Three years ago today, I made a conscious decision to get off of the (extremely unhealthy for me) romantic relationship track to solely focus on digging deep to get to know the “me” that I know as Aishah Shahidah Simmons in this lifetime. This conscious and intentional digging and digging and digging through therapy and vipassana meditation along with the love, encouragement, and support of many–most especially my Dad– led me to unearth the profound imprint of the impact of child sexual abuse on my life. I had absolutely positively no idea that this is where the journey to take me. To be honest, had I known, I may not have taken it. I’m not solely talking about what happened repeatedly to me over a period of two years from the ages of ten to twelve. I’m also talking about my being taught to love and care for my beloved perpetrator *without* him ever being held accountable by the two people whose responsibility it was to protect me. What messages did I learn and completely embody from the mental and emotional acrobats I did to wear a mask for decades to both protect him and my beloved parents for over three decades? While this is about the past, it’s also grounded in the present. This isn’t about demonization of my grandfather or my parents. We can’t continue to “equate criticism with assault” (Toni Cade Bambara). It’s about speaking/writing the complicated truths to acknowledge, explore and be accountable to the painful contradictions. No one, no one is all good or all bad. To be human is to be fallible.
I am not anti romantic relationships – not by a long shot. I am ALL about romantic love. I experientially know that one can do incredible work on themselves and with their partners while in relationship. I also know that I couldn’t have done (or begun) this specific work partnered. Yes, during my relationship sabbatical I crushed hard. I am grateful for that magical experience, which taught me love with accountability and without strings attached. It also led and fully supported my own eWOMANcipation from the shackles holding down my mask, which was slowly suffocating me. No, I haven’t committed my life to being single, but I also am not pressed if that’s what ultimately happens.
Today – the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. – I will embark on a fairly intense travel schedule across the country to screen NO! and to also talk about rape and other forms of sexual assault. For the first time ever I will be very intentional with sharing my experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse to underscore my evolving understanding that the deafening silence around child sexual abuse in the familial institution plays a pivotal role in co-creating rape culture in all other institutions – religious, academic, activist, political, and professional. These institutions are not separate and as long as we move as if they are separate and not interconnected, I do not believe we will ever get to the root of eradicating the violence. I am grateful to be in an incredible national and international community of survivors who are engaged in healing justice through activism, all forms of cultural work, scholarship, and theology. They teach, challenge, and inspire me every single day.