Editor's Note: If you're a sexual abuse or assault survivor, the following personal essay could be potentially triggering to you. If you find yourself in need of help or assistance, please contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I was 12 when I was molested by mom's boyfriend. I broke the age-old vow, what happens in our household, stays in our household, when I told my mentor what happened. My mom found out about it when a Child Protective Services worker came to our house to interview me in our living room.
On my way home to tell a complete stranger what happened, in the car alone with one of my uncles, he warned me that by telling the truth I'd be the reason why I'd get taken from my mom and she could go to jail.
As I sat on the same couch where pieces of my innocence were stolen and hearing the voices of family members in the next room, I listened to my Uncle's advice and chose to save my mom instead of telling my truth.
I'm 33 now. We never discussed what happened. None of us — her, him, nor my uncle. She stayed in the relationship with him while he continued to live with us. Feeling like I had to suppress anything I felt about being molested and having to hide it from everyone, I tried journaling my way through the shame and disappointment I felt.
In my mind lived questions about whether I did something to make him want to touch me — was I too comfortable at home, wearing something around the house that was too revealing; did I laugh too much at his jokes so he thought I was flirting; did I do anything that made him think I wanted him to do what he did? That has been a heavy load to carry.
A few years later, one evening during a heated argument of theirs, my mama told him that she believed he'd molested me but at that time she loved him more than she loved me. Without missing a beat and sticking true to our unspoken rule on how to address important conversations, we never discussed it. I already didn't know how to tell her I was still hurting from the hands of the man that had been in our lives since I was about seven years old. How could I tell her that her words were equally painful?
It was hard living in the same space as him and beginning to believe that I was less important, it was unbearable to hear her validate how I'd felt.
Without having real-life healthy relationships , living in that dysfunction was the foundation of deciding to dodge love. I was too young to know that her version of love was really codependency . I was old enough to know, though, if that was love, then I didn't want it. With my adolescent wisdom, I believed that love would lead me to make illogical decisions that hurt innocent people.
Much too young to make these kind of decisions, I'd told myself that I'd never give my heart to a man and I'd never allow people to get too close to me (so much so, this is the first time that I'm actually exposing my entire truth to people that I've known for years — I've perfected the art of keeping people at a distance). My coping mechanism was to build a wall around my heart.
For me, if I wasn't enough for my mama to choose me, then how could I be enough for anyone else?
After sweeping my shame, confusion, and hurt under the rug while battling anxiety and trying to recover from vivid nightmares over the years, it took me becoming a mom to feel the desire to address my childhood traumas . Initially, it was too late, or so I thought, because my abuser and my mama were already deceased. For years I thought getting an apology from them was what I needed to move on. In reality, God and therapy are how I found closure .
Oftentimes, we're led to believe that closure and healing begins with a conversation with those that wound us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The closure we need comes from within. A couple of months ago I spoke with an aunt about my mom, asking her questions to gain a better understanding of my mom.
The more questions I asked, the more I realized that I don't need the answers to continue on my journey to heal. Just like there are answers that may help us, there are also answers that may hurt us. Giving myself permission to truly feel, acknowledge the pain I felt from him and her, trusting God, and fully diving into therapy , were pivotal in me being able to forgive them.
In therapy, I was challenged to change how I told my story to myself. Instead of it being laced with any traces of shame, embarrassment, or defeat, to find the empowering parts and speak them; speak highly of how I fought back and give less value to the abuse itself.
Even though I overheard her saying that she loved him more at the time of the molestation, it does not mean that she never loved me. In a vulnerable moment with her partner, she exposed herself to her weakness. It's not my job to carry that. While it hurt and altered how I've lived my life, it's because I allowed it.
For so long, I fought to not become her — sharing her idea of love, allowing my love for my husband to not compromise my decision-making skills as a mom, that I became overly protective of our son and uncomfortable with being loved. Sometimes even doubting that healthy love was even real.
I refuse to pass that along to our son.
Putting myself in my mom's shoes without us ever discussing her trauma, insecurities, and challenges helped me to begin to confront the expectations that I had of her. I was reminded that people are just that, they're people. I'm never going to fully understand the decisions she made — I'm not her, I never knew her, and I believe her decisions weren't meant for me to understand. I feel confident in saying that she never knew herself.
I don't believe my mom knew the fullness of the strength, power, and love that she possessed — enough of them that she didn't need the love from him that she wanted so badly that she welcomed having her judgment tainted by it. I find myself, now, often wondering how much it may have hurt her to choose her version of love over her intuition as a mother and as a woman.
As a mom now, I know that it had to have been a very difficult decision for her to make and then to live with daily with me in her presence. I have peace with the decisions she made — while I can't definitively say I would make the same decisions she made, who's to say that I still wouldn't stumble?
I believe the purpose in my pain was to add to the limited conversation of overcoming mother-daughter trauma within the African-American community.
One day I came across some game-changing scriptures — Acts 5:28-29 . I was reminded that the generational pattern of nonexistent communication on important, life-altering situations and shame has led me to live in silence. In the scripture, Peter and the apostles were being commanded to stop preaching about Jesus and to stop speaking His name.
They responded by asking, "Do we listen to man or obey God?" That question hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminded me that our lives are not our lives, they ultimately belong to God along with assignments that we must fulfill.
While I do not believe God was part of the molestation, I do believe that He has called me to use it as a means to ending mother-daughter trauma. How dare I be covered by God's grace to heal from the significant pain that's been living in the depths of my soul majority of my life, then I have the audacity choose to stay silent because of what man may think about it? No ma'am!
I can't live comfortably knowing that I have something to offer another mom and daughter that may untie the knots of pain that have held them bound due to lack of perspective or poor communication. We don't do the work required to heal from situations merely just to be healed for ourselves. Perpetually, we become better so that others connected to us are inspired to do the same.
It's not easy telling others that I was molested. It is also not easy to tell people that my mom was in love with my abuser and she chose him. Hard decisions are the deciding factor between being selfish and being selfless. I choose the latter.
If you or anyone you know is being affected by sexual assualt or abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Featured image by Shutterstock
I find humor in most things, guaranteed to insert a rap lyric into our conversation (especially if it's getting too serious), sleep and food are my best friends. I'm married to THE most patient man, mom to THE kindest (smartest and most handsome) kid, a bit of a business owner (@our.words.matter), and a future (full-time) writer. Find me on IG ( @jamiewshngtn ) and say hi!
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find , there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecole exclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause , marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression , anxiety , like all of it, mental health challenges , all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry ’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy . If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures , and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood , her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff , which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You , which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “ On My Mama ” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour . So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood