October is here, the month of my birth, as is Libra season. Though it happens every year, I am endlessly amazed by the sense of power I feel as Fall descends. This is my time in that curious metaphysical sense (isn’t time always metaphysical?)
But there’s so much more to it this October; the stakes are higher for me than they have ever been before.
Summer was an emotional minefield. I’d been researching myself. More specifically, I looked long and hard at my sexuality.
For the last 20 years I have loved a man who is my best friend. And for those 20 years, I have pursued sexual health therapy with multiple professionals to be a better intimate partner, wife, and heterosexual woman. In 20 years it was never suggested to me that the problem was my view on sexuality. Instead, my #metoo moments and #whyIdidntreport informed a heteronormative approach to my mental health. I was deemed “broken by men” and the work I did was to fix myself “for men”.
The work. That work. It consisted of me diving deep into myself and confronting a herstory of physical violence from friend and family alike. It looked like me breaking myself apart on purpose so I could perform for the male gaze successfully. So I could give myself over body and mind instead of hiding in a corner of my psyche and experiencing re-traumatization due to physical proximity.
It was hard work, made harder by the reality that it was the wrong work.
With the support of my husband, I began to question why every released trauma made it more difficult for me to sexually engage. He asked me to take space. He talked to me about the attraction I have to women. And with his encouragement, I began to examine my bedroom behaviors. I realized there was a “safe” place I was going in my mind when the possibility of intimacy arose. It was very different from reality. I was imagining myself in the arms of a woman. It made me feel whole, happy, complete.
I began to ask myself frightening questions: Why did I marry a man? Was I attracted to men? Could I stay married to a man?
The answers were quick to arrive. I married my partner because he was safe. My family was not. He was an escape. I married him because he is my best friend, I love him and because he is a man. Marrying a man was what I was supposed to do. And then we had kids. Because that’s what we were supposed to do.
Accepting that I am not attracted to men took me longer. I do love looking at men. They are beautiful. I went back through my crushes and big loves and was forced to admit to myself I’ve never liked touching men. Yes, touch can be fun, but the boys and men I chased after were (and I’m sorry fellas) adjacent to a girl or woman whose attention I wanted. They were the safe place for my eyes and emotions to land because I lived in neither a time, place nor family where wanting women was acceptable.
Women are what I want. When I accepted this truth about myself, I felt an immense relief. Okay, first I felt panic. I wondered who I am and how I could have hidden from my sexuality practically into midlife?
Clarity came quickly on the heels of fear: I am a survivor of violence who performed the life she was told she should. It was integral to my survival. From those choices came a best friend who has grown with me and supported me in finding myself. Together we have three beautiful children. He also has his own romantic partner, a woman I am happy to have join our family.
And I have mine, a woman I met at a moment when the only clear thought in my head was, “I’m comfortable not meeting anyone for at least two months, maybe two years.” She was a shock and a welcome one with whom I’m able to experience how safe and varied intimacy can be.
Life is a mystery. That’s what this month on Heart and Humanity is all about. I know it better than ever. I’m taking it all one day at a time. If you are feeling stuck in your life, know you can come here to read the wisdom and vulnerability of open hearts.
I hope you join us and find yourself in these pages. Happy October!
Shawna Ayoub Ainslie