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‘That Black Couple’ Is Shattering Misconceptions

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The Dynamics Of This Relationship Will Expand Your Definition Of Black Love

Daren is asexual and monogamous. Jenn is queer and polyamorous. Their 18-year marriage is proof that love has no limits.

Meet Daren and Jenn M. Jackson, whose love for each other radiates through the screen as we chat on Google Hangout. In talking to them — and in listening to their podcast “That Black Couple” — you get the sense that they’ve known each other forever (true!), can complete each other’s sentences (it happens several times in our interview) and have a huge commitment to Black lives, storytelling and encouraging people to unabashedly live their truths.

In 2020, the Jacksons, both 39, made an announcement on “That Black Couple” to help them show up in the world as their authentic selves: Jenn is a queer, androgynous lesbian who is also polyamorous. Daren is asexual and monogamous. For years prior, each of them had been thinking about their gender and sexuality — knowing that they hadn’t adequately figured out how to make sure their inner feelings were aligned with how they presented themselves to others. Each of their upbringings had socialized them to believe that their lives needed to look and feel a certain way.

Jenn and Daren effortlessly welcome listeners into their lives on their podcast, as they talk about what it means to be Black queer millennials in America today. They make it immediately clear that whatever you think you know about polyamory and asexuality, you’re probably wrong — especially when it comes to Black love.

“Polyamory is not about just the romantic ties, it’s about building community and collective power,” said Jenn, who is a professor and author of “Black Women Taught Us: An Intimate History of Black Feminism.” “There’s other Black folk out there who are navigating the world like us, who are trying to figure out how to parent in this place that wants to annihilate us, who are trying to figure out how to subsist as queer folks, who are trying to build families. So this has always been about trying to find that community.”

Daren said his journey to asexuality started with a ton of research: He read literature about what it means to be asexual and learned of the wide spectrum of identities within that sexual orientation. He immediately started to recognize himself in those descriptors.

Courtesy of Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn and Daren in college.
Jenn and Daren in college.

Courtesy of Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn and Daren in college.

“My big struggle was being able to decouple my manhood away from my sexuality,” Daren said. “That’s what a lot of people on the asexuality spectrum struggle with because so much of how people define themselves is somewhat linked to their sexuality. So it’s taking a step to say, ‘I’m not going to follow those rules and those standards. And I’m really going to define myself for who I am,’ which is all what queerness is about.”

The Jacksons didn’t arrive at these moments of clarity about their relationship — to themselves and each other — overnight. They met in 2002 as freshman at the University of Southern California, and quickly became friends who bonded over video games. Once Jenn realized she wanted to be more than friends — and Daren stopped acting weird about it — they started dating and then got married right after they graduated. They’ve been together ever since.

The Jacksons, who are parents to three children — Logan, 16, Camryn, 12, and Jaelen, 10 — have been married for 18 years. They have launched businesses together including Colored Convos, a media platform for Black and queer creatives where they host creative workshops, and soon aim to launch a literary magazine, too.

HuffPost talked to the Jacksons about their love for each other, how that love has trickled down to their children, the misconceptions of polyamory and the challenges they’ve helped each other overcome.

Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson pose for a portrait with their family in their home in Syracuse, New York. Pictured from left are Logan, Jaelen, Daren, Camryn, Jenn and their dog Domino.
Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson pose for a portrait with their family in their home in Syracuse, New York. Pictured from left are Logan, Jaelen, Daren, Camryn, Jenn and their dog Domino.

How would each of you describe your love for each other?

Jenn M. Jackson: I’ve been calling Daren my bone marrow for over the last 10 years. I feel like at this point, I require Daren to function. My love for Daren is in my bones.

Daren Jackson: Yeah. It’s intrinsic. I feel the exact same way.

You all are also creative partners on several ventures. How has that strengthened your marriage?

Daren: It strengthened our marriage because it really helps with our communication and also I think our compartmentalization. So we really get along very well. We communicate very well. We get each other. There’s a lot of unspoken things, but also we’re very clear about saying what needs to be said and making it plain just to make sure there’s nothing lost in communication. And I think, as we move from just romantic partners to actual business partners, that just becomes that much more important. I think it also helped because we’re just together more. There was a point in our lives where we were just two parents going to work and life naturally kind of pulls you apart. And so our business ventures were another vehicle for us to spend more time together as well.

Jenn: Yeah, and I think also the cool thing about being married to someone who’s also a creative is that you never have to justify or explain yourself. Daren gets my craft and my art. If he ever writes a short story and says, “Hey, can you proofread this?” I really want to read it. I’m excited to see what new thing he did with the story. I don’t feel burdened by his creativity. I’m excited when he does something new. And he’s the same way with me. I have a book that just came out, and he waited for years. He didn’t want to read anything ’cause he wanted to get it when it came out into the world and experience it fresh.

Daren Jackson: I think that’s been really cool because sometimes people don’t support your craft. Sometimes people don’t support your creativity, and it doesn’t feel good when you are in a relationship with someone and they’re not excited for your work. We have people in our home, including our children, who are cheerleaders every single day. So that’s one of the cool things about building the businesses. And we’re writing partners. We have a whole book trilogy that we’re working on because we can do that together and we can cheer on each other as we do it. It’s not burdensome. It’s actually quite exciting and fun.

I love that. Have there been any big moments within your marriage over the years that felt like turning points or challenges, and how did you all work with each other to work through them?

Daren Jackson: I’ll say, obviously, we have three kids. So the introduction of children is a lot. We have moved across the country twice. We have, obviously, changed careers. We’ve both been to grad school. It’s really crazy, because neither one of us has hit 40 yet. So the joke that we’ve always had is all the things that cause marriages to break up or …

Jenn M. Jackson: We’ve done them.

Daren Jackson: We’ve done all of them. Some of them we’ve done…

Jenn M. Jackson: Twice. We were living through the recession in California. We had a new baby at the time. We were in careers that were dead ends even though they were well-paying. They’re the kind of careers that they slot Black folk into just so they can tokenize you and never give you a promotion. And we were miserable. We kept describing ourselves as in the waiting place, when we were living in California. And that was really hard on our marriage. I think that was a hard time in our marriage, not because it hurt our relationship — I think it actually brought us closer together — but because it’s not fun when you have all these big dreams and you’re a creative. We didn’t write. We weren’t able to do the things we wanted to do. And that’s when I realized, “OK, I’m not supposed to be working at Disney. I’m not supposed to be working in these jobs.” And I was like, “I got to go back to grad school.” And this nigga was like, “Sure, go ahead.” I still think that was wild. To this day, I’m like, “What’s wrong with you?”

Daren Jackson: But I think that’s a key element of what has worked for us — is we are 100% in each other’s corners.

Jenn M. Jackson: That’s it.

Daren Jackson: For whatever it is. She was like, “I think I should go to grad school.” And I said, “Well, what’s the best one for what you wanna do?”

Jenn M. Jackson: We had a new baby. Our youngest was little. I was still breastfeeding this baby. And when we tried to sell our house, it was very racist in Orange County. People didn’t want to buy our house. We got to the point where we were pushing into the school year and couldn’t sell our house, and we got a seller that bought it all in cash and we raced out to Chicago.

Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson pose for a portrait in their home in Syracuse, New York.
Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson pose for a portrait in their home in Syracuse, New York.

Jenn M. Jackson: We bought our house sight unseen and moved everybody in, went to sleep, woke up, and I went to school the next day. That’s exactly how it went. We just moved on. And during that time, Daren was transitioning into new jobs. We went through a lot in Chicago. I became very politicized in Chicago. Daren became politicized in Chicago. This is where we started really thinking about movements and our orientation to queerness and our identities. I really think we grew the most in Chicago, and our relationship grew the most. This is when I started really being open about being queer and being polyamorous. This is when Daren started openly identifying as asexual. And we just kind of started moving differently in the world.

Jenn M. Jackson: Now, I think that to me was the hardest time in our relationship because it was like our relationship was changing at that point from a romantic to a pretty much platonic relationship. And we had to decide how we wanted to navigate that and how we wanted to show up in the world.

And that stuff was hard because people were looking at us like we were out of our minds. But that Chicago moment, I feel like it just took a lot of communication. I was still dealing with a lot of trauma. My father had just passed away. I was working through my early healing journey. I was doing some self-sabotage type stuff. Poly journey was poly journeying, and it was ghetto. So it was a lot.

Daren Jackson: But also you were a grad student. So your schedule was all over the place. I was working. I had a 40-minute commute. Both ways, every day. We were trying to raise kids, have a household, still do our business stuff together. It was so many things to manage all at once, but I feel like what we always come back to is we come back to each other.

Bar everything else, I know they got me; I got them. And so even if we don’t see each other for a 24-hour period, we’re texting, we’re calling, we’ve planned things out. There’s things I implicitly know that I need to take care of. There’s things that Jenn implicitly knows that I need or I might be going through. We were just kind of in sync in that way. So no matter how bad it gets. That’s what keeps us grounded.

Jenn M. Jackson: You know what? And I think it has rubbed off on the kids. I think what’s happened is because we are so in alignment with one another and have been since we were 17 and 18. When I met him, I felt like I knew him. We always clicked from Day 1. So for our kids, it’s very natural. It’s just always been that way. And as a family, we’re a very tight unit. It is a well-oiled machine.

I love that. What do you hope your love for each other has taught your children about their love for themselves, but their love for what could happen in the future?

Jenn M. Jackson: So I’ve been thinking about this a lot because we both grew up very different than how our children are growing up. Neither one of us had two parents in the household. We didn’t have a lot of healthy examples of Black queer alternative love or anything like that. And so we were the “Family Matters” kids, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” kids. We watched a lot of TV.

And so when we got together, we kind of were like, “Well, we got to be real intentional about this. We really want to figure out how we’re going to frame out this parenting thing so our kids can be really safe and be exactly who they are.” And we talk about it all the time because they’re so safe.

Daren Jackson: Right. They are not intimidated by us. They are not threatened. These kids are very much their own people and they belong to themselves. And I think that’s what this has shown them. Because we don’t model traditional gender roles. When Daren and I met, he was not capable of cooking. And for me, that had nothing to do with gender. I was like, “That’s just somebody not preparing you for life. That’s irresponsible.” So I was like, “You are going to learn how to cook and you’re going to be a great cook.” And now this man has decided to make homemade chicken strips and things you don’t have to cook; things they already have factories for. He’d just be like, “I made it.” It’s great. It’s really a blessing for me because I grew up having to do a lot of labor in my home.

Daren Jackson: I think the other thing too is we teach them about what matters. So a lot of times you do kind of rely on societal norms to teach people and guide them and figure out who they like or how they’re supposed to be or how they’re supposed to dress. And we very much have a radical acceptance of you wear what you want to wear.

So that when they go out into the world, no matter what they want to do, they’re equipped to manage all of those situations. To me, I think we have been that set on just raising healthy, happy, responsible, secure children.

I wanted to be able to say when my child leaves the house, that I know he’s good. And we’ve had these conversations recently where I look at our child and I’m like, “He’s set.” He can cook for himself. He knows how to clean up. He knows how to have a healthy balance with his friends. I’ve seen confrontations and where he is like, “Hey, that wasn’t cool to me. And if you don’t respond and apologize in the correct way, then this can’t go forward.” It’s amazing to see the things come out to your kids that you really wanted them to get.

Jenn M. Jackson: He’s done that with other boys and they responded in kind like, “You know what, you’re right. We should do better.”

Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson pose for a portrait with their family outside their home in Syracuse, New York. Pictured from top left are Logan and Daren Jackson. Pictured from the bottom left are Camryn, Jaelen and Jenn with their dog, Domino.
Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson pose for a portrait with their family outside their home in Syracuse, New York. Pictured from top left are Logan and Daren Jackson. Pictured from the bottom left are Camryn, Jaelen and Jenn with their dog, Domino.

I was listening to one of your podcast episodes from October 2020. And you both had announcements. Jenn, you announced that you were gender-fluid and genderqueer. And Daren, you announced that you’re asexual. I assume these were both identities you had probably long sat with, but announcing on the podcast might be a different thing. How did it feel to reveal that on the podcast and what has been your journey since then?

Jenn M. Jackson: Oh, that was really fun. So we had been rolling those terms around in different forms for about four or five years before that. It was around 2015, 2016, when we both started really thinking about our gender and our sexuality — how we wanna show up. And, like, we finally settled in 2020. That’s when I shaved my head, and I was moving more masculinely, more androgynously. So we decided to make the announcement on the podcast because we thought that there were a lot of people who were probably experiencing those same feelings of gender and sexual expression, but maybe didn’t have the words for it.

And we wanted to share all the research we’ve done and here’s the ways it resonates for us. Here’s how this shows up for us in our lives and our bodies. I think it was really liberating for me to finally be able to say out loud what I was feeling inside my body. Like I had been playing around with queer, but it didn’t feel specific enough. I was, like, doing pansexual for a while. I did bisexual for a while, I did all these things with my sexuality, but then I realized what was shifting was my gender.

Daren Jackson: To me, it all came down to socialization. I feel like a lot of people across the entire spectrum really struggle with asexuality. They always want to say it’s something else. They always wanna say, well maybe it’s ’cause you’re actually gay. Or maybe it’s because you haven’t found the right person. Or maybe it’s a medical issue. It’s always like it’s something else other than what you say it is.

I think specifically growing up as a Black man especially in Orange County, without even realizing it, there was a lot of societal stuff that was imprinted on me. You were going to be smart. You’re going to be masculine. You’re going to get married and you’re going to have kids and you’re going to do all those things. And then these are the things that kind of define what it is to be a man. So my big struggle was being able to decouple my manhood away from my sexuality. And I feel like that’s what a lot of people on the asexuality spectrum struggle with because so much of how people define themselves is somewhat linked to their sexuality. So it’s taking a step to kind of really say, I’m not going to follow those rules and those standards. And I’m really going to define myself for who I am, which is all what queerness is about.

Jenn M. Jackson: And that’s why we started the blog and the podcast from the beginning. It was always to say, there’s other Black folk out there who are navigating the world like us, who are trying to figure out how to parent in this place that wants to annihilate us, who are trying to figure out how to subsist as queer folks, who are trying to build families. So this has always been about trying to find that community and trying to say, hey, look, hey, we are doing it. It is possible. It’s OK to build the life that you want for yourself.

Absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about polyamory. You talk about how there are obviously a lot of misconceptions of what polyamory even is. I want to talk about what are some of the ones that annoy you the most and how do you navigate having to even deal with those conversations or judgments?

Jenn M. Jackson: Oh God, yeah. Well, so the main one with polyamory is I think there’s this idea that, like, somehow Daren turned me gay. People don’t actually understand that it’s actually the opposite. I was already gay when I met Daren, and Daren turned me straight. So it was a temporary thing. I don’t know how he did it and it actually pissed me off.

You said that you were so mad.

Jenn M. Jackson: Yeah, I’m still mad about it. I mean, I love my children. I’m glad they’re here. I just never thought that it would happen organically like that. I just never expected it. But yeah, there’s this idea that when queer folks engage in non-heteronormative relationships in polyamory, it’s because someone did something, right? Because especially when Black women do it, it’s like, oh, well, you’re just not getting the right penis because penis that grows organically is just the best penis or something. I don’t know what people are talking about. So I rebut that. I think it’s ridiculous.

The other common one is that it’s just because I want to go out and have all this sex and it’s just to collect people. And what’s really problematic about that is that I don’t think people realize that there are just some of us who are not made to be monogamous. I’ve never in my life ever once been monogamous. I tell this story all the time. But I was 15 years old when I realized that I was not able to just date one person at a time because I love too big. My love is too big. It’s not capable to exist with one person. That’s why I have six best friends, and they all feel like they’re my only best friend.

And I think that people think it’s about having a lack of commitment and just having all these superficial relationships with people, but it’s actually the opposite, right? Because when you are polyamorous and you make a commitment to be in people’s lives and there’s more of them, it takes so much more coordination. It takes so much more conversation and agreement and you’ve got to keep your word, otherwise you’re not going to be very successful in polyamory. So I think folks like to mix up polyamory with other forms of nonmonogamy.

Of course, there are cheaters who are nonethical. Of course, there are folks who aren’t ethical, like swingers and other folks who like to play. But those of us who identify as polyamorous, for the most part, are people who actually have deep, loving relationships with multiple people and who build those relationships over long periods of time. I’m in a relationship with people for years at a time, so it’s not something where I’m just hooking up with folks. They have Tinder for that.

The last point that I think is particularly insidious for Black folks is the idea that for us, that polyamory is apparently not OK and not safe, or not healthy or not good for Black children. Unfortunately, what people don’t understand is that when you don’t offer children options and other ways of being, when you don’t show them the expansiveness of how people can show up in the world, they’ve got to go and figure it out for themselves. What I’m excited about is that our kids know that however they decide to love, if they wanna get married or not, whatever it is, all of those versions of how they show up are OK.

There’s not a version that we will disqualify them for or disown them or stop loving them for. And I really want Black folk to lean away from these white supremacist, heteronormative systems and institutions of control that are really about extracting from us. Polyamory is not about just the romantic ties, it’s about building community and collective power. And I want people to really think about that.

Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson have been married for 18 years.
Dr. Jenn M. Jackson and Daren W. Jackson have been married for 18 years.

Jenn, obviously your book is titled “Black Women Taught Us.” So for each of you, what is one thing a Black woman taught you that impacts how you love Black people?

Daren Jackson: The first one that comes to mind is my mother because she’s the first Black woman in my life. And it took me a long time to really even get how she raised me and how she parented me. But she has a very, very quiet, consistent love. Like you know no matter what happens, she loves you.

Whether she’s admonishing you, whether she’s not present, whether she’s giving you a hug, no matter what it is, you know that what she does, she always does with love. And we were not a family that said “I love you” a lot. But love was never doubted because of how we showed up for each other. And so that was the big thing that I think that she taught me, is that love is a verb. It’s great to say, I love you, love you, love you. But would I rather have someone say I love you or someone who’s gonna really go hard for me in the paint? I want someone who’s gonna go hard for me in the paint. When I was looking for a partner, that’s what I wanted, and thankfully, that is what I found.

Jenn M. Jackson: You sure the hell did. I was thinking this lesson has really been resonating with me a lot. It’s in the book and it’s from my grandmother. My grandmother was always very worried about me — my grandma Lucille, my mom’s mom. And we spent a lot of time together because my mom worked long, long hours, and my dad was not around, so she was like my other parent. And she used to tell me all the time how lonely I was gonna be. She always told me that I need to really search out the people who really loved me and love them back. And when I met Daren, she married us. She was a pastor, so she married us. She loved Daren so much. She was so happy that I found Daren because she knew I wasn’t gonna be alone. That I would never be alone.

I’ve been really, really reflecting on that because a lot of the women in my family live their lives alone. My grandmother passed away alone. She was alone for a lot of her life. A lot of the women in my family have gone through a divorce and they can never really find that love that lasted their life. And I have been holding that now as a queer person who is polyamorous because there are ways that even in a relationship, you feel alone — when you don’t necessarily have certain parts of yourself reflected back. And I’ve been listening to that lesson from my grandmother ’cause I’m realizing, I was telling him the other day, I’m never alone. I have my community, I have my friends, I have my children, I have my partner and I’m learning to really enjoy myself.

I’m really learning to understand that this whole being alone thing is also an opportunity to step into my power. And I think, in some ways, she was saying that too. She was saying, you love people who love you, but you’re gonna spend that time, a lot of time by yourself because you’re gonna be by yourself up on that stage. You’re gonna be by yourself writing that book or telling that story or being that messenger because you’ve got something that you’ve gotta do. And I wasn’t getting it for a long time.

But I get it now that there’s a lot of parts of my life that I’m going to have to do alone, but I’m never, ever, ever alone.

What are your hopes for the future of Black love?

Jenn M. Jackson: I just really want Black folk to stop having to be in boxes and be in these categories that don’t serve us. I really want us to disabuse ourselves of these models of coupling that are all rooted in relationship escalators. I want folks to live freer and allow themselves to love on their own terms. If that is polyamorous, monogamous or somewhere along the spectrum, if that is queer, heteronormative or somewhere along the spectrum, if it’s asexual or hypersexual or somewhere along the spectrum, I want folks to get comfortable with their bodies and with how they show up in their bodies so that people don’t have to be so harmful to each other and to themselves.

Daren Jackson: This is something we were talking about this week. We stand up for Black people. But that internal cop? That’s the worst one. If we can release that inner police that we have on ourselves that we then inflict on other people — how expansive and brilliant could Black love be.



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