saw how vital transitioning was to his existence." After that session, Grimes visited what she calls her "tree of life," a giant cedar on their former property, where they renew their vows each year, to lay her wife to rest. "I grieved her loss and really let her die," she says, to make room for the man who would become her husband.
Two years after their wedding and post-transition, Barlow and Grimes legally tied the knot, as husband and wife, in city hall. At the time, Grimes was six months pregnant with their daughter Zane, now 3. "We had fun with that," Dade jokes. "Well, I already knocked her up, so I got to do the right thing and marry her."
Thinking back on that fraught year, Barlow admonishes fellow trans folks: "If you don't recognize that your partner is having a process as well, your relationship is not going to work. It's affecting both of you, so you need to pause and give breathing room." Grimes, a social worker by training, adds: "Reach out and get support from professionals who are well-versed in the subject."