(Mama Bear & me)
I learned how to be a woman through my mother. She taught me how to adorn myself with stockings and dress shoes and perfumes that made me feel grown and beautiful when I was small and lanky.
She taught me how to cook meals not with a recipe but with the senses, with intuition. She helped me develop a keen sense of when something was ready to come from the oven just by smelling it baking in the air. With her, I only ever knew soul food—that is, cooking food with heart, with your innards, as an expression of love and nurturing.
I learned how to love my body through my mother. I remember watching her dress herself in the morning and being entranced by the way she unabashedly walked around the room naked, seemingly unashamed of her physical form. I remember feeling eager for the day my hips would spread wide like hers and I sprouted a full bush that covered my secret place.
She had scars and stretch marks and cellulite, but I didn’t see those things. In my youthful eyes and with my child’s mind, she was the epitome of Goddess.
I learned a lot of things from my mother. How to tie a knot at the end of your thread so you wouldn’t mess up your sewing. How to pick the best Nancy Drew books. How to catch June bugs. How to sing on key.
But the one thing I didn’t learn directly from my mom was about sex. I mean, yes, she had sat me down when I was young and taught me about “The Bird and the Bees”—about bodies and periods and “private parts”. She taught me the physicality of sex—the logistics of sex—but she didn’t teach me about sexuality.
Those things I intuited from her. Those things, I inherited, unknowingly, from my mother and from her mother, and from her mother’s mother.
As a young woman, deciphering those passed-down meanings and subliminal messages wasn’t easy. I had no language for it, no reference book. I had to come to my own clunky conclusions. I had to feel it out for myself. Sometimes I was wrong, but mostly I was right.
I was right to have felt shame about sex, I was right to have felt scared and guilty after losing my virginity, I was right to feel dirty and used after sexual encounters—not because sex should be any of those things but because my mom’s experience of sex was one of fear and guilt.
She, the blood of my blood, passed those things down to me unconsciously. It became my experience.
Or maybe. Maybe our experiences simply coincidentally mirrored each other’s. Maybe we both happened upon the same guilt around strange incidents with the same kind of broken men. Maybe we were both too kind, too naive, to have approached sex with vigor and confidence. Maybe we both were destined to be on this very particular path of sexual liberation in our ways, in our own time.
Whichever is the case, one thing is certain: I don’t have to hold onto that legacy anymore. And neither does she. We can create our own narratives about who we are as sexual beings, separate from the falsehoods we were taught and the lies we were told and the hand fate dealt us. We can reclaim the erotic power that was taken from us by the hands of toxic masculinity and oppressive religion. We can heal ourselves and begin anew.
We can heal ourselves and begin anew.
A few months ago, I asked my mom if I could interview her about sex for my podcast. In the nearly thirty years that I’ve been alive, sex was never a subject we touched on much, because of shame and baggage and resentment (on my part). So I half-expected for her to say no. Being the wife of a pastor, I prepared myself for her to giggle shyly as she had done so many times before at the mention of the s-word and politely decline my offer.
But, she said yes.
And not a passive yes, but an enthusiastic, smile-in-her-voice yes.
So last month, on the weekend of that perilous presidential inauguration, my sister poured my mom a tall glass of rich red wine and I readied my recording equipment in preparation for this conversation. And after a few Are you sure?‘s from me and a few nervous laughs from her, we pressed record.
Whenever I revisit this conversation, I get emotional. Not just because of the heartbreaking truths she shared with me—things I never knew—but because of the significance of it. To hear my mother’s experience of sex brought so much perspective and context to the way I was brought up. It made the resentment and judgment I felt for her in the past feel silly. I didn’t know that it was possible, but I found a new level of compassion and empathy for my mother.
My mom said many important things during our chat, but there was one thing that she said that I’ll cherish forever:
“Sexual liberation is feeling free without restrictions. . . but not going against your boundaries or beliefs. You have to have a sense of what makes you feel good and not do something because someone else likes it. Being sexually liberated means being able to own your sexuality.”
This conversation with my mom began a whole new journey of sexual beingness for me. It helped me get closure in certain parts of my sexual story that were tucked away without having been acknowledged for years.
Any ounce of fear or shame I had left in my body that pertained to sexuality no longer exists. I have no reason to be afraid of my sexuality because I have seen that my mother is unafraid.
Press play below to listen to our conversation or click here.