There are times when we try to run from our past, not realizing that our pain and experiences are the very things we must overcome in order to live a life we truly desire. We want love, but carry the dark shadows of people who've abused or misused us into our next relationship. We want to be sexually free, but memories of an unsolicited touch from strangers and even loved ones keep us confined. And while there's a desire to be healed—to be open and trusting again—there's a deeper part of us that struggles to let go as a form of self-preservation and protection.
It's something that Jayd Hernandez, an intimacy and relationship coach and founder of Femme Beat, is all too familiar with. In her own journey she's transformed from the hurt to the healer, and from sexually abused to sexually empowered, and as someone who's overcome the traumas of her past, she is now helping others like her—both married and single—through their own struggles that keep them from fully developing intimate and healthy relationships.
“My technique is a little different," she shares on our call. “It's a lot more edgy than what I've come across because I've been through therapy and personal development work all through my life as well, so I'd say that in one way my experiences in the past have really shaped my perspectives that I share on Instagram and with my clients today."
In a sense, she is a light revealer, but in order to help others shine in the full essence of who they are, she first had to confront the darkness of her own past.
She grew up in Los Angeles, adopted into a dysfunctional family where abuse was prevalent and molestation their hidden little secret. With every blow and inappropriate touch a piece of her innocence was taken. Feeling confused and alone, Jayd endured the pain until one day, while watching her brother being brutally beaten and strangled, she decided to speak out.
“The physical abuse was reported before the sexual abuse," she says. “I actually wasn't planning on telling anyone about that until someone had asked me about it randomly, and I couldn't lie because my facial expression basically revealed the truth. And even when it was exposed it was so dark and made people so uncomfortable. It was so shameful that no one could really talk about it or be held accountable for it."
She and her brother were moved from a physically and sexually abusive home to one where the mother dispensed emotional blows, plunging Jayd into a deeper darkness as she continued moving from foster home to foster home.
As she began her physical transformation into a woman, the same curves that attracted male attention when they were once non-existent became tools of manipulation. It started with a free drink here, a line cut at the club there—small conquests that increasingly became bigger as she unmasked the power of sex and sexuality, and decided that what she had to offer would come at a higher exchange rate.
“Usually with sexual abuse victims they either become hypersexual or hyposexual; I became hypersexual. I had also started getting more attention using my sexuality so I started modeling, which then ended up taking me into the adult industry."
Running from her past and the shameful secrets that traditional forms of therapy failed to alleviate, 18-year-old Jayd packed her bags and moved with her then boyfriend to Arizona. At the time she was already earning a living as a car show model, but she soon met a girl who introduced her to the more lucrative lifestyle of adult modeling. It was not only financially fulfilling, but for once, she was able to connect with a group of women who understood and accepted who she was, no strings attached.
“As an adult model all of a sudden I'm in this whole world where I'm not being judged for my past," she says. “If anything there are a lot of girls that share similar pasts as me—sexually abused, raped, molested, all of that stuff. But it was also an industry that I felt really empowered because I could show as much as I wanted for however much I wanted to ask for, and men all of a sudden weren't predators, but they became prey."
Where before she was shamed for her sexuality (her foster mother didn't allow her to wear skirts or dresses in fear of drawing too much attention and becoming a threat) she was now learning to embrace it. Her hips and breasts were no longer detestable, but tastefully displayed for visual consumption.
But there was another level to her sexuality that she had yet to tap into—one where she could not only express her sensuality on camera, but also behind closed doors without fear of being exposed. It was in an adult magazine interview that she conducted with a call girl that she was lured into a world where she could be both her own boss and a sensual vixen when she wanted to and for the right price.
Being a high-end call girl unlocked another part of Jayd's sexuality that centered on desire—not just a need for sex, but also that of independence, freedom, and entrepreneurship. Working for an agency taught her the basics of what it took to thrive in a business where celebrities, politicians, and successful businessman relied on her exclusivity just as much as they did her companionship. She wasn't just an object of lust, but a confidant and safe haven for men who often felt undervalued and unheard in their own homes.
“With my clients they were often living a double life as well," says Jayd. “A lot of them were married, and it wasn't the sex that I was providing them—I'd say the job was 20 percent of the sex, 80 percent was the companionship. And really the companionship was just honesty—this is who I am and I'm not being judged, therefore I don't judge you."
Becoming intimate with her clients also allowed Jayd to develop a deeper intimacy with herself. She continued focusing on her personal development, healing from and accepting her past instead of hiding from it. Her confidence grew not just physically, but emotionally, and though she was living a double-life, it was in this world that she was able to find a light in the darkness.
Over the last year Jayd has taken ownership of her own story and uses it as a platform to empower women and men through the power of sexual healing—a decision made after realizing that her life as an escort no longer served her greater purpose.
“As I grew and evolved as a person, the escorting, the adult modeling, all of that stuff I started feeling like a betrayal of who I was becoming," she says. “The deeper part of me and authentic part of me was starting to emerge stronger than the shadow side of me."
The entrepreneur first launched her business as an intimate dinner series for women, funded through $10,000 worth of Kickstarter funding that she amassed in 21 days. Although her TED-talk like empowerment dinners were a success, Jayd felt they weren't connecting to the deeper parts that the women were keeping guarded. “The women and the speakers weren't going as deep as I wanted them to go, so I started thinking about trying to find more meaning of my past and what I could offer to people."
With her experience working for a personal development company that she was once a client of for eight years, she decided that her talents were best suited for one-on-one interactions where she could get real and get personal.
As a modern-age intimacy coach Jayd specializes in the raw and unconventional. She's not afraid to dig deep, excavating layers that have built up due to years of disappointments and disillusionment by forcing you to look in the mirror. Many of her clients are learning the art of maintaining successful and sustaining relationships as they sift through feelings of heartbreak, rejection, unworthiness, and fear of abandonment among many other things that keep some locked in cycles of dysfunction.
“Even if someone comes to me to work on her marriage, not to say that we don't talk about her husband and the dynamics of her marriage, but we really dig deeper past that. Digging into really who she is so she can uncover where she's blocked and dismissed her own feelings and desires and her own wants, because usually from what I've experienced, when we're unhappy with someone else, it always falls back on us. Where am I not feeling fulfilled? What am I not upholding for myself. What am I taking for granted? What am I not wanting to realize about myself?"
Asking the hard questions has helped in her own relationship as well. Jayd admits that dating was hard throughout the majority of her time working as an escort--she kept the job secret in fear of being judged, but keeping quiet left a void of much-needed vulnerability in her relationships. But just as she began considering leaving the business she met her now husband, and made a decision to bare all to her potential partner.
"I was done with lying, if anything it was eating up at me. So when I met him unexpectantly, I was actually really nervous to be so forthcoming with him, but I did and I wouldn't say he wasn't accepting of what I did, but he was accepting of who I was. He never told me that he wanted me to quit, though he had a hard time with it, and that was a learning experience for both of us because it was the first time I was ever in a truly, completely honest relationship."
Not being judged gave Jayd room to release, grow and becoming a higher version of who she once believed herself to be. Despite her past and unconventional career path she finally found a partner who saw her light and accepted her for who she was.
“It's interesting because I used to be so afraid of commitment," Jayd says. “My biggest fear was to lose my freedom, but when I met him I realized it wasn't freedom that I was searching for, it was the freedom to be me, and that felt most freeing than anything else. So I think that's why we were able to commit pretty quickly because we just knew."
Jayd also attributes her showing up as a whole person, as opposed to compartmentalizing herself, to letting her know that she found the right one who accepted her for who she is--flaws and all.
"I was able to break down those walls and really become more of myself, almost like a butterfly transforming into its whole essence."
For those who've been through similar experiences of abuse, rape, or even an unsolicited touch that may have left them feeling unworthy or afraid of love, she encourages diving deep into who are, not being afraid to confront the emotions that may arise, and keeping a solid support system around you.
"I'm a big advocate of getting support. That whole lone wolf mentality has gone to the wayside, and don't think you can have a really great understanding of who you are by yourself. So whether a woman can connect to her own tribe—a woman she can trust and be vulnerable with, great. I think she can learn a lot about herself. And then through that, because the deeper that you understand who you are, the greater your confidence. And if she doesn't have that tribe then I think she needs to hire a coach or join a personal development organization or group. I don't think you can do it alone; intimacy requires another person."
Everyone has skeletons we wish would remain buried, memories we hope will no longer haunt us, and pain that rears its ugly head whenever someone gets just a little too close to the things that hurt us. But we also have a choice to shine a light on the darkest parts of us and no longer find comfort in our debilities.
Like Jayd we can either choose to remain a victim or become a victor, we can hide from love or become love and embrace it with open arms. And if we decide on the latter, we can reach back and empower those who walk a similar path as us.
All images courtesy of Jayd Hernandez
Kiah McBride writes technical content by day and uses storytelling to pen real and raw personal development pieces on her blog Write On Kiah. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @writeonkiah.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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Feature image by Mike Marsland/WireImage