When A.J. Costa was 8 years old, his parents divorced. His mom got custody, and his dad became an inconstant presence, spending time in prison and, in general, popping in and out of his life. A year or two after the split, the now-31-year-old sales manager recalls, his mother Jerry Ann got a roommate, Theresa, whom she’d met through church. As he explains it, “One thing led to another, and they’ve been together ever since.” Theresa became his second mom.
For Costa, growing up in West Houston with a family that looked a little different from everyone else’s wasn’t always easy, although he wouldn’t trade it. Some family, friends and neighbors, he remembers, shunned them, at least initially. This was in the ’90s, a time when the advances in LGBT rights that would be made over the next decades were inconceivable.
As a teenager, Costa didn’t dream that in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court would rule that same-sex couples could legally marry, something his moms promptly did, the very same year. He knows there are challenges ahead for families like his, though, including a recent suit heard by the Texas Supreme Court, on the legality of compelling the city of Houston to offer same-sex benefits to employees—a case that, when decided, could have national ramifications.
Here's Costa on life with two moms, in his own words:
"It was the three of us for a long time. My mom’s side didn’t accept us for a few years, and we got kicked out of the church. I remember those fights vividly. When we were back in our home, my mom would say to me, ‘Some people just have a lot of hate in their lives, and other people just don’t understand things that are different. ... So they’re going to be upset about it.'"
"One time, Theresa’s nephew came over and spent the night. He turned to me while we were playing games and was like, ‘Hey, are they gay?’ He was a few years older than me. I was about 9 or 10 years old and had no idea what that meant. I kind of laughed it off and was like, ‘No, you’re crazy. No way.’ After he went home that following morning, I said to my moms, ‘Hey, I gotta ask you guys a question. Are you guys gay, and what does that mean?’ My mom answered and said, ‘Well it means you love someone of the same type of person.’ I asked her again if she was gay, and she told me, ‘Yes, I think so.’ I then asked her, ‘Okay, do you love Theresa?’ She was like, ‘Yes, yes I do.’ My response was just, ‘Okay, great. Cool.’ And that was the end of it. It was very simple for me, and my brain computed the situation easily."
"In fifth grade, a kid I used to play with in our apartment complex threw something at our door late at night. It was [clay-formed] male parts wrapped around a box with a Velcro strap, and on the top of the box he wrote, ‘Give this to the one you call dad.’ We confronted his mom the next day, and she denied everything and told us we were all going to hell."
“Theresa was the other parent I didn’t have. My mom is very business-oriented and strong, and smart. Book-smart, really. Theresa was just a person you could talk to, and it’s not that I couldn’t talk to my mom about anything, but Theresa was the person I saw every day right after school, so she was very loving and supportive."
"In the Bible, when God gives you a new life and a new direction, a lot of times the name changes, like Abram to Abraham, and Saul to Paul. I had always wanted to do that myself, so when I was 14, I legally changed my name in the courts. I kept my first name that my mom gave me at birth, which is Adam. Together they gave me a new middle name, Joshua. And I took Theresa’s last name, which is Costa. I knew that Theresa couldn’t adopt me legally, so it was a way for me to kind of make the family whole."
“We always told people that my mom and Theresa were roommates, but I knew when they would catch on. There was this one Mexican restaurant we’d always go to, and this one waiter would constantly ask if we needed separate checks. … He would say it and look at us as if he wanted us to say we were all together, like he wanted to make a point and make us feel different."
"I found a community when I was 15 years old, where I met other kids who had parents like mine at a non-profit called COLAGE in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s a youth-driven organization for people who have one or more LGBTQ parents, and they hosted a program called Family Week that I attended with my moms. Before then, I would always say, ‘I have my mom and Theresa,’ when asked what my family make-up was. The program leaders said, ‘So, you have two moms. Say it out loud.’ I responded, ‘I’m A.J. I have two moms.’"
“When I was 16 years old, my first girlfriend was forced to break up with me. She said, ‘My dad doesn’t want me to date you because your moms are gay.’ She has since apologized for it in the best way that she could. … We’re still friends, but we don’t hang out. You just have to be the bigger person, and contrary to popular belief, I believe things change and people change."
"Theresa taught us about cooking. My mom already knew how to cook Pakistani food, but Theresa’s Italian. We were always cooking something. I didn’t get to be involved in much of the food preparation at a younger age, but my mom and Theresa were like, ‘Come in the kitchen and learn how to do this.’ Theresa is very motherly."
“We would always go to lunch right after church, and Theresa was like, ‘Do you want to have Mexican? Do you want to have Italian? Do you want to have American food? What do you want to have?’ … I was always trying new foods with her, and we still do that as a family. We’re like, ‘Let’s go eat there and try it out.’ We’re kind of a foodie family.”
"I remember texting my mom if I could call when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could wed. … She and Theresa were so excited. Not long after, they asked me to officiate their wedding. I had gotten ordained online earlier in the year for a friend’s wedding. They got married in July 2015, on their 21st anniversary."
“I want Texas to get it together like other places in the world and around the country. We do so many great things, and we’re so much more progressive than people think we are. … But the LGBTQ community is still facing struggles. That’s why I joined Montrose’s Grace Place, on their board of directors, which serves homeless youth of all sexual orientations one night a week. It’s a safe haven for them. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give back to the community.”
"I’m a bit worried about some of what’s been happening in Texas’s Supreme Court, [that gay rights could] get rolled back and repealed. … I do worry about all my friends, their parents and their friends, and my own parents, too. They’re the ones fighting the current fight now, and hopefully soon enough, my parents can ride off into the sunset."