February, 2014 / Author:

A Valentine’s Day special: stories of challenges and connection from three couples in our community

Human connection cuts across ages, backgrounds and identities. Some people don’t find that connection until they overcome years of challenges, proving that for every story of struggle there’s a story of strength, hope and love. Others find that connection when they least expect it.

These three relatively-new couples, together for under a year and a half, have stories of struggle and strength. Their stories show that the short time they’ve been together doesn’t make their connection any less deep than a couple who has been together for many years.


Harrison Oakes (L) and Hamed (R) connected over their experiences of unaceptance. Danelle Cloutier


In Iran, homosexuality is criminal and punishable by death, and honour killings are common. Hamed, 28, fled his home in Iran for fear of being killed and putting his family in danger because he’s gay (Hamed’s last name is withheld from publication to protect the identity of his family). He kept his departure a secret because the sister of the man he was dating at the time was threatening to tell his family that they were together.

Hamed finally left after he couldn’t handle the secrets, blackmailing and severe consequences of anyone finding out he’s gay.

“I was just so upset. I was just so crazy. I tried to commit suicide four or five times,” he said. Hamed lived in Turkey for two years until Reaching Out Winnipeg, a program that helps resettle GLBTQ* refugees to Winnipeg, sponsored him. Now a personal support worker, Hamed met and started dating his boyfriend Harrison Oakes, 29, at this past Pride Winnipeg. The two connected over their experiences of having families who aren’t accepting that they’re gay.

“One of the things that makes our relationship work is that I’ve also gone through a very difficult coming out process and a very difficult process with my own family and I’m only now starting to reconnect with them,” said Oakes, a psychology student and research assistant at the University of Winnipeg. “[My parents are] missionaries in Mexico and have been ministers since I was 12. They see my sexuality through the lens of their religious beliefs,” said Oakes, adding that they’ve gotten a little more accepting.

Hamed and Oakes do encounter some cultural differences. “We’ve been always taught just be very polite, be always quiet, if there’s a problem or something just keep it to yourself,” said Hamed. “But here I can see and understand that in our relationship being quiet and keeping everything inside and not communicating with your partner is a worse thing.”

They’ve made progress in their communication and it’s certainly not something that outweighs the good in their relationship. “Before I met Hamed, I never thought that I would find somebody that I wanted to be in a relationship with,” said Oakes, who came out four years ago. “I know a lot of people here in Winnipeg and also internationally who are struggling with the same thing, thinking, ‘Oh, I’m never going to find love. There’s nobody out there for me.’ Just don’t give up. Don’t give up hope because you never know when something’s going to come along.”


Armande Martine (L) and Nelle Oosterom (R) on their one year anniversary of meeting each other Cathy Orr



Armande Martine was married to a man for 17 years and had three children before she came out about a year and a half ago. “It took that long for me to even know myself,” said Martine, a civil servant for the province. “I didn’t get married because ‘Oh, I don’t have any other options.’ I was still following my path because that’s who I thought I was.”

After coming out and receiving support from her children, Martine, 54, said she felt much more open with her emotions, thoughts and relationships. Martine had only been out for three months when she met the woman she plans to spend the rest of her life with.

“The universe aligned in such away that we ended up meeting,” said her partner Nelle Oosterom, senior editor of Canada’s History. Oosterom, 58, took to Plenty of Fish after being single for years after her long-term relationship ended.

“I found it very distressing at first because there wasn’t really that many women available, and of the ones that were online, a lot of them weren’t that serious about being in a relationship,” she said. “I would get to the point where I’d be afraid to check my notices that came up.”

After a particularly tough day, she hesitantly opened a notification from Martine. She scoped out Martine’s profile, liked what she saw and messaged her, saying, “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me all week! I’d like to get together!” “Which scared me off,” Martine said with a laugh. She was scared that they could potentially become serious. A week later they went for dinner and connected intellectually, but only thought they’d be friends. “I didn’t know if Armande knew herself well enough because she had been out so recently,” said Oosterom, who has been out since she was 27.

It was emailing back and forth after the date that really sparked their connection. As writers, they could communicate easily through email. They’ve been dating for 15 months and they started living together in August. “We are committed for life,” said Oosterom. “We do talk marriage, so I think that’s the next step we’re thinking of taking,” said Martine, an OutWords contributor.


Ashley Koop (L) supports her boyfriend, Jeremy Barbosa (R) through his transition. Adrienne Pereles Photography

In a new relationship it’s hard enough to get familiar with how the other person works, even more so when that person is changing. 

Since Jeremy Barbosa, 19, started taking testosterone in August, he finds it more difficult to show affection and he’s less in tune with his emotions. It can sometimes cause problems with Ashley Koop, his girlfriend of four months who he met on Plenty of Fish. “I feel like maybe she takes that as I don’t care for her anymore, which I don’t want her to think that way, so it’s a bit difficult,” said Barbosa, a student at the University of Winnipeg completing the prerequisites to a veterinary program. “I just try to understand that he’s going through changes,” said Koop, a waitress in Steinbach. “Now he’s in guy mode and I’m still and always will be in girl mode, so things that I think should be obvious are not going to be obvious for him.”

Even though Barbosa lives in Winnipeg and Koop, 20, in Steinbach, they manage to support each other through challenges. “She’s like a support system for me because whenever I have anxieties that have to do with transitioning or just anything going on in my life, I can talk to her about it and she always keeps me grounded,” said Barbosa, adding, “She’s really been there for me more than anybody has before in the past.” 

They said things are good now and they will see where they’re headed.

– Danelle Cloutier is the music editor at OutWords.

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