I just got back from a quick turnaround but long driving trip to attend a funeral of a loved one. In the hours of the trip in the quiet moments when both kiddos were happy and quiet, I had time to think. About love, family, death and everything in between. Which you know me by now inevitably then leads me to something related to sexuality. I kept thinking about how it is all interrelated. Community, support, safety, vulnerability, humor, being seen, being loved, being accepted.

On paper, it may seem odd I attended the funeral. It was for my ex husband’s Aunt. I drove my son, who is a blood relative, and had my daughter from my second marriage in tow too. I am an ex. Not all exes would be welcomed nor would want to attend. But this family is so darn special and the woman who died was no ordinary woman so conventional thoughts don’t apply. The woman being celebrated was the matriarch of a huge family. One of 5 kids herself and daughter to a woman who lived until 101 and mother to 6 children herself. The arms of this special family reach wide. And deep. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to be included within this family despite of the divorce to one of ‘their own’.

I was struck throughout the day of services and gatherings by the strength of their family bond and the focus on family, children, marriage and support. It was palpable. And it hit hard on one of my favorite circles within sexuality—love and connection.

Several times throughout the day, people spoke of Aunt S’s candor, her demand of all to ‘be themselves’ and her unwavering focus on family. What an incredible legacy she left. I looked around the church pews, I watched through the pouring rain at the burial and witnessed it over beer cheese and UK basketball that evening. This is a family who knows who they are. This is a family who allows you to be who you are. Actually requires it. Messy, fabulous, confused, celebrating, and always ALWAYS laughing. At life, at each other, at the present. This is group of beautiful humans who are real. Genuine. And living in the present without forgetting the past or forgoing the future. This is unique.

When you are raised in that kind of environment and exposed to that level of authenticity, it affects you. The effect is noticed. It doesn’t make everything shiny and perfect but it does allow for you to have room to figure out WHO you are which is such a key component to your sexuality, your essence. For some, being WHO you are within your own family is one of the biggest battles. Especially within sexuality. I was blown away by this realization that night as I watched my little one darting in an out of the other children and catching the eye of the elder members. I saw the power and the importance of creating an environment in which you are given the room and the time to figure out who you are.

Add to this amazingness, the power of women in this family and I am as close to heaven as possible. I LOVE being in a community of women. When the founding member, Mammaw, was alive a few years ago celebrating her 100 birthday, there were four generations of women in one room. Vibrant. Living fully. Loving loudly. Of course with that many generations of women and the branches of the family tree so full with children and women marrying into the fold, there are tons of personalities but there is a common thread too. Women are respected. Women are loved. Women have an important place in this family. The glue. Leaders. Shining lights. Ass kickers. Nurturers. They are wanted. They are needed. They are valued.

In my family of origin, we have a saying that gets thrown about quite a bit, “We come from a long line of strong women.” But we were spread out and I didn’t get daily or weekly or sometimes even yearly exposure to these women. I found most of my community of women through friends and neighbors.

Nothing wrong with my upbringing details, but this week I witnessed, from a different vantage point and perspective, something that was profound to me. I saw the next generation being passed the torch. I saw communities of women laying out the funeral food spread and then carefully and with such beauty it looked like a choreographed danced, put the left over in containers. Such a simple task but it was executed with such precision and harmony I was fascinated. I saw grandchildren lovingly adore grandmothers who were in my generation. I observed women supporting each other in grief and in some ways disbelief. I watched women sit in a circle, laughing at the silliest of things and sharing community while teenage and pre teen girls looked on with watchful eyes. I saw these women showing the next generation how this family defines a woman, how this family conceptualizes ‘family’, how this family dies with dignity. And in between all of this, there was beer drinking, sex jokes, talks of menopause, teasing about past sex escapades, body acceptance, marriage trials and lots and lots of love and connection.

Everyone is real. Every one is asked to be authentic. Love and connection is the glue of this family and it is infused into each of their souls and , thus, into their sexuality.

Men also have a place of value in this family. They are equally respected. Equally revered. They raise the men to be good men. To respect family. To stand up for family and to provide safety and security. The men in this family do not have a tendency to live long. This unspoken reality makes their presence even more precious and important. Perhaps the next generation will change this dynamic but the loss of so many men is infused into all gatherings and in my view, all relationships too.

I’ve known this family since I was 17 years old. I’ve been lucky enough to be in a lot of these circles of women. And with the men too. And as I sat there this week, I realized how much this family, these strong women, these amazing men shaped me. How valuable it is to be seen, to be wanted and to have this consistency in your formative years. It is such a hard concept for teenagers and some 20’s to appreciate it. I know I didn’t get it fully at the time. I do now. Now, I’m not trying to describe this family as 80 saints in KY and they would all laugh at me for this and would most likely give me a heap of grief but I can say this without hesitation, they’ve done it right. And it was a blessing to not only get to celebrate such a fine woman but to also witness and be included in such a lovely family.

So what do you do if you don’t have this in your family? If you weren’t raised in that kind of environment or don’t have that in your current family? You do what I have done.. you seek it in your life. You find friends who bring you love and connection how you like it. You look for sisterhood or brotherhood in your work or church or community. I’ve moved a lot and traveled even more and in each place it is different. Sometimes the sisterhood is well formed it is just a matter of me finding it and finding acceptance within it. Other places I have had to start it myself. A great group of friends last year said “Hang out your Freak Flag Juliana and your people will come!” so I did….and they did. Sometimes my community of love and connection is large and varied like in college. Other times it is small and intimate. I don’t do superficial very well, so that weeds out some relationships immediately. What I do for a profession can be off putting to some. My dry wit and cussing takes out another group. I accept all of this. But I’ve found my people every place I go. I want them. I seek them. I am open to them. And I invite different kinds of people to me—look differently than me, think differently than me, have different perspectives and details in their life. I want to grow through these relationships. I want to be authentic to who I am in this community and I want to stand in support of others in their authentic selves too. It is the premise of Be Your Own (S)expert.

And to me, it begins and ends with love and connection.

How does love and connection look in your life? How has love and connection shaped your sexuality? Shaped you?

xoxo, Dr. Juliana