Being Loved By A Black Woman Taught Me How To Love Myself: Ashley and Brianne
Left: Brianne, Right: Ashley
All images courtesy of Ashley Maxwell
In 2016, Ashley Maxwell was in a dark place. She’d just gone through a brutal breakup and she didn’t want to be here anymore. “I literally thought I was going to kill myself," she explains. "I had planned everything. I was making sure my ducks were in a row.”
But then someone stopped her. “The only thing that saved me was I didn’t know what was going to happen to [my dog Carter.] I didn't want him to have to go back to the shelter. I didn’t want him to find me dead somewhere. So he saved my life.”
Because Carter saved her life, he means a lot to Ashley. “He is very much my bad, silver-tooth-having child,” she says of her four-legged love. Carter is lovable but he barks at everyone. Strangely though, when Ashley took Carter to meet Brianne, a woman she’d met on Facebook, he was quiet. “He did not bark at her. I knew then that she was for me and that this was going to work.”
Carter’s silence was the confirmation of the feeling Ashley experienced when she saw Brianne’s picture in a Facebook group. “Something drew me to her. To this day, I don’t know what it was.”
Whatever force it was, it was working in Ashley’s favor. Before they decided to pursue a full on relationship, Ashley and Brianne, who are both born on the same day, seven years apart, talked openly and honestly about their pasts, including Ashley’s most recent relationship and Brianne’s former marriage to a man, which produced two teenage children. Both women had been through “some shit” and wanted to do things differently this time.
Those conversations laid a foundation so strong that by the time they had their first in-person date, it was all systems go. “I knew I loved her probably on our first date,” Ashley says. “She took me to a Janet Jackson concert. She’s a Janet Jackson fien. I’m a Beyoncé fien. So I did not think I was going to have a good time. But at this concert, I just kept looking at her. It was our connection. We always have fun with each other. It was never strained when we would talk or be in each other’s presence.”
Ashley and Brianne dated long distance for a year before Ashley moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to be with her. Their romance was whirlwind, still the relocation required adjustments.
“Us being in each other’s face every single day, I had to learn that everyone is not like me,” Ashley admits. Ashley is a talker and prefers to address conflict immediately. Brianne is not.
“We would argue a lot of the time, because I would be like, ‘Let’s just talk about it. Let’s just deal with it.’ And she just was not that person. Through therapy, I have come to the realization and had to adjust the way I approach conversations with her.”
A relationship with Brianne also meant taking on the role of a parental figure for Ashley.
“Never had any children in my life. So adjusting to how to deal with having our relationship, making it work and being parents. That was a major adjustment for me as well.”
Ashley wasn’t the only one who had to adjust. Her mother also had to get the used to the idea of not only Ashley’s sexuality but the notion of her daughter and Brianne as a couple.
“When I initially came out. My mother told me that she wished I was dead,” Ashley shares. Eventually, Ashley’s mother couldn’t deny the joy Brianne added to Ashley’s life. And if she wanted to be a part of it, she had to be accepting.
“When I am with someone and we are in a relationship, I do not allow that person to be disrespected, okay?” Ashley says. “I think my mother saw that I was going to do me regardless. If you want to be a part of my life, great. But if you’re going to be here, then you need to know that she’s going to be here.”
With Brianne in Ashley’s life, things started to fall into place.
“[My mother] saw how much I had progressed when I moved to Charlotte. We were traveling all the time. I was moving up career wise. A lot of things were happening and I think she saw, ‘Maybe she doesn’t have to just be with a man to do these things.’ You can actually do real things with another woman. It’s not limited to just sex, which is what most people think it is.”
More than just sex, Ashley says this is the first time she’s experiencing genuine love in a romantic relationship.
“Having someone that you don’t have to hide yourself from, that is probably the biggest thing that I have found in this relationship, actually knowing that this is real love. Having someone who is genuine and true and wants to see me at my greatest.
Brianne’s desire to see Ashley at her greatest helped her discover a healthier version of herself.
“Being loved by Brianne, being loved by a Black woman has taught me how to love myself,” Ashley says. “It’s taught me how to look at myself in the mirror and say I want to be the best person that I can, not only for my wife. But for myself, first. Being with her was the first time that I had ever gone to therapy. Her loving me made me want to be a better person for myself. I knew that if I was a better me, then I could love her better.”
Ultimately, Ashley wants her love story with Brianne to reflect the fact that they sincerely like each other.
“We went to a family function one time and my uncle asked us, ‘How long have you been married?’ At that time, we had only been married two years and he was like, ‘Oh y’all still like each other. Give it some time. I’ve been married 19 years, I don’t even like her.’’ Why do you want that for me? That is the legacy I want to leave. We will continue to like each other. It is because we like each other–that is what makes our love grow.”