“Can I come?”
It was a simple text. One I probably shouldn’t have felt so anxious to have sent as I drove to Matt’s house in West Los Angeles after a late night at the office.
But for a Muslim woman in her twenties who had lived her entire life ruled by the social rules of her faith (mostly avoiding the opposite sex until marriage), those four words meant so many things: betrayal, lust and sin, among others.
I was unprepared for what I was about to do once I arrived at Matt’s maturely furnished condo, which showed in his cleanliness and attention to detail. His sofa was custom-made from a cooperative of artisans in Venice – “the beach, not Italy”, he said. He kept making small talk on her spot, I guess to avoid the real conversation to come.
A few hours earlier, I was sitting in a plush chair at work taking notes on my laptop. It was my first work in a writer’s room, on the Hulu show “Ramy,” about a Muslim American searching for meaning in his life.
If you’re not familiar with TV writing, the only way I can describe it would be like a giant therapy session, every day, with the same handful of people over the course of several weeks. You sit together and share stories from your life in hopes that they will inspire a nugget of drama that can be exploited for entertainment.
There’s this notion that to write the most “authentic” stories possible, we need to dive deep into our own experiences and traumas. The room is a “safe space”, most showrunners would say, without any judgment. Except that I judged my own experiences as unworthy of sharing, mainly for my choice not to have sex or to be in a relationship until I was married, which means that at 27, I was still a virgin.
I thought they’d find it interesting because it was so rare, maybe a story we could use for one of the female characters on the show, so I nervously introduced it: “Maybe be that she tries masturbation for the first time but does not do it”. I don’t know which side of the toothbrush to use. I thought it would be funny, but I was met with blank stares.
“Who doesn’t know which side of a toothbrush to use?” laughs one of the writers.
Me! I wanted to scream. But I remained silent, fearing that I had already shared too much. Also, like most of my locations, this one fell flat, leaving me to simmer in my own indignity for the rest of the day.
That night, as I did every night as an assistant, I stayed late to clean up the notes and prepare for the following week. I was always the first in and the last out, which left little room for socializing, let alone dating.
But mostly, I felt like a failure. In my late twenties, I had left a lucrative career in the world of technology to become a writing assistant, and I worried about not making an impression in the room – not sharing enough or being vulnerable. like everyone. The reality was that I had nothing to share.
I don’t know what got into me, but before I knew it, I was going through my phone contacts, trying to figure out who I wanted to target for this fabricated experience.
And then I saw him, Matt, a guy I met at my old place of work, a business brother who loved music; a tech nerd with glasses and a bald head. I didn’t initially think he was cute, nor do I know what attracted him, given that I dressed modestly and covered my hair with a hijab.
This does not mean that hijabi women are not attractive. Some even find us more intriguing because of the “mystery” (hijabi fetishists). But at the time, I was deeply anxious and didn’t think anyone would want to be with me. Also, I was averse to sex before marriage, so I didn’t think it was conducive to date a non-Muslim.
Needless to say, I had written off Matt despite his advances towards me – until this exact moment.
I thought Matt would be nice, safe, very sure. He didn’t know anyone in my community and barely used social media, and I no longer worked in his neighborhood, so there would be no way it would come back to me, which was my biggest concern. Although I wanted to have this experience, I also sought to preserve my reputation as an immaculate Muslim girl.
But after watching three full episodes of ‘Age Gap Love’ – a British reality show we were both oddly smitten with – Matt turned to me and said, ‘Why are you really here?”
I caught my breath. “I just feel the need to be touched,” I said.
Matt wrinkled his nose in confusion.
I tried to cover the basics of what he probably thought – that it would be a unique thing, that I wasn’t looking to date him. I didn’t want to have sex, or even kiss her. All I knew was that I yearned to be held. “Maybe we could just go to bed?”
I hadn’t thought of shaving my legs or straightening my unruly hair. The writers room was set up in an Airbnb (don’t ask why) so I had managed to take a quick shower before driving. And despite the lack of product, my curls cooperated.
I didn’t want to make a fuss by taking off my scarf. I had seen too many scenes in movies of Muslim women taking off their head coverings to reveal beautiful, perfectly manicured hair. I didn’t want Matt to gasp or make unnecessary comments about my beauty. I just wanted to exist. To be normal.
Luckily, he just nodded and took off his shirt. “You don’t mind if I sleep without it, do you?” I’m just really hot at night.
It bothered me, but I pretended not to. I was at his house after all, after inviting myself. I still remember the silky feel of the pillowcase on my head. Matt said the fabric helped keep his head cool at night.
“What do people do when they sleep next to each other? I asked.
Matt chuckled. “To start, I can put my arm around you.”
I didn’t know where to put my hands or my head. Do girls sleep under guys’ armpits? Or on their chest? What if my head was too heavy? My mind was racing as I tried to think of what I had seen in the movies. Much of my understanding of the world comes from fiction because I rarely dared to live fully in the real world, which is perhaps why I became a television writer.
“Just do whatever you want,” he said.
I had never given myself the luxury of doing what I wanted. I hadn’t even sensually touched my own body until recently, let alone anyone else’s, but right now it felt so good.
That night, Matt’s arm never left me and never ventured under my shoulder blades. He was respectful. I let my head fall to his chest as his breathing began to soften, mirroring mine. Somewhere in the middle of the night, our lips touched. My first kiss, at 27. And it was magical.
Soon after, I ended up writing an episode where a married Muslim woman sleeps with the protagonist during Ramadan, the holiest month of the year. Many Muslims on Twitter stood up, of course. They couldn’t understand how she could cheat on her husband, and at such a sacred time. God forbid that a Muslim woman also has cravings, desires and desires.
To this day, I’m still asked if I think this episode promotes “sin.” I have the greatest respect for what our faith teaches us, but I also have a keen awareness of being a woman in the 21st century.
Many of us don’t get married until our late 20s or early 30s, if ever, and I refuse to believe that we can only experience intimacy once we’re in a “sacred union.” “. Touch is one of the strongest and most essential human drives, as the pandemic has shown us so clearly. That night I realized how powerful it could be.
The following Monday, back in the writer’s room, everyone was eager to share the escapades that had taken place over the weekend. For the first time, I had a story to tell, but when it came time to speak, I kept my mouth shut.
With this story, I would expect to be ready to share it on my own terms.