‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ star Chanel Ayan credits husband Chris with giving her the courage to open up about the forced genital mutilation she experienced as a child.
During Wednesday’s episode of the Bravo series, Chanel revealed on camera that she was circumcised at age 5. Now, Chanel is opening up about that decision to PEOPLE, explaining that Christopher was a huge factor in helping her confront her traumatic past and share it with the world.
“My husband supported me and loved me for who I am,” Chanel shares with PEOPLE exclusively. “This helped me get to where I am, to be able to open up about being circumcised and raising awareness about this issue.”
During the RHODubai episode, the 44-year-old was attending a hypnotherapy session with fellow housewife Dr. Sara Al-Madani when she tearfully revealed the dark secret she’s kept close to her chest for years.
“We were tied in the legs,” Chanel told the therapist while holding her co-star’s hand. “Couldn’t pee. Couldn’t move. When we needed to pee, they would carry us and put us on the grass. I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on whatsoever and my mom didn’t know that that was happening to us.”
When Chanel met Chris over two decades ago, she quickly realized dating a man from the United States would be a different experience than what she was accustomed to growing up in Kenya.
“He’s an American guy, he’s going to college, and I’m a young girl and he wants kiss and stuff,” Chanel, who was a virgin at the time, explains to PEOPLE. “It was very awkward for me to understand.”
Still though, she didn’t shy away from opening up about her upbringing. Even though he was unaware of exactly what it entailed, he accepted his then-girlfriend for who she was.
“I had to sit him down and talk to him about it,” Chanel shares. “He’s never heard of it. Of course, he was very shocked. He didn’t understand it, but he loved me and just made me feel comfortable about it. I just kept on being around him and being comfortable, and after, [he] just never talked about it.”
The Kenyan-born model hid this secret from so many people that her husband’s family didn’t even know about it until the show aired.
“His family is going to be probably shocked because they’ve never heard me talk,” explains Chanel, who has since been medically treated for her genital mutilation. “Nobody has ever heard me talk about it. It wasn’t a plan for me to do it. I was so embarrassed my whole entire life. I never slept.”
The mother to 16-year-old Taj also considered her son’s feelings when deciding to share the news so publicly.
“I’m worried because my son is a teenager,” Chanel says. “He looks proud of me when I’m talking. He sees I’m saying something amazing that I want to bring awareness into this, but also I’m worried. He’s a kid. Nobody understands this from his generation.”
Knowing that female genital mutilation continues to happen around the world, Chanel is hoping to use her voice to save others from going through the same experience.
“Yes, I am a victim, but I have my power now because I talked about it,” Chanel says. “I feel like saying it [helps me] to get me my power back and confidence that I’ve always lost in it with my body and things like that.”
‘The Real Housewives of Dubai’ finale airs next Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.