Eid Mubarak! A Prayer For You Upon Returning Home

Eid Mubarak!

 

Look, some of my Muslim fam sent me Eid tidings! I sent one too. See if you can guess which one is me!!!

 

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Even though Eid was yesterday for many Muslims, I couldn’t attend Eid prayer because I was undergoing a super minor surgery that turned into a rather painful event, though still minor in the grand scheme of things.

 

I was emotionally bummed after the surgery, but my mama went for the win! She brought home dim-sum for lunch which, it turns out, actually goes super well with valium and Tylenol plus codeine. Then, she made a four course gourmet meal of chicken and broccoli, chicken soup, and goose grass vegetables. My ma who loves me dearly has realized that Iftars and Eid are opportunities to spoil her biggest baby. I’m so grateful and hungry that I gobble everything I can.

 

My sister drove me to the appointment and back for an hour + and brought over her kids who managed to only yell at each other a little. I taught them to play Pente and took great joy in beating them (one is 10 and the other is 6 so is this weird?)

 

I got cool Eidi. My brother gave me swiss army knives (KNIVES) from Switzerland and pictures. I got to watch tons of episodes of Eternal Love until my eyeballs peeled off. Loving friends sent me kind messages and supportive shares about me peeling off little parts of my insides to share with the masses. Both my sibs wisely elected to not read my blog post from yesterday so that they could be extra nice to me on Eid. Thanks guys!!!

 

Friends of mine sent the most AWESOME photo of Muslim community in NYC. They put on a direct action at the NYU Washington Square Park Eid Prayer. Together, they showed courage in public and prayed in a mixed gender line, organizing themselves to write a letter to the Imam in advance, and to prepare with allies. It went very smoothly, and I am so grateful to know these folks. Also, of course, I miss them hard right now. Brings tears to the eyes. This is a BFD.

 

And despite all this wonderfulness, I found myself overwhelmed at night. Not only because I was in pain, but because I was finished with Ramadan.

 

Also, I no longer know how to eat properly (I do know how to gobble), and I felt funny inside.

 

Today, I woke up and found out that my great professor and mentor, the brilliant storyteller, Tayari Jones has won the 2019 Women’s Prize in Fiction. WHUTWHUTTTTTTT!!!

 

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I was determined not to let the weird feelings ruin my Eid.

I realized that there’s a bonus to being a non-denominational Muslim!

 

I could have an EID Do-Over. THANKS ALLAH!

 

I attended Eid prayer this morning at the South Bay Islamic Association at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds!!! Their holy people didn’t sight the moon on Sunday night. In fact this year, the day-after faction was pretty strong. I was happy to join their ranks. This year the moon wasn’t technically sighted on the 29th day of fasting by many masjids – meaning fasting continued until the evening of the 30th day. Eid is a full cycle, new moon to new moon.

 

People use their eyes, you know, to see when the moon wanes and waxes.

 

Eyewitness identification is subjective and unreliable in all instances, and especially with respect to holidays and matters of emotional import.

 

At SBIA, I was especially happy to meet a couple friends there, Lalla and Balla. I’ve been having major issues wearing a hijab this past year, to the extent that I’ve avoided going to Jummah when I would’ve otherwise done it. But, this morning I swallowed my pride, and I thought to myself: “You’ve never been so afraid of not conforming that you weren’t ready to try something new.”

 

So I unwrinkled my baby blue tie and my hot pink scarf (from last year – I didn’t have time to go get a new one). I put on a polka dot collared shirt, and I ventured out to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. I did get a lot of stares. Likely because I wasn’t dressed in gender conforming gear (and maybe there was some confusion about the hot pink hijab), but as Balla (and Hafez, previously) have said to me: “People are probably extra nice to you, you know, because they think you’re a convert. Otherwise, you’ve gotta come correct.”

 

Hafez definitely warned me, “Just wait until you get fully incorporated, then the aunties are going to reign down on you. People will order you around.”

 

I live to fight another day.

 

While there, I was comforted by Lalla and Balla’s presence. They kept it real and gave me the history of SBIA, explaining that it was a very South Asian and Cham (which is great cuz peeps actually look like me!) group, very working class, and not one of those pretentious, bling-bling type expensive people’s mosques. They talked to me about homophobia in Masjids. We talked about where I might be able to pray, with or without a hijab. To be around family is a gift, especially for me, because when I go to a mosque, I’m usually there alone.

 

After Eid prayer, the fairgrounds were operating with their ferris wheel and cotton candy. We had delicious food. I love me a great goat biryani esp b/c goat was the specialty in the village where my father grew up in Taiwan.

 

Then, I went back to feeling awkward.

 

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You see, Eid is very, very special, but it’s not like other holidays I’ve experienced. It’s got the scale of Christmas, and the religiosity of Easter (whether or not you fast), plus a month of intense fasting. When you go into Ramadan, you enter the vortex. Your brain becomes the fast brain. Everything slows.

 

What is critical in the outside world, is not critical in the Ramadan world.

 

This can be very hard for people who aren’t Muslim to understand. They think Eid’s just a day where you get to eat again. But it’s more than that. Who can ever explain what it means to give yourself completely to a religious experience, the cost of it, and also the blessing of it. Non-Muslims want to interact with you as if you aren’t undergoing a major transformation. Because you seem, if anything, kind of tired but mostly okay. But you’re 5 billion light years away, and okay is a relative term. Your schedule book usually doesn’t include times for –

HUNGER IS FREEZING MY BRAIN

THIRST HAS REMOVED MY ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND MINUTES

I HAVE A HEADACHE AND ARE YOU A GIANT BANANA?

 

Imagine a starship whizzing to the ends of the universe, traveling not only through space but time itself, veering toward the Big Bang, and one night comes — you muster the energy to look up to the sky. Somebody says they see the moon, and somebody else is like – “Hey it’s over.” Then you’re back.

 

Don’t talk to me about motion sickness.

 

Or, let me put it another way.

 

Eid’s the day you come home after being away for a month.

 

Can you believe I was in Joshua Tree a month ago? Or Washington before that? It feels like the speed of light, but I don’t know if I’m the one moving or not.

 

Coming home requires preparation. If your house was a mess before, it’s probably not tidy now.

 

I mean the dishes have piled up; you’ve got nothing but well-intentioned, rotting vegetables in your fridge; clothes need to be washed; the bills may or may not have been paid; people’s feelings have been hurt by your inability to communicate regularly; other people have no understanding of your pre-Ramadan life (you might not either), and so much shit needs to get done! (By the way, I’m about 10-20 emails behind, so if you sent me a line and I haven’t responded, that’s the only reason why – I’m gonna write back!)

 

Worst of all, your anxiety is back and the questions that you realized weren’t really important to your peace of mind or to the core of your existence are now at the CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE.

 

That’s why people like me hang onto Eid like it’s a lost puppy. We hold it tight.

 

I went to Eid prayer because I needed to say something to myself. That’s what ritual really is. It’s a reminder. A period. A way to understand something about beginnings and endings. To mark the passage of time, the sanctimony of happening, the moving away and the return, to God.

 

The fulfillment of a commitment we made.

 

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So I want to share with you my prayer that I made for you, this Ramadan. That’s right, if you receive one of my emails announcing the daily blog posts, OR even if you are only reading this blog, I found clever-ways of grandmothering in my “blog readers” into the prayers.

 

These are some of the specific prayers I made during Ramadan. One of them may have been requested by you. Not everything made it onto this list, so please know that if you wrote me and asked for a prayer, I copied it down and prayed it.

 

I pray for you that all your prayers come true.

I pray for you to experience gratitude for the love that you’ve been given, the forgiveness, the hope.

I pray for you that you will have the children or child that you’ve always wanted.

I pray for you that you will find housing soon for yourself and your parent.

I pray for you that you will get that job you’ve been wanting for years and that you will heal from the pain of not getting the job you deserve sooner.

I pray for you that you will pass your Boards.

I pray for you that you gain greater ability to take care of yourself so that you can take better care of your family and your community.

I pray that you will be able to resolve that conflict with the group you’re in, where everybody’s really mad at everybody else and hurt and triggered.

I pray that you can have an abortion.

I pray that nobody will discriminate against you for being trans and that you will get the job you want.

I pray that you will be able to come out on your terms.

I pray that you will be able to afford and have transition surgery.

I pray that you will get an amazing, well-paying and secure job despite the tech industry’s ageism and racism.

I pray for you that you will finish your book and that it will be amazing and garner all the awards and success you want.

I pray for you that your pain at losing your mother will be eased.

I pray for you that your child will be less anxious.

I pray for you that the pain from the partner that left you will diminish and that you will find an even greater love following that one.

I pray that your poetry will be heard.

I pray that your body and mind will be healed and that your disease will be slowed, that mercy will be shown, and that you will live longer than what you currently believe.

I pray for the chemo to work and to grant you respite.

I pray for ease and relief from the chemo.

I pray that you will never lose your memory, of anything that is important to you, good or bad.

I pray that your family’s upcoming departure is filled with ease and that there is tenderness.

I pray that upon leaving, your family and you will be able to say goodbye in a meaningful way and in a way that helps ease the hurt and makes the transition more full of joy and support for each other.

I pray that if death is coming that you will die in light and love, especially for yourself.

I pray that I have the strength to accept what I need to in my life.

I pray to work the miracles of God.

I pray for the ability to forgive you.

I pray for the hurt I caused you to depart, and for you to be healed.

I pray for the cut on your head to be healed.

I pray for the move to go smoothly.

I pray for the confusion to end.

I pray for your stability.

I pray for you to stop coughing.

I pray for you and your family’s health, always.

I pray that your show will be sold out and that your career will continue to prosper.

I pray that your family is able to accept you and show compassion for you, and likewise.

I pray that even though I don’t know what is going on with you, that your parents remain in good health and that Allah ease any suffering they may be experiencing.

I pray that your heart will be open to loving and that your heart will grow.

I pray that you and your partner have better communication.

I pray that you love yourself.

I pray that my father is in Heaven.

I pray that you are safe in prison.

I pray that you are able to be reunited with your loved ones very soon and to have your freedom returned for the rest of your life.

I pray that my messages are reaching you.

I pray for the courage to love myself.

I pray to meet somebody who has the capacity to love me as much as I love them, and that we love each other well.

I pray for the greatest love of my life to be ahead of me, and not behind me.

I pray to stay grateful.

I pray for help.

I pray that Allah protects you.

 

All of this, I pray for you and will continue to pray for you.

May all your dreams come true, Insha’Allah.

May you know how very much I care for you, Insha’Allah.

May we be held in the light, Insha’Allah.

 

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Now, to the extent that it may still be relevant, I need to fulfill some blog promises:

 

I said at the beginning of this year’s posts that the Galumph would be back to answer questions, but they never really came back. I guess they were on strike or vacation or being totally lazy. Hard to tell. But, the Galumph did get a question, thankfully only one, but it’s a doozy and wonderfully phrased. So here goes.

 


 

Dear Galumph,

 

My ma is facing yet another tough spot in her life. She’s been unemployed for two years and blown through her savings and steadily going through mine. Not for want of trying to get a job – and this is the part that makes me extra sad – my ma has worked at least one job, sometimes two at a time, since she turned 17. For some of that time she was working and penniless because she had to hand over her paycheck to my da. And now, when she is supposed to be, according to the data, at her earning prime, she is unable to get a job. My first question is about my attitude towards helping her. I vacillate between feeling privileged and humbled that I am in a position to help and feeling scared and burdened by the responsibility and sometimes even a bit resentful that I am doing all of the supporting and not being supported. How do I eliminate the resentment? How can I share my anxiety with her, since she is my parent after all (even though the roles are reversed), without upsetting her and making her feel worse about her situation? In a few weeks we have to move out of the house we are living in and I have to find a place for us that I can afford on just my salary. So my second question is how do I find a place for us without resenting the fact that I am looking for a place for us when what I really want is to live alone. We have a precious relationship and I fear damaging it at this difficult time. Thank you.

 

Sincerely,

Mixed-Up Bout my Ma

 


 

Dear Mixed-Up Bout my Ma,

 

I want to say that the answer is easy (to say as opposed to do). I want to say as Rilke did that you will live into the answers. I want to say that I know what to say, but I don’t. I don’t have good advice, but perhaps I can offer some comfort or perspective?

 

Please don’t eliminate the resentment. You cannot eliminate it. You can allow yourself to feel it. It’s totally normal. It’s okay. Feel it. Listen to it. I, for one, would be pissed at the world and totally feel resentful if my mom required me to do a ton of stuff for her. Even typing that, I feel totally ashamed of myself.

 

I’m an entitled kid because in my head my mom is supposed to take care of me, and if she doesn’t, some part of me cannot handle it. I don’t think you and I are that different from most people we know. We are of a time and a place. We’re raised to think that our success is about us as an individual, rather than about our parents.

 

Feelings do not cause actions. Our ability to work through our feelings rather than react to them is what allows us to become the people we’ve always wanted to be.

 

When I read your letter, I wanted to say that I think you’ve asked me the wrong question. The question isn’t how do you not feel resentment? Or how do you communicate with your mother (which is fine to ask, but that’s not the threshold question)? Or what do I say to her? Or whether you should say your anxiety with her? I’m not sure you should.

 

The question is: how do you get right with yourself?

 

You may not be seeing yourself very clearly in terms of what you’re already giving to your mom. Attachment to your self-image as taking care of her is likely bending your ability to see the reality of what your mother needs and wants.

 

I know enough about your situation (outside of this letter) to know that your mother is making decisions too. She’s taking risks, and she doesn’t expect you to be her safety net. This experience, likely, is humbling for her. She’s finding her way through, and you need to let her, because, for her, it’s about finding the right balance of your help to make her dreams possible. She doesn’t want to achieve her dreams if it means costing you too much.

 

When I went to work at my family company after my father’s death, I couldn’t leave because my mom had an emotional guilt-trip stranglehold on me, not to mention my own shame and grief toward a man who had died disappointed in me. My career as a public defender was suffering (and suffered, though not terrible or in the ways that I thought). I was in a bad place. But leaving the company and allowing my mom to find her own way was the best thing I ever did. What kept me from moving forward was the constant feeling that without me, my mom would completely crumble and fall apart. I thought the company would die if I wasn’t there too. That the last “living” part of my dad was gonna be lost too.

 

That it wasn’t safe to let her find her own way without MY help.

 

It didn’t help that she thought that way too.

Turns out we were both wrong.

 

Reflecting back, I would make the same sacrifices over and over again because that choice allowed me to see clearly who I am, and the limits of what I can give. I lived into my values.

 

Yes, my mother is and was better at business than I’ll ever be. Yes, WE had no idea tat was true. It wasn’t until I stopped enabling her, or masking her talent and ability with my desire to help, that she really stepped up. Though this isn’t all about rosy endings, unfortunately.

 

Our parents do need us sometimes, and yet we also need to take care of ourselves. So stop judging yourself for your needs. Judgment on self causes the brain to go haywire.

 

Figure out what’s actually a sacrifice, practically, and how long you’re willing to give it. Also, how are you benefiting from your mom being present? Or how are you using her as an excuse to not get what you want?

 

Be clear with yourself. Know what you really want and how long you’re willing to give that up. Ask her what she really needs to accomplish her dream. Only after you’ve listened to what she wants can you tell her that you want to help her. You can only help her as much as she is willing to accept.

 

If you can listen to yourself and then say clearly what you do or don’t want, then perhaps in the end even if you hurt her feelings, it’s better than hurting the relationship.

 

I couldn’t do it, you see. I couldn’t figure out how to meet my own needs, so they went unmet, and as a result, I became a nightmare. I yelled – a lot. I don’t like who I was becoming by straining to always meet my mom’s needs, rather than my own.

 

I know that I’m not you, but still, ask yourself this – what is it that you think you’re really giving up? Is this really about money? Do you not have money you need? How much more do you need? vs. Want? What are your mother’s limits in terms of what she’s comfortable with? What hurts your feelings the most in this situation? That you can’t take care of your mother? Or that she can’t take care of you?

 

Are both of you trying your best?

 

Where is all this hurt and resentment really coming from? Where does it go once you’ve felt it?

 

It doesn’t disappear. It goes somewhere, the somatics folks say, in your body, and there it causes other problems and lives its own life. A life that may be at odds with yours.

 

Your mother may not want more than you can give. She may want more than you can give. I don’t know. But what you can actually give is fluid. Are you clearly examining your present situation, or are you locked into a pattern from the past? Are you tactually the person that you’re using to stand-in for you, when you reflect on the situation?

 

Until you’ve made peace with how much space you need and why, and for how long, then you won’t really be able to get what you treasure most – which is a great relationship with your mom.

 

A great relationship with your mother, I think, is built on honesty with yourself. Where does she end? Where do you begin? People who don’t make the time to know themselves often think their choices are inevitable, even and especially when those choices surprise them. Instead of saying, I take responsibility, they often say: this happened to me.

 

That, as we’ve discussed, is an honesty so radical it needs no other label than honesty itself. Know what you want and prioritize from there. I believe you can get it.

 

Sincerely,

Serena standing in for “The Galumph”

 

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On Ramadan Day 16: In the Middle of War, I Got Your Back, I promised that I would write a paragraph to the song of choice for whoever correctly guessed which song had these lyrics:

 

Watching every motion
In my foolish lover’s game
On this endless ocean
Finally lovers know no shame
Turning and returning
To some secret place inside
Watching in slow motion
As you turn around and say

 

Yes, that’s right, the winner is none other than Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers. “Take My Breath Away by Berlin. OF COURSE.”

 

And if you haven’t read her book – DO. (I’d blurb it but I’m totally biased). So, I’ll use the words of another, less biased writer…

 

“There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious, and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading.” —Ann Patchett,  author of Commonwealth

 

There’s a reason I chose Ann Patchett’s quote: Lisa once took me as her guest to a fancy schmancy literary event where they gave us a bunch of books in tote bags. I still have mine! Ann Patchett was there in a gown, and she was walking around looking for Lisa Ko. I bumped in to her. She asked me if I’ve read Lisa’s book, and then goes on to GUSH that she had read it herself because she owns a bookstore. “I contacted the publisher immediately to let them know that I wanted to blurb the book, if that’s what Lisa wanted.”

 

Also, later that evening, I crammed a whole cupcake into my mouth while a famous poet was talking to me about another famous poet. I stuffed the whole red velvet deliciousness into my mouth in one gulp. I’m pretty impressed by this ability of mine because my brother is also known to do this, and I like to identify common family traits.

 

And Lisa, I listened to the song you sent while I wrote this post, so I’m not sure if this counts as the paragraph or a poem. If you’re reading this, please let me know if it counts. LOL.

Chosen by Blood Orange
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzDTMEo-g2k

 


 

 

And now, I want to say that I am so grateful to you, dear readers.

Thank you for reading along and supporting me during the fast.

I especially want to thank each and every one of you who dropped me a note, long or short, expressing that you enjoyed something I wrote. It meant so much to me. Because of you, not one day that I wrote went by without someone having something nice to say.

That was a gift.

Thank you.

EID MUBARAK!!! WE DID IT!!! RAMADAN IS DONE!!!

 

If you’re gonna miss me a ton, don’t fear, please come out and see me read at the Fabulous Lyrics & Dirges Series (running for 8 years) with the Amazing Poet, Novelist, Memoirist and co-Founder of VONA, ELMAZ ABINADER. Check out the other awesome guests on Wednesday, June 12th at 7:30pm Pegasus Books in Downtown Berkeley.

 

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I also did a lot of reading and cheerleading this Ramadan.

Here’s a roll call of some accomplishments by PEEPS I know:

 

My friend Ayesha Mattu, wrote this piece: “This Ramadan I’m getting Intimate with God. And, ‘Ramy’”

 

“If we aren’t honest with ourselves, is it even possible to be intimate with God? … In 2018, Gene Luen Yang, an Asian-American cartoonist, told “The Science of Happiness” podcast that stories can be mirrors or windows; both are a necessary foundation for a just society. A mirror reflects your own story back to you and teaches you to love yourself. A window allows a glimpse into the lives of those who seem different and teaches you to love them as well. American Muslims need more mirrors — in books, film and elsewhere — so that we can see and embrace the complexities of our diverse communities.”

 

Ramy El-Etreby is putting on his solo show The Ride at Los Angeles Hollywood Fringe Festival (Details HERE.) It’s all about what it means for him to be Gay! Arab! Muslim! And also somebody (maybe me) makes an appearance in my best feline form. (Details HERE.)

 

Speaking of Muslim and Queer, one of my celeb idols, Wazina Zondon is featured in the Advocate as one of the 104 Champions of Pride. Wazina is the founder of the show Coming Out Muslim, and is a beloved friend, podcast host, bad-ass, and community member.

 

Another rock star friend, the poet, biographer, Doctor, journalist — Seema Yasmin, was awarded a huge book deal to write a book based off a tweet, now turned essay (and soon to be forthcoming book), “Muslim Women Do Things.”

 

My beloved Zahra Noorbakhsh, pocast co-host of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim with Tanzila Ahmed, the comedian with the moistest – I said mostest, but the typo is funny and Zahra is funny, so… (no?) … is doing a HUGE Comedy Special, On Behalf of All Muslims at the Brava Theater in SF June 21-22. (Details HERE.)

BUY YOUR TICKET NOW SO YOU CAN SEE ZAHRA BEING FUNNY, AS ALL MUSLIMS ARE!

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LOOK! The hippest of the hip, Queens-based Christine Kandic Torres completed her novel. BTW, for all you mama writers out there, she did this after getting preggers and knocking out the cutestest little patootie! Here’s her pitch on twitter, please go over and show some love @christinemk #pitmad f you love it as much as I do. 🙂

 

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AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST!!!!

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SANDRA!!!

 

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You may wonder how I can know so many great people.

 

It’s simple, they’re people, struggling to do the things we all do: make a living, create a life, deal with their identities, healing from their pasts, and trying to be proud of themselves in an environment that makes it hard to love yourself.

 

The mystery of life may be simpler than first thought.

We met, didn’t we?

 

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Ramadan Day 29: A Jihad on Jealousy

Dear Lyo,

 

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I want to tell you I saved my best post for this last day of fasting. I didn’t. I only saved the hardest post for me to write. This wasn’t how the day was supposed to go, but hey I guess Allah is helping me keep it real.

 

I wrote Brass, who conveniently sent me this possibly affirming, half-sarcastic meme. All of my signs (Sun, Moon, Rising, Mercury) fall in the communicates-I-love-you half, but truthfully, I relate more to all the discomfort I’ve experienced saying those words over the years.

 

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My brother came home this weekend, joining my mother, sister, and I at a cousin’s wedding in Thousand Oaks, CA. He’s been abroad nearly a year in Burundi-Geneva-Thailand-Geneva. While our family time together was lovely, the first time we’ve all been together for nearly a year was, for me, a cloud of loneliness, punctuated by jealousy. Even though family was present, delicious foods and other comforts abounded, a lot of happy folks milled about, and even though I was rarely alone, I struggled.

 

Part of it was that ending the fast to take a road trip and attend a wedding with my sister and mother to the Southland felt abrupt. Returning to fasting, especially on what is likely the last day of Ramadan, was always going to feel a bit rocky. The rhythm that I’d been building for the past month had been interrupted.

 

I don’t know where to pick up.

 

Instead of getting to go to Eid prayer…I have to go through a biopsy (nothing life threatening) tomorrow that involves a lot of painkillers.

WAIT, THIS JUST IN – the local Santa Clara Masjid (through my friend Ayesha Mattu’s piece “This Ramadan I’m getting intimate with God. And Ramy,” I learned that I might identify with the term “unmosqued” which means to practice Islam without attending a mosque or to leave the faith entirely) is actually celebrating Eid on Wednesday not Tuesday, so I might make it to Eid prayer after all …

 

Weddings, in general, can be difficult events. Not only because they were off-limits to queer folks for much of my adult life, but also because even if they weren’t, I’ve gone to many weddings single and feeling some kind of way about it. Often, they seem like unthinking celebrations of capitalism and hetero-normativity.

 

What really surprised me was that despite an uneventful trip, I returned with extremely mixed feelings. More than even feeling like an outsider at the wedding, it was as if all the anxiety I had amassed about feeling like an outsider was waiting for me to resume fasting.

 

I was scared that if I wrote on the topic of jealousy, this blog would become a vomitous litany of all the people who’ve wronged me. About all the petty, bitter hurts that I’ve tried my best to let go, for decades, and sometimes failed.

 

Jealousy plagued me in law school. When I became an attorney, I experienced quite a bit of professional jealousy from others. I’d like to say this is because of my success as an attorney, but it was more than that. It was partly success, partly being an outspoken advocate, but it was more. Not only was I successful, I wasn’t what people expected success to look like. It was almost as if, some mediocre white folks being at the same level of success as me was unattainable, but what I busted my butts to have was something anybody could have. Probably the opposite was true. For some, what I accomplished was an inspiration. For others, it was because I was _______________ (insert criticism here.)

 

When my beloved Brave Bird sold a brilliant book, she was deeply hurt by one of our friends who used to call and text all the time. The friend is also a writer, and she abruptly stopped communicating directly with Brave Bird soon after the Book was first published..

 

I remember saying to Brave Bird, “Oh yeah, she’s probably jealous because she’s been writing with you for a while, so she’s always thought of you guys as being in the same place. Maybe because your book was published and so widely received, she felt bad about herself.”

“I don’t know. Many of my friends don’t have a book, and they’re still talking to me.” Brave Bird glanced at me, and I may have sighed.

“It’s not that I’m not maybe jealous on some level. It’s that I don’t compare myself to a lot of writers because it’s my second career. If I hadn’t had a whole career first, and one I loved, then I would define myself by the success of a book. It’s not because I’m better.”

 

The jealousy in the writing world is much more intense than any jealousy I’ve observed in the legal world.

 

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In my romantic life, I’ve had jealous partners and lovers who couldn’t abide by my closeness with friends, or even strangers. It’s odd to me that even when I’ve been single, I’ve dealt with a particularly aggravating kind of jealousy. You may find it familiar.

 

The one where people who were once my friends distance themselves because they’re worried that their partners like me, or more hurtfully, when they’ve chosen to be less close to me because their lovers were threatened by me. I say aggravating because it feels misguided. So often, my jealousy or attachment isn’t of one person or another, but of what they have together. I don’t think I’ve ever broken up a couple. I more want them to invite me to go on road trips as friends. With queer folks, it’s a lot for couples to find it all in each other – romance, community, family. Yet it also seems sometimes that many of my friends believe only an intimate partner can provide that.

 

Jealousy trips you up when it’s aimed at you because most of us are suffering or struggling in our own ways. Well, actually, let me amend that: most of us think that we’re struggling. So it’s a hard sell to embrace that we have so much good stuff that other people want it for themselves.

 

Observing jealousy in others works like this: I have no idea why some folks were cool, cold, or downright hostile, then maybe, a friend would say, hey I think _________ is jealous of you, and I’d hear a ping! And only after will I realize what was happening.

 

I want to acknowledge that if folks start to behave weird in unexplained fashions, jealousy is a possible culprit. But, it’s also a tough diagnosis. Pretty much nobody, not even my friends, are willing to say when they’re jealous. Most of the time we don’t actually know that we’re experiencing jealousy.

 

Jealousy is also one of those things that none of us like to point out to those close to us. It kind of doesn’t get a great reception if you say to somebody who’s upset at somebody else, “Maybe you’re saying that because you’re kind of jealous.” I mean, you could be wrong.

 

Jealousy is, among other things, deeply felt.

It’s an art of comparison.

 

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The best way to comfort friends who are experiencing jealousy, I’ve found, is to try and soothe their insecurities directly, or to reflect back to them why what somebody else is doing is either irrelevant or inconsequential to them.

 

But how can we do that without minimizing another person’s valid hurt and frustration?

 

I realized that the question on my mind today is how do I deal with jealousy?

I’ve struggled all day with this, and for years truly. The topic makes me feel like a failure.

 

When Hafez and I did our Qu’ran study, we read Al-Baqarah, Sura 2: 190:

(translated by Laleh Bakhtiar)

And fight in the Way of God those who fight you,

but commit not aggression;

truly God loves not the ones who are aggressors.

 

There’s some other oft-quoted verses below this about killing people who persecute you, but I honestly feel like I’ll stumble in explaining them. Whereas the phrase I quoted provides the important context.

 

Hafez was quick to point out that this part of the Qu’ran is often related to jihad. The word “jihad” or holy war, scares a lot of people because their beliefs are rooted in the media’s use of the word in conjunction with racist violence and stereotypes. I myself had a limited understanding of the word until recently. I was hesitant to use it because it seemed intense or scary. I knew how ignorant I was being, but I didn’t know how to correct that.

 

Hafez expounded that jihad can be used to describe internal battles – holy struggles within oneself. That part of the problem is people assume it’s about literal war.

 

Aggression comes from a place of fear, of sinking into a loneliness where nobody is left. Where nobody cares for you. War can be an act of self-defense, but at what point do we need to stop fighting?

 

After reading this verse, I realized the reason I was having such a day of internal conflict in this possible last Ramadan fast is because I want to commit myself to a more peaceful existence. The only way for me to do that is to figure out what is causing strife.

 

Ergo, jealousy.

 

When I was at residency last year, I met Arendt, who was fascinated to hear that I was one of three kids in our family. “Please,” Arendt asked, “tell me that it was fine that there were three of you, that the odd number wasn’t a problem, and you all ended up with okay personalities.” She confessed that she’d deliberately chosen to have 3 kids, rather than 2 or 1.

 

“Why pick 3? It’s an odd number,” I said.

“Because I’ve always found people who were from three-kid families to be super charming and fun, really wonderful people skills. I used to wonder why this was happening. I realized that they usually grew up in an environment of treachery. One or the other of them were always being left out, and so they had to compete to gain affection. This led to certain skills.”

 

You can imagine that my gut was heaving as Arendt describe my situation to a tee.

 

We all wear masks, and I’ve found that my smile is the brightest and most effective mask in my arsenal.

 

I very much grew up feeling that shortage of love, not in terms of material comfort or acts of service, but in terms of security. Not only was I a part of a trinity, I was raised by a trinity.

 

My mother was a constant comparer – not to my siblings (as I was the eldest), but to my lackluster accomplishments compared to other kids my age. Everything came into question, my athletic ability, my intelligence, my musical ability. My dad was impatient and angry when I couldn’t perform basic arithmetic to his satisfaction, and his general disposition was fun but critical. My grandmother spoiled all of us. She was of a generation that felt boys were better than girls; she dimmed her focus on my sister and I when my brother was born. I grew up thinking I was dumb and ugly, and I kept that self-image past college.

 

All three of my parentals were sexist, not just in the roles they demonstrated to us, as to who did what labor, my mom and grandmother with the cooking and cleaning, my dad with the outdoor work. The irony was that when it came to emotional labor – pretty much none of the adults were outwardly demonstrative or touchy-feely. They certainly didn’t know what to do with the very queer eldest and youngest kids they had, who also both happened to be gender non-conforming. One, a theatrical prince in overalls and the other, Wonder Woman in ballet slippers collecting My Little Ponies.

 

As kids, Bustin and I fought so badly that other adults used to pity our parents. Ernie complained (until she had kids of her own) about how she had PTSD from us fighting. She used to go into a room and just stare at the wall for hours while we were at each other’s throats.

 

Bustin and I raged almost every night until I graduated from high school, and then when I came home from college for dinners, we would resume fighting. I dreaded dinners because I knew he’d be there, hostile. We fought physically and verbally – I was violent and temperamental to my younger (5.5 years) brother. I don’t remember it, but he claims I threw him down the stairs once. I believe that and worse. He also says he found a journal of mine in which I’d written that he was the devil, and it wasn’t cute.

 

It got so bad that our father would lay hands on both of us. Sometimes, that could get really rough, especially for Bustin. And we could never stop, even when my dad took a fire poker to the beloved gameboy because we wouldn’t share. I had an inexhaustible fountain of contrary inside of me, while Bustin was also quick to butt heads.

 

My upsetness came from jealousy. I didn’t know this until years later, but I think I wanted my parents to see me as the special little unicorn I was, and deep down inside, I believed that they held my brother in higher esteem even though in my head “he didn’t deserve it.” I’ve always rankled at unfairness (maybe because I have libra to the max in my chart). I already knew that in some ways my brother was getting special treatment in life, whereas my sister and I had different expectations for what would make us happy.

 

My sister, unlike me, had a gift for contentment. She accepted her lot in life, and it seemed very much to fit with what she wanted for herself. I was the restless one.

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When I came out, well, it’s frankly so painful that reliving it often leads me into a somewhat depressive state. But what hurts me most these days isn’t necessarily the story about the rejection I experienced from my parents. It’s the damage I feel that homophobia and my own bad temper/lack of emotional control has brought in my relationships with my brother and sister.

 

My relationship with my sister went downhill quickly after I came out. We were about only a year apart, but the gulf that opened up was insurmountable until recently. Part of it was that my sister went through a really difficult time at her undergrad about the same time that I became depressed and no longer wanted to speak to her. Scorpio-like, she absorbed the wound to some place within her soft tissue while her outside remained crisp. My parents had such an extreme reaction to my being queer that I cut them off. I didn’t have to cut her off too, but it was too much for me, knowing they were telling my younger sister all the time that something was wrong with who I was. Collateral damage. My brother and I continued to ignore each other, except for our occasional spats. He suffered too, being still in the house while my parents fumbled toward God and homophobia.

 

I don’t know if Ernie would’ve been a source of support, or vice-versa. I only know that it would’ve been better if I had reached out to her during that time.

 

Meanwhile, my brother continued to speak frequently to my sister. They were always close, but he was struggling with his sexuality (by himself), and he couldn’t confide in my parents who were having a meltdown about me. They directed a nuclear ton of shame at him. Not to mention, my father was struggling through Stage IV cancer and Bustin became a caretaker.

 

Although he says he was in the closet until the months before my father’s death to both himself as well as my sister, I’ve always wondered about the narrative. Once, he told me that when I came out his first thought was not yay she’s gay too, but “Serena can’t be gay, I’m gay.” It’s true that my brother knew and struggled with his sexuality since he was five. I only lived with it for a couple of years, at least consciously, and I came out without any real deliberation or worry, because I’d fallen in love. I didn’t think it was going to change my life.

 

I don’t prioritize the coming-out narrative as the most important one. I think that’s a privilege. While my own story is relatively traumatic, I wasn’t alone. I had an uncle that was sympathetic, and my sister was never homophobic. My parents didn’t technically disown me. They still wanted me to be around, even if the purpose of that nearness was to change me.

 

That being said, the so-called closet is one of the worst experiences for any person. My sympathy for internalized shame feels endless to me because I’ve lived it. Sometimes, all those war years get to me. I hear about people claiming queerness who’ve never felt the deep shame that was inflicted on so many of us. They want to keep hetero-normative privileges while avoiding the oppression lived by many queer people.

 

I’m disturbed by the thought of policing queerness because I don’t want anybody to feel shamed for who they want or the gender they are or desire. By the same token, the word queer has become emptied of the meaning it carried for me two decades ago. I think now that I don’t know how queer functions: is it a political label, an identity label, or simply a sexual preference/action? All, none, multi?

 

Some words are eroded by power until they become sand.

 

What I don’t want is for the things that shaped me, the things that still feel really hard, to become somebody else’s token coolness or badge of progressive politics.

 

The irony with sexuality and gender identity stuff is that because people can lie about it and perform gender or straightness — many of the most outspoken people, the spokespeople if you will of queers, aren’t always the ones who’ve suffered the most or have the most on the line for public identification. That’s probably true about a lot of traumas.

 

Those of us who’re oppressed often respect and want the shield of privilege.

 

But here’s the twist: oppression has become a blinder. I know folks who’ve been so bullied and assaulted that they won’t listen to anybody who’s more privileged than them in certain ways, especially systematically. This can be to their detriment in interpersonal relationships where connection becomes about trauma or actual card-throwing, rather than problem-solving.

 

There are people, Hafez said, who are always over-responsible, saying sorry all the time, seeing things as their fault. By that same token, there are people who are rarely responsible, seeing themselves as victims or the oppressed even when they’re harming others. Everything is someone else’s fault. These are dispositions. They can exist with any amount of privilege.

 

Some of my worst experiences have been at the hands of my own communities, who police endlessly. It’s almost as if because we don’t have a ton of money or other resources, we defend our labels and identities as our one true resource. Or maybe because being crapped upon by society usually doesn’t make you charming and likeable, it often helps to produce an angry and defensive person who doesn’t even recognize that they’re communication ability is bottoming out.

 

Another thing about trauma – there’s some fear and anxiety that comes with having to lie to others, just to survive. There are lies we tell out of necessity and then there are lies we tell out of convenience. Lies are usually self-serving, and humans are inherently self-centered. I’ve found that lies start with something small – something justifiable — but eventually they migrate outside of our control. They occupy our whole lives, and they become the center of our existence. We learn that we can lie to spare other people’s feelings, and eventually we lie to spare our own.

 

Recently, Ernie introduced me to a Chinese martial arts show just like the ones we watched all the time with my grandmother, called Eternal Summer. I’ve been gobbling up episodes. Today, I saw an episode where a teacher tells her student that she’s going to test him for his attentiveness. “It’s said that you would never even step on an ant, that you are very kind. But I need to know if you’re attentive. In Heaven, kindness and attentiveness are paired virtues. You cannot have one without the other. How can you avoid stepping on the ant if you don’t see it?”

 

In the years before my father died, I remember flying home for my parents to meet my sister’s boyfriend, now husband. I remember the sensation of being fully eclipsed by my sister as my parents had a fancy dinner and toasted him, all the while both my parents were saying some pretty terrible things to me. What made things worse was that my sister’s husband, a White man from Wisconsin who’d grown up with very little money and family support, was not a particularly sociable person, even misanthropic at times. He wasn’t warm to me or to my brother, nor did he value family (or extended family) closeness in the ways our parents raised us to care for family. Culturally, we were miles apart. Gone was my dream that once my sister met somebody, all the pressure on me to be somebody else would stop. Magically, my sister and I would repair the rift between us.

 

My father and mother were so happy that night Ernie brought home her boyfriend. But I knew I’d never be received by my family the same way. My self-identified position in the family as the one who lived up to expectations was now damaged beyond repair.

 

Growing up, I had the most affinity for my father, more so than my mother or grandmother. I was that so-called daddy’s little girl. I clung to him. While that relationship was crushed when I came out, it was when he died that I really understood what it meant to be alone in our family. My sister and brother were close to each other, and frequently I was at my mother’s throat. I watched them comfort each other. I stood apart.

 

Maybe my sister was the acceptance and kindness my brother needed, and maybe my brother gave ease and companionship to my sister, preparing her in some ways for motherhood, whether either of them liked their roles or not. Maybe it was just that my brother was scarred by our fighting. Maybe it was just that my sister could never forgive me for abandoning our relationship when I came out. Maybe they just had more compatible personality types? Or maybe, I was just too messed up to have healthy relationships with family members. Whatever the reasons for their closeness, and their distance from me, I began to notice that a new family had formed after my father’s death. Those shifting dynamics often excluded me.

 

Working on myself is not an option for me. If I don’t do it, things come crashing down.

And like it or not, I was being slowly eaten alive by jealousy.

 

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Two years ago, in possibly one of the most traumatic times of my move back to the Bay, my sister and brother and I were fighting. Me with both of them, separately. The two of them rarely fight. I was living with my mother, but I was super stressed living there because of my rage and disappointment toward her.

 

So my sister let me temporarily move in with her because I didn’t think I could get pregnant under so much stress. One day, my sister and I had a huge fight, and her husband reacted to seeing her upset as was his then-custom – he created a scene and yelled, this time at my sister. Later, he gave her a choice to either ask me to leave, or he’d stay somewhere else for the night. So my sister asked me to leave. I moved back in with my mother.

 

About 6 months later, in an effort to bring peace to the family I invited my brother-in-law to coffee– to open the lines of communication since I hadn’t stepped foot in their house after being tossed, even though my sister had invited me back several times. I asked him if he could talk to me when he was upset, instead of storming out, because it wasn’t helpful. I told him that I hoped we could have a better relationship. He opened the talk with: “Are you just upset because you’re jealous of your brother and sister? That they’re closer than you.”

 

The next time I get a painful truth revealed to me, I’d like it to be from somebody who cares about my well-being.

 

The worst of that moment wasn’t that he had hurt me, but that he was using my brother and sister to hurt me. I hadn’t really thought it true until that moment, but now I can fully admit it. I was jealous. I wanted to feel loved and cherished and special, and I didn’t know how to get that from anybody in my family.

 

Within the week, I’d separately asked both my brother and sister if they were closer to each other than to me.

 

My sister said yes, then said that she loved us both the same. Why do you care so much about this? she’d say.

 

My brother said that he was close to us in different ways. Then, about a week later, he and I took a walk in the park, and he said that he’d lied to me and he was closer to my sister.

 

All of it broke my heart. I knew what was broken, but I didn’t know how to fix it, or if I should even try, or if it mattered.

 

As I said, jealousy is comparison. What difference does it make, I reasoned, if my brother and sister are closer to each other, if they both also love me, and I love them. What difference does it make?

 

No matter what anybody says, no matter how much sense it all makes, nobody likes knowing that their family members care more for each other than you.

 

I cried to the Doctor for weeks, and he repeatedly said, “Family dynamics change. It’s good that they can be honest with you, and that they can see you handling it so well. Because that’s what leads to closeness. Things can’t change until you’re able to be honest with each other.”

 

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Today is a very good day and a very bad day. It’s a bad day because I’m consumed by the green-eyed monster. It’s a good day because instead of having a long, drawn-out confrontation with my siblings, I’m fasting from acting unkindly despite my jealousy.

 

I still have hope that by working on my relationships, my sister and brother can say that they’re as close to me as they are to each other, or that we’re all close in different ways. That they won’t lie to me. We all hurt each other so much, I realize.

 

I hope that as time passes, I will do a better job at being there for them and at protecting them. I’ve waged many jihads to get to where I am now. Once, I told Brave Bunny that I was scared of becoming a writer. She asked me if it was because I missed being an attorney.

 

“Nope, it’s because my whole life the one and only thing I’ve ever really been good at is fighting. I’m an amazing fighter. It sucks because I support peace.”

 

I’ve changed,

but I can’t want or expect anything less or more than I have.

The gratitude I feel toward my family is real. It’s for everything they’ve been doing to support me in my struggle to have babies, my writing. Ernie’s gifts and Bustin’s sweet listening sessions (And gifts) are what gets me through all the jealousy and the hurt. Love finds its way to me every Ramadan and even through all the rough times.

I’m grateful for every year that I get to spend working on old hurts, the patterns of ache and pain.

I’m not afraid to work for what I want.

The forgiveness I feel toward myself for being so locked up in jealousy is immense.

I’m letting myself build slowly toward healthier relationships.

 

 

It’s powerful. It’s not comfortable. I suspect no Jihad is.

 

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“Twenty-Sixth Day” by Kazim Ali from Fasting for Ramadan

 

LATE EVENING

 

“Sometimes when you are fasting you feel very

lonely,” one of the speakers at the fast-breaking

meal told a room full of Muslim and non-Muslim

students.

 

It’s true, but that was part of the charm for me. The

fast was something secret inside, something I didn’t

have to share.

 

 

To fast many times is like rereading a beloved book,

but even fasting for only one day and only once will

open some windows of perception for you.

 

 

Yet, I always considered my fast to be private, but

perhaps reflecting on fasting so publicly this year in

the online journal postings allowed me to share the

practice with others in a community.

 

 

Experiences start out extraordinary and then they

become ordinary.

 

But what we pray for is that most special of gifts:

to be able to see the ordinary as extraordinary

once more.


 

Ramadan Day 28: With the Owls at the Dispensary

I didn’t know what to expect as I’d been to several residencies, but Hedgebrook was always a bit of a red herring. Between 2012-2015, I’d applied three times and been rejected. I stopped, discouraged. Last summer, at a kitchen table for Iftar with two friends, Seema Yasmin and M who were both Hedgebrook alum, I was encouraged to apply again. Acceptance was a shock, good news at a low point. I was nervous. What would it be like to be genderqueer Taiwanese American at a women’s residency?

My time in residency was a joy. We were a cohort of mostly women of color: four Black women, one Vietnamese American, one mixed Filipina and White woman, one White woman, and one Taiwanese American. For a period even, we were all women of color. At least four of us were queer identified in some way. My nine previous residencies have been at best, majority white, and at worst, I was the only Asian among a sea of White faces. Three of the seven other residents were in their early seventies and mid sixties and jokingly termed themselves, “the seniors.” Stefani, Anh-Hoa, JoAnn, Bettina, Anni, Jessie, and Christola were the dreamiest folks I’d ever met.

I became particularly enamored with the seniors, the way that they shared their stories at dinner: delighting in the perfect cook of the salmon skin, the brightness of the kale, and the crisp of the radishes, bemoaning the trials and the manner of climbing up and down the wooden ladders that led to the lofted beds in each cabin, swapping stories from growing up in the sweet cradle of Harlem civilization, pet monkeys in Sierra Leone, adult children that still needed parenting, being the rare Filipina woman for miles around in Delaware, and of course, the hurt and love that was the legacy of their own parents struggling to give a bit more, and then just a little bit more.

During the days, I romanced the two llamas with apples leading Bettina to dub me #animalcassanova. At night, the chefs and Bettina dispensed culinary insight and treasure, and afterward, I walked into the forest with JoAnn hooting, “Who Cooks for You?” When an owl almost landed on my head, we redoubled our efforts.

One night over dinner, Christola, explained that she was suffering from jet lag and JoAnn mentioned that she wasn’t sure as to the amount of pot in the cookies her son had gifted her.

“It’s legal here, isn’t it?” somebody asked.

Anni, her hands to her cheeks, shouted, “I saw a giant sign in the middle of the road and it said CANNIBAS! I couldn’t believe it, right there in the middle of the road,”

“I can drive us into town tomorrow!” JoAnn stood up.

Christola said, “That’s perfect. I need something to help me sleep.”

“You should get the gummies,” the baby-faced thirty-something’s explained. “They have some really great ones which mainly have CBD, which is medicinal and totally different than the THC that gets you high.”

“We wouldn’t mind being a little high,” the seniors chorused.

That next glorious Spring day, the seniors and I spun out of the gravel driveway toward a recommended dispensary, Island Herb.

We had heard there was a senior’s discount.

“Don’t worry, you can use our discount,” the seniors said, patting my back.

First, we drove to the grocery store where we loaded up on wine and munchies. I was last in line, but when I got to the exit, Christola pointed to the lotto and said, “Make sure you get your ticket!”

Only after I had my lucky numbers did we navigate to the herb shop.

“Where’s the store?”

“I can’t see it.”

“It’s not here.”

“Guys, I think it’s over there,” I pointed to the obscure sign where the words “Island Herb” were written in small font, camouflaged in the grain of the wooden sign.

A couple of the seniors peered over their glasses. In the backseat, Anni eventually leaned over to JoAnn and pointed in a direction, “Maybe it’s over there.”

“I’ve been trying to tell you where!” I laughed.

We did a couple more loops before we parked.

“We’ll say you’re our carer!” Anni said, and they all agreed.

Right before we entered the store, I said, “Everybody, turn off your phone. You know the government is listening.”

Each senior nodded and frowned at the government, solemnly turning off their phones.

Inside the store, a 70’s Motown song prompted Christola to get up and dance.

“This place has got a cool vibe,” JoAnn said.

We learned that while it wasn’t senior’s discount day, there was a sale on gummies. We shouted with glee. For half an hour, we peppered the kind store clerk with questions. She explained which chocolates were made in store, the flavors of the pioneer squares, and how the ghost pepper nugget really was spicy.

Christola, an ER nurse, precisely interrogated the right balance of CBD vs. THC before settling on a 5 and 5 as a nighttime aid. “I’ll start with a quarter,” she conspired with me as sat on a comfy leather couch watching the others pore over the selection. “Don’t want to over do it.”

“Make sure you’re up there before you take it,” I said. “You gotta be careful not to take it before you climb up the ladder.”

“You don’t know exactly when it’s gonna hit.” Christola nodded sagely.

“Give me that 10 CBD!” I heard Anni pronounce, adventurous as ever.

“I need a few bags,” I heard JoAnn purchasing enough for her family that was coming to meet her. “I’ll split one with you,” she said to me.

We were a noisy, happy parliament as we headed home. All the while, we chatted about the dosage and planned the timing of our nighttime bathroom trips and how many pads were enough.

“It aggravates me,” I hesitated, not wanting to be a party pooper, “that so many poc have gone to prison for marijuana-related drug offenses, but now we have a situation where mostly White owned corporations are making all this money off of weed. That’s why it’s legal now.”

“You know in NYC, there are a few legislators still holding out. They’re making sure it’s not legal until everyone who’s suffered at least gets their records expunged. People have been locked away for this. They’re staying strong,” Christola said. “Bless them.”

All three seniors immediately chimed in that it wasn’t right: marijuana shouldn’t be legal until the right thing is done, including restitution, for people who’ve been criminalized for it.

We shared a moment of solidarity, understanding that in this space we had found like-minded creatives. As people of color, we write for our communities, not only for ourselves. We don’t enjoy our time in residency as if we don’t have a stake in racial justice. We never exist in a vacuum, even and maybe especially in the woods. We go in, not away. Systemic racism surrounds us. Each of us is doing our part to make change.

I’m grateful to have found the deep, knowing support of these brilliant writers in my artistic journey.

Right before we hugged and parted down the green paths that led each to their own cabin and glorious solitude, JoAnn offered, “We can do another trip on Sunday for the senior’s discount.”

Everybody cheered.

 

***

 

Here’s an excerpt from the hour of power writing prompt wherein us April residents gathered once a week after dinner to write together. Prompt was write a speculative flash piece incorporating the line: There goes her face.

 

“The way into the store is through the back,” Christola said. “But I’m not doing that.”

“You go,” said JoAnn.

“Whatever you do, don’t knock on the door,” said Anni.

Each of them took a toke, fortification.

Overhead, I thought I heard an owl screech.

I took a puff too.

At the back, I knocked.

“Hoot.”

“Ladies?” I yelled.

Nobody answered.

When I ran back to the car, there was nobody there. Nothing was there.

Only three owls perched in the shadows.

“There goes her face,” I heard one say.

 


IMG_6597[From left to right, clockwise – “Bogoda,” “The Carer,” “The Owl,” and “Heron.”]

Ramadan Day 25: The Clearing House


“Twenty-fifth Day” in Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali

 

Voices heard through the screen door.

 

Last night the muted gong of the gamelan ensemble.

 

Years ago before I had seen a gamelan I had an idea

in my imagination of what a single instrument

played by many people would look like.

 

Not imagining the gamelan in little pieces, but as

a room-sized whole, each musician with her own

station, cymbal or string—


 

Dear Lyo,

 

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To think that I’ve arrived at journey’s end

is difficult, even sad. I was away for 3 weeks

at Hedgebrook, near Seattle for a residency,

then 1 week in Joshua Tree solo hiking, reading,

writing, drove to LA where I saw Helen, Angry Pear

for 1.5 days, drove back to Oakland to be near Georgia

and NYC friends T and Ulysses, visiting the same

time, for 3 days of consistent socializing.

Ramadan began the morning they left.

For 25 days I have been fasting.

 

That ends tomorrow when I drive from Oakland

to Cupertino and my mom, sister, and I drive to

LA for my cousin’s wedding. My brother, newly

minted after more than half a year away in Switzerland,

Burundi, and Thailand, will meet us at the wedding.

We will pick him up and all drive North together.

 

Maybe on Monday, I’ll be able to spend one more day

fasting, but I don’t know. The medicine is taking hold

and every day I’m more hungry and more tired. The

benefits of the fast, the peace, that typically settles upon my

being in the final days is now more elusive, and

yet I’m too tired even to care.

 

It isn’t all about removal.

 

Fasting is a form of travel. It takes you away from

the real world, flying you into the arms of Allah.

Fasting is insulation. It is hunger, thirst, and exhaustion

that has by now hardened into a protective layer. It’s

the world kept at bay. The big decisions in abeyance,

nothing really matters, easy come, easy go, will you

let me go, Bismillah!

 

I was visited and spoke to today by so many people,

they represented my lives in LA, my lives in NYC,

the initial phase of my return to Cupertino, the

ways I tried to love as a baby queer. With respect,

I’m now ready to be called, not an elder!, but

a senior queer.

 

Hafez flew in from LA, She’s the friend who’s

studied the Qu’ran with me throughout Ramadan, who’s

pondered the lessons of Musa with me, here from

LA to obtain her somatics teaching certification, here

because if today is the last day of the fast, I want to

spend it with her, oh it’s just a perfect day, you just

keep me hanging on

 

Hafez is also the first Muslim with whom I ever lived;

her perspectives are like the soft pillow God prepares for

us when we’re tired, if only we were awake to know

Allah’s cushioned our head. Hafez reminds me

that I told her to modify the fast while doing somatics,

and she is consistently glad she listened to me.

 

This year, when she brought up breaking the fast during somatics

classes because she was too distant while fasting to participate

fully in her own training, she said that it’s because fasting prevents

us from being totally present in the body – or at least there’s

a great distance. This year I said, “I’ve been thinking and there’s

exceptions in fasting. God says that we may excuse ourselves

from the fast while traveling. Somatics is a form of travel.

The deepest kind. You’re literally moving nerves and muscles

and positioning of your body away from its trauma or its

current place, shifting it into another place. You are actually

engaged in a movement so far from where your body began,

this is a form of travel that stretches what people can imagine.

But unlike a sport contained within a set place, where

the intention isn’t to transport your body, but to compete or

to perfect the motions, somatics is about the journey to

a new territory, via micro muscle movements.

Why isn’t this a form of travel? You starting

at one place and ending at another.”

 

I also saw Moptop Curly Q who flew in from NYC, this afternoon.

We walked the lake and slowly eased our way past a pile of goose

poop, then entered the bird sanctuary. “Hafez is here for

somatics training,” I explained. “Somatics is where your

body takes the trauma stored inside and folds it in itself

and gives you back a pearl.” “That was nice,” Moptop said.

“But is that a wild turkey?” She tracked the different birds

as we finished travailing the circumference of the lake.

 

“We’re waiting for a kid. We finished all the application stuff,

and we’re waiting for a mother to select us. You know it’s

after the birth 80% of the time, and so probably we’re going

to get a call. Then the baby is going to be there.”

“I can’t wait to help throw a baby shower for you!”

“Isn’t that usually before the baby comes?”

“Hmm…In your case, we should rebrand it, and it will

be a “We got the Baby” shower. What do you think?!?”

“I love it.”

 

IMG_7734

 

“Lybia,” I texted, right before I fell into a deep. . . meditation

“I am clearing the hard and bad energies

in myself this Ramadan.”

“It is working.”

“Wow,” she wrote back, “that’s beautiful and inspiring.

I’m feeling the same in regards to worries and anxieties.

I’m clearing them and I feel peaceful and light.”

It is these moments of synchronicity that I love.

 

I connected with somebody this Ramadan. I want to ask on a

date and they want to ask me on a date. I’m so glad

that I met them during Ramadan. Let’s call this person

“M.” Even though by fasting rules we could maybe

go on a date-date in the evening, I’ve been too tired.

It’s the medication and the fast together, the strange

combo. The extreme hunger caused by these

meds hasn’t begun getting closer and closer, between 6-8pm,

right before fast break, when I find myself holding

my entire body absolutely still, in case I start running.

 

Because I cannot allow my body to be the show,

I am realizing more and more that respect is as

attractive as hormones. That somebody who does

the work on themselves is better than a thousand

smooth-voiced bandits, waving around their weapons.

 

Ramadan requires me to take it slow, and it’s left plenty

of room to ruminate, especially about the unresolved

issues in my life. It was Pele who called last week and asked

me if I felt more sensitive during Ramadan. She felt as if

her skin was exposed. I suppose that I said not really,

but I have been direct with every person who has caused

hurt during this time. That includes the ghost people who

are no longer here, and with whom I don’t much speak.

I suppose I am more sensitive, and Pele is right.

 

I cannot ignore my emotional

discomforts any longer, whereas

my simply fasting makes this possible.

I take my dishes to the sink, and I clear

my plate so that I’m not carrying somebody

else’s food.

 

You know there’s no such thing as last week. The

fast is dragging into forever, even though technically,

it is almost done. That’s the problem with my hurts.

They dragged on and on. Methuselah told me

that what I might really need to do is to feel my hurt,

that avoiding the hurt or trying to understand it was

also a form of control. I would like to say that I don’t

have control issues, because sometimes I don’t much like

myself, and also I’m busy protecting myself from being

attacked by others.

 

Can I have it both ways? Make up your mind, says

the voice in the back.

 

Perhaps you’ve heard of this poem.

 


The Guest House

By Jellaludin Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


 

 

I must ask, suppose you’ve done as Rumi prescribed,

You’ve invited all the feelings in. Now how are you

going to get them out? Perhaps during Ramadan you

return each feeling to Allah, who is herself the beyond.

 

Months ago, I went to a pilates class with poet and writer,

Elmaz Abinader. After one class, she came up to me, and

she told me she’d like to make an adjustment. Ever so

gently, she put one hand on my upper back, and the other

on my shoulder, and she pushed my shoulders back.

I immediately began to explain, “I come from a long line

of slouchers, and my mother actually is slightly humpbacked,

it’s just a thing in my family.” “I understand,” she said,

“but doesn’t that feel better?” It did.

 

This is the home stretch. This is where the scheming begins,

the almost inexpressible desire both to end the fast asap,

and also, the desire to keep the hiatus from our daily grind

and our unmanageable life problems. I had to end my fast

today and on Eid, I’m having a small medical procedure

that can only take place on the holiday. I want to believe in

coincidences,

but I no longer want that badly enough to doubt what’s obvious.

 

I spoke today to the Ace of Cups who’s going through a

breakup, their very first in a queer relationship, and our

conversation was filled with mutual insight .

But the best part was when we started to joke about how

She was experiencing pretty much all the things that entail

a queer breakup, the endless discussions and returns to those

discussions, the usage of coined phrases: trauma, abuse,

boundaries. We joked that we could have the queen play a

queer breakup bingo: what’s the centerpiece? We wavered

between what mattered more: giving free therapy to your ex during

the breakup convo, OR custody arrangements of pets and stuffed

animals. “Basically, I got the queer starter pack,” she realized.

“Yeah, you did, and everything was fine, but then you were like:

I want to level up!”

 

The bright side of queer breakups, I’ve decided, are your queer

friends, the ones who understand that before you accept

everything, you really do need to process whatever the bleep just

happened. The best part is being reminded that you deserve better.

That’s actually more about having friends in the first place.

 

“It’s so strange that somatics actually feels like a vacation,” Hafez said.

“Nobody says that, but maybe I’m so exhausted between my kid

and my husband, and everything else. This training feels like a break.”

 

The fast this year is the break I needed. From the outside,

Ramadan doesn’t seem like a holiday, but remember when you

fast from your unnecessary concerns, it frees you up to focus on your

spirit. It is the space I needed to take something sad deep inside of me,

something related to the failures of the past, these three years,

the losses that surround me, the sads and the downers,

all the rage and helplessness, the devastation, the grief, and the

disappointment. It is what I needed to release.

 

I worry sometimes that nobody can see me clearly, that I’ll be

misunderstood. To Ace and Hafez, I said (not linear),

“Sometimes people are like why are you so religious?

And it’s hard for me to explain. Religion,

the very framework of it is so deeply troubled by patriarchy,

racism, sexism. Every terrible part of humanity is infused into

the DNA of every major world religion. But for me, religion is

the most human of endeavors. It does so much work for us

because it’s fundamentally about bettering ourselves. I am

fundamentally interested in changing religion because religion

is about power. Remember that Native American saying

that gets quoted, sometimes badly, by white people especially,

“We aren’t human beings on a spiritual journey.

We’re spiritual beings on a human journey.”

“I’m a spiritual person on a religious journey.”

 

Ramadan is the house that holds us while we do the work.

Ramadan is the gratitude we have when we are able to fast.

Ramadan is the distance we gain from our most urgent feelings.

Ramadan is the knowledge of Allah’s compassion.

Ramadan is the debate and discussion of the Qu’ran.

Ramadan is the brew of new angels and new scholars, broadening

the view of the old prophets.

Ramadan is the addition of discipline to a toolbelt that includes Faith.

Ramadan is getting to know people first, rather than their bodies.

Ramadan is the discovery of hundreds of little acts of kindness.

Ramadan is the reminder that no matter how tired or poor you feel,

you have the power to help somebody. It may seem like nothing.

Every day of the fast may feel like it means nothing. Yet

When you’re done, with all of it, it too will feel like something.

 

Oh God, I have come so very far. We’re all pilgrims here.

But maybe I am ready to come home.

 


 

When You Can Endure

from The Gift By Hafiz, trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

 

When

The words stop

And you can endure the silence

That reveals your heart’s

Pain

Of emptiness

Or that great wrenching-sweet longing,

That is the time to try and listen

To what the Beloveed’s

Eyes

Most want

To

Say.

 


 

Ramadan Day 24: A Very Messy, Imperfect, Post in Shambles

IMG_7730

(Delaney Sun Ra)


 

Dear Ramadan,

I don’t want to write today

It’s after midnight, and this post was in shambles.

What time I had to myself

during the day I spent writing a note

to the Doctor, it exhausted me, and

I didn’t want to write him in prison

because he shouldn’t be there, and

then I think of him fasting and loving me

in prison, forgiving me for not writing him

because, he would say, you are just taking

care of yourself. And he would let that go,

give me that forbearance, I’m ashamed.

Whereas I let go of nothing, except that soon

I will have to let go of you too. Ramadan.

 

 

I am embarrassed to show you this post,

I realize it’s sloppy. I can still press delete.

 

I told myself I didn’t have to write today

that the kinder, gentler thing would be

to go to sleep, but it’s after midnight, and this post

was in shambles. I don’t think I can save it.

Why should I write it at all?

Because I want to remember this fast

Because I pray every year that I will not be able to fast

for a while, I pray this will be the last fast, before

I have a baby, Insha’Allah.

 

Ramadan, my precious, Ramadan, who are you to me?

My fast is coming to a close; the medical onslaught smite

me down big today, sat me down on my whole ass,

a sad scene: me breaking my fast with a date and a burrito

that I bought for Methuselah, the day before, when we were

too tired and busy to hang. Alone again,

waiting for an ultrasound in the Kaiser

waiting room by myself

rows and rows of chairs and

chairs waiting for people

and one man wearing a mask

coughing like he didn’t have to wait long

 

Bueller, Bueller, Ferris Bueller.

 

I was there to make sure I didn’t have a blood

clot in my calf, an injury I sustained after my

last relationship, in 2016, it, was after, not

before, the relationship, and before I developed

a terrible crush on a friend. Thankstaking 2016

she was light in my cave, but when I crawled out,

she never hated me so much as after I got a crush

on her. a friend who took care of me, and who I used

to take care of. I repaid her with getting a crush, and

she hated me for it. Bollywood Superstar’s new relationship

is beautiful because years have passed between things,

I like mirrors. Friends aren’t only mirrors, they’re better.

 

“I could fall in love with him,” she says. “But I feel like

that’s true for all women, all the time.”

“I’d put it differently. You can fall in love.

But sometimes you can’t not

fall in love.” She gets me.

 

When I was in residency, Red Riding Hood asked

if I was limping. I get this question a lot,

surprisingly. Because I never think I’m limping.

I’m used to walking and walking really far,

even though I’m crooked and bent and

every now and then I tell a true story, like

that time: “I was playing basketball, and we got

on the court, and I was dribbling, really I was

only walking and suddenly I felt a tearing

pain in my leg.” Red Riding Hood closed her

eyes and tasted the air, made a sound in her

throat, “You didn’t have to say that, you know.

You could have stopped at I was playing

Basketball.” Some flirtations are pure enjoyment.

 

I got into the small room with the ultrasound tech.

It was 9:10pm. I’d waited nearly half an hour.

Bueller. Bueller. Ferris Bueller.

I swear 3 couples materialized from the air

for no other purpose than to have their name

called before mine. The technician showed me pictures

of my blood beating blue and red. The blue is your vein.

The red is your artery. She called it hot gel, and poured it

all over my leg. She told me she had to put gel on my

groin and would I mind? It’s for comparison, she said. I

did mind, but I am okay thinking about things as relative.

I made a joke that the gel was like massage oil, but

more goopy, and something about the way I said that

wasn’t awkward at all. We laughed like friends.

 

“Can you tell me if I have a rip or something in my calf?

It’s hurt for 3 years?” “Is it a deep pain or is it

shallow?” “Can you repeat the question?” “When you

feel the pain, where do you feel it? Is it deep inside or

is it on the surface?”

 

“It’s deep inside.”

“I can’t tell you if something is torn. I can only tell

you that you don’t have a clot. You don’t.”

 

I asked her if she minded the night shift. “It’s great,

it’s actually very peaceful.”

 

Medically, there is no trace of my breakup,

and now there is no trace of my broken friend,

I would’ve cared more except that I was tired

from the fast and from the meds I’ve been taking.

 

When I fast, I sometimes fast for others,

in the sense that I’m outside of myself

but inside Allah, only for Allah, I feel as

if I’m in a warm, enclosed blanket, and I

can finally go to sleep. I don’t have to try so hard.

A fling once told me that feeling is called a

“burrito blanket” I’m too tired to be hungry.

 

Today I talked to Un Petit Peu about babymaking

Acupuncture was on the table, whether it’s helpful

or it’s useless. “I’m of the view that it’s helpful,” I said,

“but I don’t think that you need to do it. I also think that

it depends on your relationship with acupuncture. Maybe

it will help, but only if you want to do it. Don’t think that

stress is bad, change your relationship with stress to one of

acceptance and even enjoyment.” “Otherwise,” I warned,

“it’s too stressful.” “Remember, you don’t have to do everything,

take the pyramid approach. This is about getting lucky,

so there’s no reason to think that you won’t get lucky.”

 

 

When we got off the phone, I explained that I wanted to

make special Dua for Un Petit Peu to have a child, and she

said thank you, I really appreciate it. My family is Quaker,

instead of praying, we say, I will hold you in the light.

“I will hold you in the light.”

 

When Hafez and I started Qu’ran study during Ramadan,

I said I wanted to read about Musa, but I was delighted

today that we began to discuss Ramadan itself. I had no

idea it was in Sura al-Baqarah, 2:183. It seemed like a

coincidence until I began to read about the fast itself.

 

(translation by Laleh Bakhtiar, volume on loan from Kitten Little’s

permanent collection)

 

O those who have believed!

Formal fasting was prescribed for you

As it was prescribed

For those before you

So that perhaps you would be Godfearing.

 

I don’t need to be convinced. I’m afraid so very afraid.

I’m afraid that everything I write is in shambles.

I’ve been pondering honesty as in what’s the price of it.

How am I better able to be honest about myself?

I’m fasting from my unhealthy relationship with confrontation,

which is that, inherently, I fear it. I fear the moment

I will accept that something is wrong, and then lose

whatever it was I thought I had. Whether it be pride,

money, love, relationships, security, peace of mind.

 

Everything is Forgiveable as a viewpoint,

but not something that can be undone. Now I know the

temptation of changing the past. But the reason I

wrote this post despite it being in shambles and

my eyes closing in between paragraphs is that

I have lived my life in shambles for years and years,

I have put on a brave face and told people I was fine

even when I was not fine. During Ramadan, I have

a chance to record myself however I am, and to

allow myself the vulnerability of fasting.

 

The smallest and largest part of the miracle is

that during the fast, the filters are clearing, the

walls are lowering, and I no longer have to cling

to the past. I am fasting now. I am afraid now.

Writing it down, however tortured or confused I get

means that I will remember what I did today.

I read the Qu’ran with Hafez.

I gave a crash course on salary negotiation

to Michael J. Fox. “Not that it matters, but,” I said,

“please don’t negotiate as if this is about your worth.”

“To counter-balance your tendency to bargain

against yourself, you really have to negotiate like

you’re going to take them for everything they have.”

I discussed acupuncture with Un Petit Peu.

I wrote a letter to the Doctor.

I saw Methuselah and met Delaney Sun Ra.

An ultrasound confirmed that there is no lasting

damage from a spontaneous walking injury in 2016.

 

I was going to go to sleep, but when I pulled up to my driveway,

about to full asleep. (I started an even more exhausting

course of medication.) I half-read an email Rain wrote me. She said

that for her this was a more ordinary Ramadan than the

last and that she didn’t feel much like writing. She put it so beautifully,

that I’d like to include it here:

 

“I’ve been more gentle with myself when I don’t read or write daily. I’ve been more open to following my other senses in those moments to see what other sights, smells, etc I’m drawn to. I forget that it’s still a way of engaging with the world in the way that writing is, and it feels good!, and sometimes feels easier – which is to say, more immediate.”

 

I am afraid, I realize, because when Ramadan ends

I will forget Ramadan. And, I will forget this feeling

of being present, of fasting, I will forget the very

experience of writing during Ramadan, without

regard to consequence, or value, or even appearance,

without the ability to structure, or order, in the ways

that I’d like to think I’m able when I’m not fasting.

 

The way that my life on this page feels like it has a meaning that I didn’t have to create.

 

Your life, the Doctor used to say, has its own meaning.

 

Love,

Serena

 

P.S. I woke up for Suhoor, and now it’s 4:30am, and I re-read the blog post, and kept it the same other than a few typo’s. In the last 10 minutes, I drifted off twice while I was writing. Miraculously, I can’t actually tell where I was in the writing when I fell asleep.

Neither can I tell where I was when I woke up.

Ramadan Day 23: The Time We Fasted

From “Twenty-Seventh Day” from Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali

 

Being always Muslim, but also through and outside it,

before and after it, all at once.

 

To fast for justice, to dream past our own obsession

with death, not passing through the fear but escaping it.

 

I’m looking out the window at the gray darkening,

the onslaught of evening: Sunset at this moment.

 

For a moment whether I eat or drink doesn’t matter.

 

For a moment I don’t drink, not because I am not

thirsty but because my present state is of abstinence

and it merely continues itself.

 

I have neither desire to eat and drink nor desire to

continue the fast.

 

The way a body seeks to breathe and live.

 

And when I do take a sip of the water it is not to

slake thirst but only because evening has now fully

fallen and now is the prescribed time to break

the fast.

 


 

Dear Lyo,

 

Lspn_comet_halley

 

I feel strange now that we’ve arrived at the last week, as if I’ve been floating in space. Now I’m being pulled back toward you. Toward our conversation and these letters.

 

I felt the need to speak to Kazim Ali, and specifically to his book Fasting for Ramadan. So I began to read before I began to write you. I apologize for being scattered. I wanted you to know my starting point.

 

Not where I began, only how I started this letter.

 

The poet, Dawn, has been reading my blogs and occasionally writes me. She said the other day: “I can see from your blog that writing in a somewhat altered state of hunger could lead to unexpected reflections. (I don’t know if you feel that way but when I read the blog, I’m always curious to see where it will head, as if you the writer is working it out in the state of hunger.)”

 

She explained myself to me, except I have some ambivalence toward the phrase “working it out,” because it sounds too much like working out. During Ramadan, I lose my investment in my daily activities, and to an extent, my ego. You see, my musculature fades.

 

There is no structure to it, for which I want to apologize but more out of consideration than out of any regret.

 

I begin writing with a thought or an image or even a line of poetry. I’ll share the thought I carried for days at the end of today’s post. Perhaps there’s some sense to be had?

 

To be honest, I no longer need sense as I fast.

 

Though I write the last statement first, I rarely seem to lead with it. I end up writing something else, and trying to reach toward how I began by the end.

 

This has been true for almost every post. That is why today I began with Kazim’s work, which usually I save for the end. In the hopes that it would be a guide to my arrow, loosely flung.

 

Did I mention the lack of robustness? The weakness in my arms.

 

I spent the long weekend with my mother, sister, and my two nephews. We went to Children’s Fairyland where one child went deep into the mouth of the whale, and the other rode the same dragon slide over and over again and then came down with a wracking cold.

 

My sister and her husband took a break and went to Sebastopol, so it was only my mom and me watching the two kids on Saturday.

 

Sunday, while my sister drove home with one sick child and my mom took it easy, preferring to do some gardening, I took my oldest nephew, B, to Chabot Space Center.

 

At Chabot, I came very close to the stars and considered my father who bought me my first telescope when I was very young.

 

I took astronomy when I was a college freshman, trying to figure out what to do about being an “undecided” major. I didn’t understand some of the physics and the math involved. I fell asleep in the hundreds-sized lecture hall whenever the projector was on and they turned off the lights, which was often. We used a reader. Mine fell apart because I liked to look at the pictures and the diagrams.

 

My prodigy rose up in swirls of hot chocolate on cold observatory nights, huddled underneath the tonnage of a now-artifact of steel and glass.

 

My gift was a feeling: a speck in the sky.

 

It was strange to be at a space center with a ten year old, roaming the halls with my dead father’s ghost. B wanted to touch things, like the first space capsule in the sky, and interact with the wiring display and run and jump for no reason. I was fasting and separated from reality by a lack of investment.

 

Celestial bodies are distant from us. They are millions, no trillions, of miles away. Their light reaches us after traveling through so much space and time. We cannot comprehend it.

 

What we perceive is only an afterword.

 

 

IMG_7698

 

Reading the placards about supernovas, I imagined not the brightness of the explosion, nor the billions of Kelvin heat that would be achieved.

 

If a supernova were to happen in our galaxy, in a location near Earth, it would destroy all human life.

 

A voice in my brain speaks: “In that event, you wouldn’t feel anything. Or if you did, it would be so infinitesimal that it would be as if you didn’t feel anything.”

 

Or maybe, I said in a voice which, coincidentally, sounds like Leonard Nimoy’s – I was only touching the telescope and remembering my father next to me. We laid on our stomachs on the ground of a bluff that barely elevated us, not in total dark, figures outlined in the near dark, tracking the flight of Halley’s comet.

 

Maybe, the end has happened, and I didn’t survive, but the knowledge of my

destruction was still coming toward me

The transmission already begun

I was simply too slow to receive it

 

When Halley’s comet returns, 75

years later, I will be 10 years old again

I knew I was going to die young

Now I want to die old enough that being young feels

closer and more intimate than it does now

the way the old people talk about their youth

as if it was right around the corner

 

I am aging now, getting further away from where I started, or so they say

I feel sad telling you this, but I cannot go back and undo it

 

Am I slow enough? Could I live an entire life in one stretch?

 

When we fast, we experience events as if moving apart from them, but I don’t know if that’s because things are traveling toward us at a different rate, or if we have removed our bodies.

 


From “Coda: Breaking the Fast” from Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali

 

There is no one to receive the message

nobody is out there

except us

 

“The month moving backward through the year.

 

So a person could experience Ramadan in July

when he is nine, again in July when he is around

forty-five, and perhaps one more time when he is

eighty.

 

Likewise, Ramadan in December when he is

twenty-seven, again when he is sixty-two. He would

like to see it a third time but he will have to live to

nearly a hundred for that.

 

I have been much looking forward to Ramadan in

winter, but suddenly now writing that I felt a very

muffled and deeply covered river of fear. Instinctual

of course, writing about my own mortality, getting

older, being sixty, being eighty, wanting to be one

hundred.


 

 

I was drifting, but B brought me back with the unexpected. We were near a “bubble-blob” making station where you rub your hands in dish soap and with some dry ice, the attendant would make a bubble blob via a hose. She would then put the blob in the children’s hand, where it would lay there, delicate and quivering, alive.

 

There was only one other kid at the station, so B and the kid took turns repeatedly getting bubbles and then popping them, giggling.

 

I put my hand out and received a bubble too.

 

B and I put our hands together so that our blobs were side by side. When he touched his bubble next to mine, I scolded him to stop, because he’d pop both our bubbles.

 

The two bubbles became one bubble.

Everything that happened could be described

as happening in the blink of an eye

 

IMG_7708

 

It’s strange how the progression of Ramadan has inured me to my own stressors: the missed dentist and medical appointments that have started to give birth to future appointments, the difficult conversations that triggered my fears, the feelings of hurt around some non-responsive people who were once closer, the lack of productivity and inability to work on my novel that sent me into an emotional tailspin last week.

 

It’s as if the discipline of fasting has allowed me to have greater mastery over my own feelings. I read a piece “fasting while atheist” by Saif, who argues that Ramadan is morally useful and has benefits as a practice, irrespective of any religious “reward.” I don’t believe that those of faith only fast because of the reward after death. I agree wholeheartedly that fasting has benefits beyond the spiritual.

 

There’s a structure to self-criticism, a pattern, enforcing a limiting belief, like slowing the descent of an object in the earth’s atmosphere, requires a certain intrinsic energy level, a hanging-on to intellectual construction, even if there’s evidence to the contrary.

 

Perhaps by depriving me of my ability to “force” a specific internal pattern, Ramadan allows me a certain freedom from a narrative.

A narrative around who I am, or who you might be.

 

I would fast, whether or not I believed in Allah,

but that doesn’t make Allah irrelevant

It doesn’t matter what we call Pluto

 

It’s strange that in a week that seemed it would be so quiet, I’m visited by three friends, all from out of town. It’s a gift I didn’t expect. My focus is so small. I don’t that I’m narrow-minded, or petty. I’m only able to deal with what is in front of me.

 

People who love me stand in front of and behind

Mars possessor of uninhabitable conditions

the closest planet to earth, the unknown cousin

if you include the theories about life

 

IMG_7699

 

My anxieties have legs. They run. They actually want to go further than I can.

 

Each visitor is wise. Each is honest. Each has given me comfort during difficult times in my life, possibly more than I’ve ever been able to give them.

 

They are the three wise women

Or, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

 

Mid-blog, I ran out of the house to see Tia Juana, who lives in NYC, and to meet her beautiful baby Juanes by Lake Merritt. Juanes is 16 months and has the juiciest, thickest legs on the East Coast, and now the West. The last time I saw Tia Juana she was pregnant. She’s had her child and finished her novel and is querying agents as we speak. It felt as if the sun was shining on us as we strolled. Tia Juana’s manner was exactly the same as I remembered, both gentle and direct, incisive, yet able to round up toward the positive in almost every situation.

 

We talked about micro-aggressions and how White people often try to control poc reactions to micro-aggressions, either qualifying the aggression or lecturing us about how to behave in the face of them. We didn’t need to say too much. White privilege during Ramadan doesn’t stick.

 

In less than two years after having her baby, my friend has managed to finish a book. I tried to compliment her: “I know this sounds backward, but it’s almost like you being able to do this makes me feel like it’s something I can do too, write a book after having a baby.”

 

“I had to completely rearrange my self-imposed deadlines,” Tia Juana said. “Things take way longer than you expect.”

 

This is a great gift, a way in which I have found Tia Juana, time and again, able to render what I feel to be emotionally heightened quagmire into a set of practical, simple considerations. Tasks that require attendance, but not so much hand-wringing.

 

Being who I am, I did begin to contemplate the idea of giving myself a deadline. A container. A structure.

 

I’ve done that before came the dim response.

 

The elongation of time is a vast mystery of Ramadan.

 

Not so much that it forces me to rearrange my self-imposed deadlines. It does. But the way in which it makes me feel like, despite not being able to meet most deadlines, despite what would ordinarily be stress, I also feel, strangely, that I have a long time to go.

 

This is nearing the end, I say, of the fast.

But it is not yet the end, which makes it feel

as if there’s still a lot to go.

 

In my pre-fast life, I used to ask myself all the time if people missed me, as I miss them.

 

I miss people easily. This irks me to no end because I feel that it’s a sign of my softness. It’s a sign of “over” attachment. It’s a sign of weakness. Vulnerability.

 

Ramadan is its own strict container: no sexual activity, drink, food from sunrise to sunset, and not using the weather apps either, but the first light hitting the horizon.

 

Modifications are allowed: for your period, traveling, illness.

 

All bodies in the Universe expand.

 

Young children flourish given strict boundaries. Tia Juana had to put Juanes to sleep at 6, because he’s been waking early and experienced some altitude problems.

 

I am of an age.

 

My expansion is thus: my first thoughts may be petty, miserable ones where I tell myself somebody doesn’t actually care much for me, or that they are upset with me, or some other negativity.

 

An acceleration occurs. There’s a movement toward something else, a fumbling toward meaning, toward positive associations or memories. I relive them as if I’m a flickering nebula. I feel as if I’m floating in anecdotes. I don’t even try to reel myself in.

 

It’s as if an old love is a present love.

 

Ramadan is a circle.

 

I marvel at the strangeness of hearing my brother, who’s been abroad for months and months, explain that he doesn’t miss us (his family or friends), whether it’s been weeks, or months, or years. “I know I’ll see you again, so it’s fine.”

 

Is it merely a lack of Faith that holds me on this plane?

 

Now I’m not here as much.

During Ramadan, I’m often away.

 

The place I’m at doesn’t mean I’m not present.

It’s as if I’ve become omni-present.

 

That sounds strange. Not saying I’m God-like, but saying that I exist in an expanded sense of space, time, and even, memory. The dimensions are shifting as if I’m standing at one point of the universe, and in another, I am every planet

orbiting

 

I woke up to such sadness today

Then I floated above it and felt nothing

The curious blankness of me

 

IMG_7719

(“Leah” built in 1883, the first telescope at Chabot)

 

I wanted to remember something from a book I love, any book:

 

“In May 1673, the missionary father Jacques Marquette and the hunter and trapper Louis Joliet set off to explore the wilderness southwest of Quebec…

Many have since believed Marquette and Joliet discovered the great river, but in truth, they only encountered it; for it had, of course, existed long before they reached it. How extraordinary a sight it must have been! Lush and wild and swollen on the brink of summer.

Bernard had been working on his poem for decades when he began to understand how fervently he was attached to his own vanity, envy, and desire. Although they separated him from faith, these sins were all he had. He could not give them up, not even for God. On the riverbank, he knew he would never be worthy. How might God, all-knowing, and limitless, be expected to bother with his misshapen and pathetic soul – a soul twisted by its mortal end and beginning.”

-from All Is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang

 

In the parts that I have redacted, there is mention of the brutal murder and enslavement of Indigenous peoples by white explorers, in this case French explorers. However, it is not laid out so as to present justice, but rather to highlight the stories of the French explorers, as opposed to render the fullness of the Indigenous people.

 

It is not the purpose of Chang’s work, a novel about Western, European aesthetic, art itself, to speak without a regard for lives. Likely, it was her purpose to write a book within the point of view of establishment, White poets, and to question that point of view within that same establishment.

 

You can look at the Big Dipper from a different point of view, but then it’s no longer the Big Dipper.

 

IMG_7720(model of the Big Dipper at Chabot)

 

Chang’s invented discussion of God involves a characterization of humanity – “soul[s] twisted by [their] mortal end and beginning.”

 

If we were to remove point of view from the equation, would this be a sentiment equivalent to that in Kazim Ali’s poem:

 

“To fast for justice, to dream past our own obsession

with death, not passing through the fear but escaping it.”

 

Has time shifted us or have we shifted our relationship with time?

 

My memories and my present, whatever lopsidedness I hold, at the same time, weightless and infinite as space, in the container of my humanity. Embodied.

 

B and I went to the planetarium. That hour’s show was about the history of Mayan astronomy, the precision with which the Mayan civilization was able to construct a calendar including predicting solar eclipses and star movements, rotations, and celestial events for 5,000 years, ending in 2012. The advancements were unique, and they predated the advancements of the greatest technological age of human history, which is now.

 

The timing seems off.

 

 

Maybe I drifted away from our fair planet, but it didn’t seem like I had. The stars rotated overhead, remembering Joshua Tree, thinking that I wanted to ask my father if I could use his telescope instead of my puny one, wondering whether there’s any chance I’ll live until 2061, a giant snake edged inside the dome until outside, a picture of Chichén Itzá and the steps I climb, understanding no geometry except the next step as it appeared in front of me, wondering if I would ever grow up, if I would ever grow old, missing the count of a stranger’s brown leather shoe tapping at the Church stop, the sound of applause and returning to my body after my first speech, a car horn interrupting my reverie on the 134, days after the funeral, or days before, the sound of my mother’s voice when she explained to me that I never had to worry about losing love, if it’s meant to be: you have the roundness, for love to ever really work out, this is what you need, if life separates you, life brings you back together, the way that Orion in the Mayan understanding contained three hearth stones, also a Prince song, the way a voice comes out of the dark, in the beginning and says

 

Are you sleeping? B interrupted

 

I want to take you to a time

where the only light is starlight

 

 

 


35447112422_953ee621be_k(photo by NPS, Joshua Tree)

Ramadan Day 19: Period

I was planning to write a piece today about the lovely and sometimes not so lovely visitation of a menstrual cycle.

 

Then I read this entire piece that Pele sent over. Mona Haydar’s blog post “Ladies, Don’t Be Fooled” is my new required reading. She addresses an adversity that many of us experience, the prescription that women are not to fast, to pray, to hold the Qu’ran while menstruating:

 


 

Don’t be fooled, ladies; When you’re bleeding, you are in a constant state of prayer and thus are exempt from needing to enter into a physical state of prayer. Your heart is torn open by the One who made it and made you bleed during this time. Are you not more emotional when you bleed?  Your emotions are deepened and your openings are heightened. Tears are closer to the surface during these days. Hearts are more tender. God has ennobled us with this time of deeper connection. Call it hormones or call it a spiritual experience, our periods are a way to connect with our Creator. God has gifted us in this spiritually open time, a week of each month where we are majthubīn, we are pulled to the One by a force or event that we do not have to choose to engage. It is simply the way we were created. Perfectly.

-Mona Haidar

 


 

 

So many people don’t like getting their period, unless it’s Ramadan, and then the joy, or at least relief, begins.

 

There goes the fast, I used to think when I got my period. Then I discovered that I didn’t have to stop. (I want to be clear that I would’ve stopped, and I agree with the exception that you can stop on your cycle. If it’s a hardship on your body to continue the fast, please don’t be macho about it.)

 

Everything I was gonna say, Haydar says better. The only quibble is that I really dislike the term “Ladies.” Ugh. It makes me feel like the only freak in jeans and a t-shirt, sober at a cocktail-fueled bridal shower for a straight cis couple.

 

So I guess I have to extend myself, and say something else instead. Drats.

 


The poets are right about the moonlight.

-José Olivarez


 

IMG_7655

Victoria Martinez, Pillow Talk, 2018, collage, 15 X 10 in.

IMG_7656

By Jose Martinez.

Poems and collages were created for Victoria Martinez’s solo show, Celestial House, at Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) as odes to the homes and Chicago neighborhoods the artists grew up in. (Thanks to the Imam for her gift of POETRY Magazine.)


 

If I’ve learned nothing else about Islam, it’s that the moon matters. Especially during Ramadan, the sighting of the new moon signifying Eid is a hot topic.

 

The lunar cycle’s effect on periods is also a matter of some dispute. Some say that the closeness of the lunar cycle to a period cycle means that it often syncs up, others say that the new moon actually affects and “pulls” out a menstrual cycle.

 

Periods are a bodily manifestation of fertility and reproduction.

 

Jan_Wolf_Moon_header

 


“Without body there would be no sensations of crossing thresholds, there would be no sense of lifting, no sense of height, weightlessness. All that comes from the body. The body is the rocket launcher. In its nose capsule, the soul looks out of the window into the mysterious starry night and is dazzled.”

– Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves


 

 

Like Haydar I’m not a fan of the idea that women are in any way dirty, filthy, untouchable – at any time, and certainly not in relation to their bodies. Definitely not with respect to a period.

 

That said, it’s important not to equate having a period with fertility or with women, for that matter.

 

One thing we all really have to work on, those of us that subscribe to a religion anyway, is not allowing misogyny and patriarchy to be our false idols.

 

It’s sad when I see people putting their sexism-fueled drivel in front of any other human being’s practice of their religion.

 

Only Allah can judge a Muslim as Muslim enough or not, can award punishment or reward in the spiritual realm. Something Ra’d taught me when they called me from Jordan in 2013 or 2014, one of my first fasts in NYC. A statement for which I continue to love them.

 

When it comes to all matters of religion, I am pro-choice.

I’m not going to try and control your soul.

 

It’s the same reason why Black bodies are controlled, and in particular, Black women’s bodies. This is not by some act of God. This is by an act of humanity.

 

The other day I maybe bragged about being a “Gold Star” to Methuselah. She had the best response: first, she asked me what a gold star was. “Oh, it’s usually a lesbian term, like if you’ve never had sex-sex with a guy.” “I don’t buy it,” she said, and then thoughtfully, she said, “I’m a gold star too. Maybe you’ll consider it a bronze star, but I should get a star for sure.”

“Why, haven’t you had sex with guys?”

“No, because I’ve been queer since I was relatively young and I haven’t had that many relationships. I haven’t dated a ton of people, and not in community.”

I ooh’ed and aah’ed at this rare unicorn-like behavior that Methuselah was displaying.

She’s right, I realized.

 

The next night, I mentioned what I’d said to Kitten Little, who was aghast at my babble. We shared a laugh at the idiot stuff that comes out of my mouth. “You’re a jerk. That’s a totally useless term. I can’t stand it. Why would you even say that?”

“It’s because I’m an asshole. But I thought it was funny at the time. I was just trying to figure out who she was into having sex with.”

I understood exactly what they were saying – your gender binary stuff is DUMB, and cut it out.

The term Gold Star was something I used a long time ago, when I didn’t know better, and I was only sleeping with cis women. And, yes, it’s a term that fundamentally embraces the gender binary, and skips over all the genderqueer, genderfluid, and trans people that have traipsed through my love life.

I explained Methuselah’s reaction.

Kitten Little snorted and then pointed out, “Forget the Bronze Star. She should get a Platinum one.”

 

I have a relationship to my gender. We all do. Too bad some people take their relationship for granted. Not me.

 

I worked very hard to have my own relationship with my gender because I don’t and can’t take it for granted.

 

I am, for lack of better terminology, gender flexible and woman. Yes, I do like the term genderqueer. I like gender non-conforming too, but it’s kinda long, so GNC is okay. I don’t identify (at this time) as totally non-binary. I don’t, to be clear, not identify as non-binary.

 

I’m so into my gender fluidity that what I won’t give up is my complexity.

 

I love that Allah is all genders or has no gender.

I love that in Arabic, the word Allah has masculine and feminine components.

I love to use the word She when referring to Allah because I want to level the playing field.

I worry that if I use they when referring to Allah it won’t undo the deep and pervasive sexism to still only mean they in a masculine sense. That isn’t the point of they, but still, it sometimes feels to me as if I’m skipping over that Allah is humanized primarily as a man.

 

That sums up some of my thinking.

 

I’m working it out. I’ve been working it out for years and years. I struggle with many things about my life, but ironically, I feel very comfortable in my skin. Part of that is privilege. Some of it is experience.

 

When I was in law school, I was very angry when a lesbian woman, a Latina woman, who was also a high-level administrator at the school, took me aside. Elvira was in her late 40’s, early 50’s at the time. I was a highly visible member of the student body on account of my political organizing around affirmative action.

 

She said: “I know you’re a lesbian, how dare you run around saying you’re bisexual? Do you know how hard we worked so somebody like you could say the word lesbian? Why can’t you use the word lesbian? Are you ashamed of it?”

I tried to take the fifth. In reality, I ‘d been running around using the word “gay” and only occasionally “bisexual.”

She glared at me expectantly.

“I, uh, I’m attracted to people of both genders. Also, there’s a lot of white women lesbians that I don’t have anything in common with, so I’m not sure I like the term.”

“What? What does that matter? It’s not like you can’t be attracted to a man. This is about something bigger than you. When I was coming up even women who were bisexual had to choose – either they were lesbians or they weren’t. This is about being proud of who you are, choosing against sexism and patriarchy. This is about you choosing to sleep with women.”

 

I was very upset about this verbal tirade from a school official in a closed office. I ran whining and crying to my friend Masako, who was around the same age as Elvira.

 

“I wouldn’t think about it the same way,” Masako said, “because you don’t know what it’s like to be the first. It’s the most stressful part of the movement, because the movement isn’t there yet to support you. You’re making that happen and laying that groundwork. Can you imagine being the first Latina woman in a law school? Ever? OR the first Asian woman? There’s not even a single person around who looks like you. Like in the Civil Rights movement, can you imagine being the first Black woman to sit down at the front of the bus?”

 

I did my best to imagine exactly what she was saying. It overwhelmed me. I knew then that I could never truly understand what Elvira was really saying. But, Masasko was telling me to respect it, even if I didn’t understand.

 

If my upbringing means anything – I know to respect my elders.

 

Years later, I found myself standing up to argue in courtrooms where I was the only woman attorney not wearing a skirt suit.

 

I refused to cut my hair when I did trial work. I cried at home or alone in my office sometimes because I didn’t want my hair long, and I was so frustrated. I was scared that the jurors might take out their phobias on my clients. I was scared that I’d be less appealing to jurors, and that the only thing I had going for me was my likeability. They’re not going to like me if I look like a lesbian, I thought. And, my clients were my first priority. I kept my hair long, but it hurt, the way internalized homophobia always does.

 

Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Looking back, I know I wouldn’t do it again.

 

Later, when I became an environmental attorney arguing for affordable housing and environmental justice, I had to appear numerous times in front of the Los Angeles City Council, and when I did, I was often the lead counsel. I was also the only gender non-conforming person in sight in my close-cropped hair and ties and sweater vests. I never felt self-conscious when I spoke, but it was in the moments before I spoke that sometimes people would say something to me. “Do you want to put on a coat?” “Do you want to change?” “Are you wearing that?”

 

Sometimes that voice was mine.

 

I thought all the time about how I looked. Respectability politics, if you didn’t already know, is all about the money. That was the biggest privilege of all, I discovered. Many of my clients were people of color. Always they were low income or, occasionally, middle class workers for a nonprofit that did community organizing. They didn’t wear lawyer clothes, and some weren’t dressed for white collar day jobs. They didn’t look expensive. Not the way the City Councilmembers looked. Not the way the lawyers looked.

 

I was by NO stretch the first to do anything in any of these situations. But being in them helped me to imagine the aloneness of fighting all the time. Not even for anything you were saying, but just because you existed and didn’t conform. Take whatever it was that I experienced and multiply it by 100.

 

I once met Yuri Kochiyama at an event when I was running a campaign to defeat Ward Connerly’s ballot initiative to ban race-based data collection, Prop 54. I was the main field strategist in Northern California. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s because we defeated it. Yuri was sitting down at a table, and I was tired from work, and when her daughter went to go get her a drink, I got a chance to talk to her. She held my hand. I didn’t completely know who she was, only that she was a civil rights hero. I did know that I had a moment of thinking about how lonely it must be to be the Asian person associated with the Black Panthers.

 

But she didn’t seem lonely at all.

 

A lot of folk raise Yuri up now, which is what we should all be doing, but it’s not like there were so many API folk in Yuri’s time supporting the Black Panthers, at least not visibly.

 

She asked me about the campaign I was leading, and I told her that my priority was to work in multi-racial coalitions. She said that she thought what I was doing with race-based coalitions was critical. “It’s good that you’re working with people different than you,” she said. She reminded me not to forget what I knew now. That advice puzzled me. She told me that it was my heart that would make a difference. “You have to support every cause for justice. Even if you do not think that cause is yours.” She said that it was something very hard for most people to do.

 

Speaking to Yuri is one of the greatest honors of my life.

 

yuri-kochiyama-ee1151253eaf28d4441d14729d5e5d40836be1a1-s800-c85

-photo credit: NPR


 

My conversation with Yuri is related, ultimately, to why I’m super careful about my relationship with gender. Why I insist on being more than the sum of my identities, and why I insist on keeping it real.

 

It’s still a man’s world no matter how you got to your mannishness and no matter how hard you may be trying to shed it. All over the world, women who are trying to achieve basic human rights and economic survival are still fighting and need our solidarity. They need us to listen to each other, especially if we identify as women, or trans, or genderqueer, or non-binary.

 

Women need us to see that there are causes out there that are ours, even when they don’t look like it. That cause can be immigration; it can be ending poverty; it can be welfare reform; it can be police violence; it can be gun violence; it can be tax reform; it can be ending the war on drugs; it can be ending the war on people.

 

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we’re all privileged in some ways and not in others. Let’s take the example where you’ve lived most of your life in a male assigned body, being given the respect and the bodily freedom that being “seen” as a man entails. Yet you’ve suffered the whole time, for example, because you are a woman, a trans woman. It doesn’t mean that you are or are not sexist. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t experience male privilege. It certainly doesn’t mean that you’re not racist or biased.

 

It also doesn’t negate the body dysmorphia or the shame you experienced being incorrectly gendered.

 

What it does mean is that you can speak from a place of oppression, and that you have been given an opportunity to open your heart to people who may have less than you.

 

If you are privileged in some way, what are you going to do with that privilege?

 

If you’re a butch or masculine of center woman, you might have certain experiences of extreme hostility. Like the time I got hate crime’d by that dude in Union Square. Yes, he yelled “faggot” at me before he put me on the ground. (It was during Ramadan, and I discussed it in the post “Allah, Why Didn’t You Protect Me?” But, I’ve also walked the streets of New York during the summer, for entire blocks, and even entire outings, without once getting cat-called. That’s a BFD. So you can try basic things, like listening to femme people without interrupting. (That’s a note to self too.)

 

I’ve never forgotten Yuri Kochiyama’s lesson. It wasn’t that she taught me something new. It was that she was trying to tell me not to change the way I make change.

 

I see it now, the temptation to simplify my queerness into words without reflecting on my meaning, to think that my identity is somehow more important than the work of living as a queer person. It’s actually that the work of living as a queer person is how I want to represent my identity. I’m not here to do free labor (anymore) for people who may be queer, but who have never felt shame around being queer. It’s not about sex or coolness points. Clessandra once said to me – the problem becomes when a label of oppression is used as a badge of honor, or to receive validation, or worse, privilege.

 

We live in a society where people like to empty out the meaning of terms until they still serve the most privileged. That goes for everything. Take API – does it mean Chinese, Korean, Japanese, certain castes and regions of South Asia? Or, does it mean Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai? Does it mean Philipina? What about Latinx, does it mean indigenous or white in the same breath? Does it say white Argentinian as much as Honduras? What about trans? Does it only mean white trans men or white trans women? Or does it include Muhlaysia Booker and other Black and Latinx trans women — more likely than any other race of trans women to be murdered? A murder and hate crime rate on the rise?

 

What does it mean to be poc? Is it a term that masks privilege, or is it a term that allows solidarity? Does the word poc mask colorism and anti-black racism? Or, is it still a powerful tool to awaken solidarity and connection in the war against white supremacy? I grew up in a time of the latter, but despite my emotional attachment, I see the fraughtness as, collectively, we try to open our minds and our hearts.

 

My identity is the work. When I say I’m queer, I mean that I’m committed to social justice. I’m committed to anti-blackness. I’m committed to API empowerment, not just my ethnicities. I’m committed to anti-poverty work. I’m committed to ending religious persecution against Muslims. But most of all I’m committed to exploding the boxes and learning the truth. I’m committed to you.

 

haz2

 

My favorite quote in law school was something Elvira put on the back of the calendars we were all given the first day of class.

“Who ever walked behind anyone to freedom? If we can’t go hand in hand, I don’t want to go.” – Hazel Scott

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