Saturday evening, I attended a roundtable discussion in an auditorium complete with African-American lesbian women circa 35 years old & up. The event, so perfectly titled “A Conversation with Women Sweet on Women,” was moderated by poet Nikky Finney, supported by panelists Trey Anthony, Maisha Najuma Aza, Kyndra Frazier, & Doris Davenport, & orchestrated by Black woman lesbian activist Mary Anne Adams. During the talk, Finney recalled Alice Walker’s womanist essay, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” wherein Walker (who I absolutely adore) honors her mother’s creative spirit. According to Finney—as Walker explicates in her narrative—it was our mothers’ & our grandmothers’ creative spirit, which was expressed in how she nurtured herself & her family, that cherished our Selves. & so Finney, who was leading a discussion on the importance of touch, asked us to call out the name of the one woman whose touch—whose sweet touch—inspirited our personhood, our sweetness. Just call out their names, Finney said, & invite them into this space.
I thought of my mother, Choling Bryant-Walker & my grandmothers, Rose McKenney-Jones & Mary Bryant. However, I didn’t call out their names. Instead, I called the name of a non-relative whose sweet touch invited me into an unconditional love I had experienced only amongst kinfolk. Her sweetness was such a beautiful surprise, that I initially didn’t understand it. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school, when Maryam, a 42-year old woman I met in church, loved me vulnerable. While I knew that my family loved me, Maryam’s love was supported by touch. Her behavior expressed a tenderness I did not know—at least not as a young adult. As soon as I called out Maryam’s name, she became the center of my attention as I engaged in discourse with “Women Sweet on Women.” & in that space, I understood—as if betrothed in meditation practice—the divinity in touch.
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When I was with Maryam, I felt like a child; it was such a delicious feeling. Maryam held my hand, gave me long, enveloping hugs, & one weekend, while I was at her home for a movie night, she held me until I fell asleep. I felt so rare in Maryam’s space, so special—much like I imagine my 5-year old niece feels when I hold her, hug her, & kiss her all over her face. But I was 17, & Maryam was giving me permission to be a vulnerable, needy young adult. If I wanted to sit in her lap, she would have allowed me that pleasure—& would have probably gratified me further by singing softly in my ear. Maryam’s tenderness, while I knew it as I was experiencing it, I don’t think I understood until I invited her into “Conversation with Women Sweet on Women.”
I always believed Maryam encouraged my affinity towards women. However, I didn’t understand how necessary her touches were to my humanity. I didn’t understand how womanist & spiritual & stimulating her touches were, & how they—all by themselves—invited me back into an infantile space where there is only love. & that is the whole point of life, right? To express love.
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As I compose this blog & think about Maryam, as well as Nikky Finney, Mary Anne Adams, et al., I am reminded of Diana Ross’s 1970 “Reach Out & Touch Somebody’s Hand.” “Reach out & touch somebody’s hand,” she sings. “Make this world a better place, if you can.” While Ross’s lyrics are quite apropos to these particular times—these best of times & worst of times—the phrase, “if you can” is disheartening. For, it is a reminder of the fear that we have welcomed into our personhood. It is an unnatural fear that maintains our distrust, distance, & disillusioned idea that we are separate from one another, & that sweet touches & tenderness should be reserved to babies & romantic partners or earmarked for those in distress.
The world needs more “Conversations with Women Sweet on Women.” & it sho nuff can use more Maryams.