It took me 36 years to meet myself
The last several years have been an amazing process of deep digging and self-discovery. I thought I knew myself. It turns out I was a stranger. The Shawna I knew was the one I was pretending to be. I constructed her out of societal and familial expectation. She was cultivated in the gardens of abuse. The fruit she produced was shame. And she was filled with a deep, anxious sadness.
Not long ago, my father stopped talking to me. For related reasons, I had to mostly stop talking to my mother. Abuse extends beyond its visible end point. I haven't lived with my parents for years, but abuse is a tether. When love was made conditional, the tether snapped. I have been working hard on recovery from childhood trauma for years. Now that my parents have no claim on me by their own actions, I do not feel obligated to them in any way. My love is not conditional. I love and accept them regardless of this schism, but I am an adult now with children of my own to protect. I stepped out of the toxic patterns of my family and there, I met myself.
I'd like to introduce me to you. I have done this in parts over the last year. First I shared my discovery that I am autistic. I've also shared my mental health alphabet: CPTSD, ADHD, GAD. Then there's depression. Synesthesia. So many amazing neurological differences that I have learned to love about myself because they make me unique. And this one thing I have danced around but not necessarily stated explicitly: I am bisexual. I'm a woman with sexual attraction to men and women.
I grew up unaware of my queerness. My attraction to women wasn't a safe "option," though I've always felt it far more strongly than any attraction to men. So I learned how to become the man in my fantasies. I reframed my attraction through a heteronormative lens in a way I've learned many girls and boys do because they are confused by the attraction they are experiencing in a world that vilifies homosexuality.
My son says bisexual seems like it should be the norm. The baseline. The binary doesn't make sense to him. People are people. Love is love. He and I talk about my sexuality because he needs to know it's okay if he doesn't like girls, or if he does and likes boys too. Or if he is attracted to any of the myriad persons on the gender spectrum. There is no one way to be, no one way to love. I'm learning that alongside him.
I was 33 when I realized the feelings of shame I was feeling when I looked at women stemmed from the powerful desire to touch them. One woman asked me if we could be more than friends. My response was to nearly explode physically. I talked to my husband about it. He said it wouldn't be surprising if I was bi. I talked to a different friend. She said, "Oh, that makes so much sense." I talked silently to myself everywhere I went for days, asking over and over if it was okay for me to like women. (The first woman and I stayed friends.)
I finally got beyond that question. Of course it is okay. It's not a deviation. Hetero is the norm by forced moral default, not scientific imperative. Then came the question of coming out. I only shared my sexuality with my younger sister this year. I'm now 36. I tried to share it with my mom. She told me I was wrong.
I've always liked women, and that is interesting to me because I look back not with regret, but with a sense of missed opportunity. I'm married with kids. That doesn't mean I will never get to pursue a relationship with a woman, but it does complicate the matter. Consent and honesty are keys to polyamory, and that's the territory pursuit would put me in. I love my husband. My relationship with him is what has created the safety for me to look in the mirror without putting a mask on first. He witnesses and accepts me for who I am. If he can do that for me, I can do that for me.
Last month was PRIDE month. I spent time every day "exploring my gay." Embracing my sexuality. It feels like a weight has lifted off me. I am happy. Truly happy. All the way through my body happy. I don't think I've ever felt this level of joy before. I'm so happy to have met myself. I hope you're happy to meet me, too.