The Herald Bulletin

August 17, 2013

If you were me

Lesbian mom's battle to keep her kids, her integrity and her identity

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

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ANDERSON — Dickens, the cat, strolls through the living room. Two teenagers sit comfortably on a couch in the family room. There are smiles and laughter.

Mom and her partner sit across from the kids, thoughtful and listening as the teens talk. It is the picture of a typical family.

This is a family that was forged with love, and with an extraordinary amount of courage.

Mom, Angela Eden, 43, tells the heart-wrenching tale of the struggle to keep her loved ones in her life in her newly-published book, “If You Were Me.” Twelve years ago, the Anderson mom was faced with the unthinkable possibility of losing her children in a custody battle waged solely on the basis of her sexual orientation.

“How sad I was put in this place – choosing my children over my dignity as a lesbian,” said Eden.

For Eden, it was a question of denying the reality of her own self, and discerning the impact of that on herself, on her children and on the partner she loved. The story traces its path through Eden’s life and lands as a book in your lap today because Eden wants people to see what equality means.

“I’m trying to promote understanding of families like ours,” said Eden.“Our family is so normal.”

“People focus on the sexual part of homosexuality,” said Eden.

She looks at her partner, Angie Strickler, 41, to underscore their 13 years together. “The focus is not on sex.

“People say God loves you but hates what you do. I go to work. I pay bills. I take care of my kids. I mow my grass. 99.1 percent of my 13 years with this woman is that. Being gay is not what I do but who I love.”

Living one's truth

Eden's book is surprisingly relatable and relevant as it touches on subjects of parenting, divorce, depression, forgiveness and faith. That is, ultimately, the point: Eden, like everyone else, is a person striving to live her truth.

Eden was raised in a culture and a church environment in southern Indiana that prevented her from even admitting to herself that she was gay. She married and had children, but eventually came to realize her own homosexuality and the destructiveness of refusing to acknowledge one’s own self. She divorced with a custody arrangement that worked, until her desire to return to graduate school unexpectedly tripped a wire. Her ex-husband sued for full custody of the kids solely on the basis that Eden was a lesbian - an element that serves as a premise for her book.

At the time, Eden, an elementary school teacher, was living with Strickler. Eden’s legal advisor proposed simply denying the fact of her orientation, but to Eden it was a question of what was right and what it meant to each person in her family. The book makes a study of how faith in the context of fundamental religion initially defined a falsehood in Eden’s life, but it was finally Eden’s faith that empowered her. In the end, she prevailed.

A normal family

Eden is now a school psychologist. Strickler is a real estate agent. They have parented together for 13 years. The two offer different traits to the party. Eden is the verbal one. Strickler brings a quiet pragmatism into the room.

“They really balance,” daughter Ashley, now 18, said of Eden and Strickle. She tells how her mom encourages the kids to shoot for any dream they want, and Strickler lays out a path to get there.

Ashley is heading off to college where she’ll study English and theatre, with a full tuition scholarship. The bright, articulate young woman is already a self-possessed activist for equality.

Her 16-year-old brother Trent is the stand-tall picture of responsibility and conscientiousness. In his deep voice, he communicates his excitement about signing up for the Air Force next year. His ambition to serve his country, achieve personal responsibility and financial stability are clear. Even so, the young man recognizes he will be “serving a country that kind of hates my family.”

In bringing forth her book, Eden seeks to grow understanding and work towards equality. Over time, Eden and her partner have seen how people who formerly rejected them have come to embrace them.

“It just takes people getting to know us and not see us as a walking a moral issue,” said Strickler. “I don’t have to change people’s theology. You can still think that it’s wrong. I think adultery’s wrong, but I’m not trying to take peoples’ rights away.”

Look for Eden's book online on Amazon. She has a book signing in Indianapolis at Bookmamas, 9 S. Johnson Ave., from 2 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 24. She continues to write and to blog at www.angelaeden.com. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.

Angela Eden, of Anderson, wrote of the struggle to keep loved ones in her life, amid a custody battle, in her newly-published book, "If You Were Me." Look for Eden's book online on Amazon.com. Eden has a book signing scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 24 at Bookmamas, 9 S. Johnson Ave. in Indianapolis in the Irvington area. She continues to write and to blog at www.angelaeden.com. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.