Sydney Harris and Jessi Powers were living parallel existences for decades before they found each other.
Both women, who are now in their 30s, grew up in religious families and married men shortly after high school. Powers, an Alaska native, is the mom of two children and spent her days leading homeschooling classes. Harris, who grew up on Orcas, also has two kids and was a stay-at-home parent.
“We had a clear picture of how our lives were supposed to look,” said Harris, whose father is a pastor. “We both loved our families and our faith communities, and we wanted to embrace that life. And we tried really hard, but there was always a part that didn’t feel whole. We did it so right, but we felt so wrong.”
In 2022, Harris came out to her husband, children and family. Thousands of miles north, Powers did the same.
“We chose ourselves at the risk of losing everything. And there has been some heartbreak along the way,” Harris said. “Strangely, we were doing the same work in separate parts of the world.”
Powers left Alaska to stay in Seattle for a few months, flying home to Anchorage periodically to see her children. She went on a handful of dates but didn’t feel attracted to anyone. It was during a visit home that Powers went on a dating app to show her friend how few prospects were available in their area. She kept increasing the app’s radius to illustrate her point. After returning to Seattle, she forgot to change the radius back to a smaller region — and it was then that Harris, living on a tiny island four hours away, popped up on her screen.
“It was a total accident that we matched,” Powers said. “I hated Seattle, I was lonely and I was about to move back to Alaska. So when we started texting, I just laid it all out there.”
Harris says it was Powers’ refreshing honesty that swept her away.
“Within the first five messages, it was a chilling feeling: everything I had dreamt about since I was a little girl was coming true,” she said.
After several weeks of communicating online, Harris headed to Seattle for a date with Powers on Dec. 30. Neither believed their connection would be real in person.
“Everything we felt in those messages we then felt times 10,” Harris remembers.
The two shared their first kiss in a minivan, which they joke was apropos given their lives spent as mothers. Both say it was the “best first kiss ever.”
Harris had been shopping that day for New Year’s Eve party favors, which included miniature trophies. After their smooch, she handed one of the trophies to Powers in honor of her “first time making a move on a woman.” One year later, they gifted regular-size, personally engraved trophies to each other, without the other’s knowledge, in honor of that special day.
Over the next two months, they continued to see each other and communicate from afar. Powers moved to the island, taking a job as a barista at Orcas Island Market, where Harris is the Customer Engagement Coordinator.
“We didn’t want to waste any more time without one another. Then there was a lot of work to meld our lives together,” said Harris, who shares joint custody with her nine-year-old son Brandon and seven-year-old daughter Ellie, who is special needs.
Powers’ daughter Jules is 15 and her son Weston is 11, and they currently reside in Alaska and come to Orcas for long visits. Initially, Jules was skeptical of her mother’s new life.
“We were part of a strict homeschool Christian community, and I had taught my children that being gay is a sin,” Powers shared. “We asked them to come visit and see for themselves. Whatever they decided, we would honor. We didn’t force anything on them.”
Now, the four children are close and refer to one another as siblings. They hope to live together full-time on Orcas.
“Our love speaks for itself,” Powers said. “My daughter recently stood up in her church to call them hypocrites because it is against Christian values to not accept everyone.”
Added Harris: “We are showing our kids what it looks like to be brave and choose yourself.”
This past September, in another serendipitous moment, Powers and Harris secretly bought each other rings and planned proposals. They both said “yes” and hope to marry this year.
As they’ve navigated a year of significant change, they are doing it together.
“We are learning the step-parent component, and we are learning how to be queer women in the world,” Harris said.
The couple say they expected some bigotry on Orcas but have experienced little on the island since coming out. Instead, they have endured objectifying, sexualized comments from community members about their new status as a couple — which they did not anticipate.
“I have never been so targeted as I am now,” Harris said. “We have very public jobs. It’s been hard.”
In their downtime, they’ve been working on their pickleball game; both women are athletes with a fierce competitive streak. Every morning, the two wake up early so they have extra time to lie in bed, drink coffee and talk. They have one day off together — Sunday — and it is a cherished, sacred day.
“We’re obsessed with each other,” Powers said. “We love working together, we love just being together.