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An open letter to our daughters
We want to chat to you about your sexuality…
We want to chat to you about your sexuality…
The three guiding principles of this letter are that we love you to pieces, we want you to have the fullest, happiest life possible, and we want to do everything in our power to support you in that quest.
When you were little we rocked you to sleep in our arms; we helped you learn how to walk and how to read; we tried to teach you how to be a good friend; we hung every piece of art and academic point of pride on the refrigerator; cried at every concert and cheered at every game; and we’ve been honoured to bear witness to all the ways you’ve revealed the contents of your heart and mind.
These things have unfolded mostly in the shared open spaces of your life. But your sexuality has been, and will continue to be, somewhat different, as it by nature necessitates more intimate, private experiences.
It isn’t our intention to intrude on your privacy, or to forsake our own, but it is our privilege to offer guidance for your consideration and to make sure that you feel a sense of community with all women. We want you to know that when it comes to your sexuality and its deepening meaning in your life and relationships that, should you need an ear, advice or understanding, information or support, we will be there for you.
We know full well the pressure you may feel to adapt to society’s placing a higher value on being sexualised than on having your sexual dignity respected, so we will help you stem the tide by supporting your right to embody your body as you see fit.
That’s why we taught you the anatomical names for your all your body parts, casting none out as shameful, dirty, or too adult for you to know about. It’s why we prepared you for menstruation long before it began, and why we answered all your questions honestly. We realised that if we weren’t going to raise you referring to your mind as your Up There, then we weren’t about to raise you with little more than a vague notion you had a Down There. We knew it would be impossible for you to feel comfortable and confident in your body if the very parts you housed were so taboo they couldn’t be spoken of, not only in polite company, but even within the sanctity of the mother daughter bond.
Many mothers have experienced first-hand how being raised to consciously or unconsciously disavow ourselves from our sexuality has complicated our lives with some brand of shame, guilt, ignorance or discomfort. We didn’t want you to live with the gaps in self knowledge and pride that would have made feeling truly grounded in yourself a hardship you’d spend much of your adult life trying to overcome. Nor did we want you, as so many of us have, to fear derogatory sexual labels or to be distracted by preoccupation with how you might be seen by others.
When you make the decision to share yourself with another person we want you to be in your body, fully engaged in expressing yourself with it—not floating above it in judgment, or commentating on each perceived flaw, or trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal sponsored by some legacy of perfection or pornography.
We understand that when all is said and done, it’s possible we’ll have many life experiences in common. We may have gone through them first, but you might follow, and mothers have to acknowledge this in order to be there for you to celebrate your joys and to be a soft place to land should you suffer in any way.
You could be exposed to things we might have encountered because of all we share as women in the living out of a life.
Both mothers and daughters feel desire or can be swept away by the intensity of love. Both mothers and daughters live through heartbreak. Both mothers and daughters struggle to stay on the positive side of body image. Many of us might question our sexuality, or get pregnant under conditions that are less than optimal, or be uncertain if we’re with the right partner.
You too might choose to become a mother and develop an even more profound reverence for the capacities of your body around giving and sustaining life. Although it’s painful to admit, we may both endure rape or abuse and will need other women to help us recover. At times we’ll both wonder how sex fits into all of the other complications of committed relationships, or, sometimes more importantly, in the absence of them. You’ll ponder how much is enough to make a relationship last, just like we did. And whether it happens in tenth grade or when we’re 60, at some point we’ll likely become acquainted with infidelity’s trespass on hoped-for monogamy.
But most especially, mothers and daughters will both long for and savour the vitality and human connection sexuality brings to our lives.
What we hope for you is that knowing yourself and having had our support in assimilating your sexuality into the whole of who you are will help you listen to, trust, and follow your instincts. Those instincts will serve as your compass toward a life well lived, and they’ll be with you wherever you go, and whomever you’re with.
This open letter was written by Joyce on behalf of any mothers whose feelings it expresses.