This morning I had a dream that reminded me of a pivotal experience in my life. I remembered taking my grandmother to a fashion show produced by one of my sisters, starring about a dozen of our cousins, all of whom had been raised as Muslim girls. My grandmother, as always, was dressed “modestly” as the Muslim woman she had become in her 20s.
She wore a long skirt and a light-weight veil covering her silver, silky hair. She favored soft, pastel colors and I marveled at her ability to remain stylish while beholden to a very old-fashioned Islamic tradition. Out of respect for her, I wore loose-fitted slacks and a conservative blouse instead of one of my sassy short skirts with bold high heels. I could tell we were in for a fun evening when we arrived, but I had no idea how adventurous the event would be.
We were settled into our seats, enjoying my mother’s humorous moderating of the program, enjoying the little kids sporting everything from traditional tiny tuxes and gowns to trendy baggy jeans and jerseys. My grandmother was all smiles, thoroughly delighted – until the lights changed and the next scene unfolded.
In the blink of an eye, a parade of young women who had been raised with strict religious confines strutted out half naked in mini skirts and tank tops or swim suits and spiked heels. They held a handful of leashes attached to young men crawling on all fours in front of them. They pulled back on the leashes, struck a pose, and flashed their sass, yanked on the leashes. The young men in collars clawed at them, rolled over for them, made the crowd laugh for them and my grandmother was beside herself.
“What in the world?!?!?!” She spoke only loud enough for me, sitting next to her, to hear. “Astafullah!” she said. that was the Muslim equivalent of “God forbid!” I was tickled through and through.
“It’s a new day, GrandWillie. Women are owning their sexuality,” I explained. “Actually, it’s not that new. We’ve been celebrating sex since the 70s.” I enjoyed my younger sisters’ vision and the young men’s willingness to play along.
At the reception after the fashion show we enjoyed light fare and much laughter with the crowd. Back in my car, GrandWillie returned to our conversation. She explained that she likes to support all her grandchildren, but she did not need to see what she had seen and she certainly did not condone it.
“These are the ending days for sure,” GrandWillie said. “I can’t stand to see young women giving yourselves away. You know we had a saying ‘why buy the cow if you can get the milk free’.”
“Oh, GrandWillie I always hated that saying,” I said. “No disrespect. But that implies that I am a piece of meat a man can buy and milk to death or slaughter and eat. I am not a piece of meat.”
“Why would any woman give herself to a man who won’t even make a commitment? I just don’t understand it.”
“It’s not so much giving ourself away. It’s a shared experience,” I said. “We like sex. No disrespect.”
My grandmother had given birth to eight children because birth control and abortion were illegal when she was a young woman. Sex had been a necessary evil to be endured by those lucky enough to get married. She had proudly told me that she had never been with any man other than my grandfather. I had respectfully declined to let on that I knew my grandfather had been with other women before they were married and during their 40-plus years together. (He was killed by a drunk driver.) Her children had enjoyed the sexual revolution of the 70s, and her grandchildren were celebrating it in new ways. What would she do if she found out that women were now enjoying sex without a partner at all? She had never been to an adult toy store. Our orientations had been different. The landscapes of our lives were not the same.
While focusing on the road ahead, taking my grandmother home, I could see out the corner of my eye that she was shaking her head in disagreement about our take on women’s sexuality. I did not tell her that she had been spared a fashion show scene dramatizing lesbian relationships. That would have been waaaay too much for her. The younger women in the family were pushing the envelope but maintained some boundaries in deference to our elders. I appreciated GrandWillie’s wisdom, but did not agree with it all. Conventional wisdom defied and denied too much of what I instinctively knew to be true.
“Men have to get a license to fish, to hunt, to do whatever else they want to do. Make them get a license to be with you,” my grandmother insisted.
“I am not a sport or a game,” I argued. “I am not a piece of meat, or a piece of property you can have license to. License to do what? Do you realize how many men think their marriage license gives them the right to sex anytime they want?”
“You young women think too much,” she said. “The Holy Scriptures lays it all out for us. Ain’t nothing new under the sun. Human nature is human nature, and God knows human nature. When we try to change it or figure it out on our own, nothing good can come from it.”
I agreed with her that there are many benefits to marriage, that stating intentions up front and committing to work together toward agreed-upon goals could be more satisfying than a series of one-night stands.
“I believe in marriage,” I told her. “But I need a wife.”
“You need a what?” She seemed exasperated with me.
“I need a wife. Somebody who’s got my back, who will support my dreams. I need a man who will pick up my dry cleaning if I’m working late, or have dinner on the table for me to take the edge off a long day.”
“These are certainly the ending days,” she said. “You all, as you like to say, got it twisted’.”
I smiled, and respectfully disagreed. “I think we’re finally straightening things out,” I said as we reached her home where we would part ways. “GrandWillie, it’s all working out for the best,” I added. “You’ll see.”
She cracked a smile as she turned to go up the stairs. “I think I have seen enough.”
My dearly departed grandmother is among the stars now. Thinking about fun times we shared brings a smile to my face, streaks of sunlight through the clouds of grief. The dream I had reflected sexual domination, but it prompted waking memories that confirmed a reversal of fortune. We re-create, re-cast, re-fashion,and re-model our outlook. We have, we can, we must.