Shapeshifting through change

The last time I wrote about Shapeshifting, I was writing about my explorations and experiences of softening the edges of gender in my book Desire Lines:

“I don’t feel like a woman any more.  As a woman, there are constraints and expectations placed upon me: don’t take up too much space; don’t make too much noise; be aware of others around you (for your own safety and also in case you need to be of assistance to them). I can sense movement all around me but it has nothing to do with me. All I need to attend to is myself and the new shape I am becoming.”

This time I’m exploring a different kind of shapeshifting.

The sexual self I was no longer fits me. Like a snake outgrowing its skin, I need to shed the familiar in order to be clothed in the new. I feel more like a crab than a snake though. I feel vulnerable and soft as I step out of my shell. I’ve been wearing it for so many years – what will I find underneath?

My previous, gender-themed, shapeshifting explorations were facilitated by workshop leaders at conscious sexuality events.

The shapeshifting I’m experiencing now has a different catalyst: it’s known as ‘the change’ for a reason.

At 47 years old I’m somewhere in my perimenopausal journey. I don’t know if I’m still at the beginning, if I’ve made it to the middle, or if I’m nearing the end. All I know is that changes are happening that are beyond my control. Physical changes as my once predictable cycle stutters and storms. And emotional changes: I’m more anxious, I cry more readily, and I experience every feeling magnified by at least 10x.

And there are changes to my sexual self too. How could there not be given what’s happening in my body and soul?

I swing dramatically between ravenous hunger – almost to the point of pain – for intimate sexual touch, and thirsting only for gentle affection – to be held, for a space in someone’s arms that I can retreat into.

My desire for kink fluctuates more wildly than I have ever known: I alternately crave it and recoil from it.

It feels like it would be too easy to pack my sexuality away in a box labeled “attic”. If I did, perhaps I’d unpack it again sometime, happy to see it and clothe myself in it once more, like a once-loved party frock. But what if I forgot about it and the box stayed sealed up and dusty, any remnants of my sexual self eventually fraying and perishing over time?

Even in the midst of the perimenopause, even in the midst of a pandemic, I can’t (and won’t) let my sexuality wither.

I’ve been deliberately looking for ways to stay connected to my sexual self and to make space for the new version of it that is emerging.

I’ve started looking at old photos: searching for who I was before I began to shed this skin. They help me to appreciate and understand other changes my sexual self has been through – and survived. Physical changes as my body gained and lost weight, got sick, had surgery. Emotional changes as relationships ended and began. The times when I felt wild and adventurous. And those when circumstances dictated I was solid and stable.

I’ve also started having conversations with others about all different aspects of living as sexual beings. These Intimate Conversations light me up, remind me – again – of who I was, who I am, and who I might be yet to become.

And I’ve given myself permission to write again. Sometimes just for me and my journal, sometimes a heart-exposing letter to a loved one, and sometimes here – offering my softshell skin to others as a way to be witnessed and to share that none of us need to go through this alone.

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