From the very beginning of their courtship, nothing between Niecy Nash and Jessica Betts has gone according to plan. Each woman had sworn off relationships forever, ever—and yet on August 29, 2020, they wed in an intimate backyard ceremony in Ventura County, California. Heading to the airport two days later, the newlyweds were excited about their honeymoon, during which they hoped to kick-start a mutual dream of “making love all around the world.” They wanted to share their good news with the world, too.
“We always lead with our truth,” says Niecy (née Carol Denise Ensley; Nash is her first husband’s surname). “Wherever it lands, we know it’s as it should be, because there is no failure in the truth.”
The Bettses—Niecy has taken Jessica’s last name though her professional last name remains Nash—guessed their recent union might be surprising. Twice before, Niecy, 52, was married to men, one of whom she had officially divorced eight months prior. No one except her family and closest friends knew she was now married to a guitar-playing singer 10 years her junior with a crisp line-up, a Colgate smile and major BDE (despite not being born with a “D”).
“The least of my attraction is gender,” says Niecy, who, like Jessica, doesn’t believe in labeling her sexuality. “What I was and am still attracted to is Jessica’s soul. She was the most beautiful soul I had ever met in my life. Now that I’ve experienced it, I can’t imagine going through life without it.”
Neither of them was sure how their wedding announcement would go over. Just in case the response was unfavorable, Niecy devised a plan. First, she would change her number, then she and Jess would simultaneously post the same wedding photo just as their plane was taking off, switch their phones to airplane mode and escape to paradise, where they would exist blissfully in a technological void. But there was a hitch: The Bettses arrived at LAX, bound for Mexico, only to discover that Niecy’s passport had expired. One of Niecy’s besties, Ava DuVernay, who had directed her in When They See Us, suggested Santa Barbara, so the couple piled into a Sprinter and headed about 90 minutes north. It was on that unexpected road trip that they held hands, prayed and uploaded their infamous photo, announcing their Hers and Hers union.
“A lot of people thought it was like a movie or some promo,” Niecy recalls, still in disbelief at the reaction. “They started calling everybody, and we were like, ‘This is insane.’ I never knew why where you lay your head is such a big deal to other people. I was like, ‘People care?’”
“She was really shocked,” Jessica adds. “I knew there was going to be some banter around it. But I didn’t know that it was literally going to”—Niecy chimes in with her wife, and they complete the sentence together, something they do a lot—“break the Internet!”
Nearly 18 months later, I catch up with them via Zoom. An abundance of caution surrounding the latest variant of COVID had kept me from visiting their home, where they film—and upload—a near-constant stream of photos and videos of kissing, canoodling and doting on each other to social media. Today they are nestled together on a couch, each wearing a fluffy Versace robe. They are excited to be interviewed, and I have a zillion questions. Many are about the end of Claws, which Niecy starred in for four seasons, and her upcoming role in Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.
I’m also curious about their social media PDAs. “What’s with all the pictures?” I ask. Spoiler: They are madly in love and want the world to know. Also, there’s no “agenda.” “Agendas feel very forced,” says Jessica. “If there’s an agenda, it’s that we’re going to spread queer joy. The world needs it. Real talk.”
Niecy and Jessica are into each other in a way that you rarely see in couples after high school. Their love is wide open, like first loves, like two people who have never been grossly disappointed or had their hearts broken. They’re so into each other that in mid-conversation with me, they’ll start talking to each other and forget—or not care—that I’m still there and watching.
“We’re extremely compatible.” Niecy states. “Sometimes you can be attracted to somebody but don’t have a lot in common. But we have such a natural compatibility that we can be around each other, work together and hang out all day. If there was a 25th hour, we would be right up in it.”
“And not get tired of each other,” Jessica adds. (I told you they finish each other’s sentences.)
When Niecy declares she’s the happiest she’s ever been, I ask what it is about Jessica that does it for her. Jess truly sees her, she responds. I ask her to clarify, because I’ve heard that sentiment before, but I don’t really know what it means. “It’s to be accepted for the truth of who you are, all the way around, good, bad or indifferent,” she explains. “It’s where someone sees your past, your pain, your bullet holes, your stab wounds, whatever you got in a bag over your shoulder when you show up, and they say, ‘I see it all, and I still love and receive you.’ I feel like the love that I receive from her is custom, as opposed to off the rack,” Niecy adds. “I feel like the assignment happened in the spirit realm before we ever knew about it.”
Niecy’s joy is palpable. She’s gone-gone—in a good way—and Jessica is too. “I’ve never really said it like that,” Jessica quips. She has a casual humor that’s understated, with perfect timing. “I feel like my wife answers for the both of us,” Jessica continues thoughtfully. “Because I absolutely feel fully seen. I feel like all of me is accepted. All of me is loved—and not just the part that I present, but the part that I don’t necessarily show to everyone else.”
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But if these two are as deep in love as you can go now, getting together was an uphill battle. Niecy was married to someone else when she came across -Jessica’s music on social media and followed her. Eventually, Jessica, who was also in a serious relationship, noticed she had a celebrity “friend” and slid in Niecy’s DMs—not to holler, but to ask her to help promote her music. The chemistry that they have now didn’t exist at all for the first four years they knew each other.
Case in point: In 2019, Niecy was staying in Jersey City to film Beauty, a movie written and coproduced by Lena Waithe, and hadn’t called her friend to say she was in town. They were so deep in the friend zone that the first time they did hang out in New Jersey, Niecy grabbed dinner with Jess before Jess went on an actual date with someone else. Their next in-person encounter occurred when Jessica said she would meet Niecy at a nearby restaurant and took her sweet time showing up. In fairness, Niecy didn’t wait to order or to eat. By the time Jessica arrived, Niecy was licking Cajun crab juice off her fingers.
But something was different this time. “It was that damn Whispering Angel,” Jessica deadpans, referring to the well-known rosé brand. (I told you she was funny.) For her part, Niecy didn’t want the night to end and invited Jessica back to her place to watch a movie.
“I was nervous at dinner, because I felt something,” Niecy recalls. “I could not wrap my head around it. I was trying to see if I was off, ’cause I wanted to keep the night going. And the night turned into the rest of my life.” She’s skipping over the part how, after the movie ended, she walked Jessica to the door and kissed her. Whatever she laid on Jessica prompted her to say, “Do you want to go lay down?”
I decide to ask Niecy what I’ve wondered ever since seeing her and Jessica on Red Table Talk. I warn her first that I’m about to line-step and she gives me permission to proceed. You’re with a woman for the first time, I observe. How did you know what to do? I imagine it was different from things you’d done before with men?
“I didn’t!” Niecy says. “But I was with somebody who did.” Laughing, Jessica agrees, “That’s right!”
“Jessica, tell Demetria about your better half,” Niecy prods. “Is she a quick learner?”
Jessica, smiling with most of her teeth: “Very quick.”
Niecy: “Boom! An A student.”
Jessica, smiling with all of her teeth: “A+.”
By both accounts, a very good night was had, and yet, the next day, Niecy ghosted Jessica. “She got a little scared,” Jessica explains. Actually, Niecy was a lot scared. “Not only was it challenging for me to realize I’m having feelings for a woman that I’ve normally had for a man,” she says, “but it was compounded by the fact that this is my friend. I thought, What I do not want to do is anything that would allow this person to not be in my life for the rest of my life.
The above excerpt appears in the March/April issue of ESSENCE on newsstands March 1.
Photographer: Robert Ector – @robertector
Stylist: Ashley Sean Thomas – @ashleyseanthomas
Stylist Assistant : Stephanie Magee – @stephanieandreaa_
Nash Hair: Davontaé Washington for Mastermind Management Group – @iamdavontae for @mastermindmgtgroup
Barber for Betts: Chuka Torres/The Rich Barber – @chukathebarber
Makeup Artist: Ivana “Twiggy” Medina – @beatbytwiggy
Manicurist: Gloria L. William/The Footnanny – @footnanny
Props stylist, CHARLOTTE MALMLÖF – @charlotte_props
Producer: Michele Brea- @Michelebphoto
Producer: on set: Suze Lee – @ @smokenbunny.
Tattoo Artist: Erick Gutierrez- @erickgutierrezart1
Location: Fairmont Century Plaza – @FairmontCenturyPlaza