Ramadan Day 2 – Notes for A Queer Submission, feat. Rumi 

One night, alone in my room, I write a story, but I’m too tired to finish it. Instead, I share my notes online. It is all about a girl who has no names for the love she feels for God. She is certain of one thing: that it was God who brought her to faith and queers who kept her there.  She makes a mixtape.

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For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.

After my father died, I was lost. We were joined, he and I, by our imperfections: temper, impatience, and pride, to name a few. To lose a person whose image still lives in your own imbues your mistakes with fragility. You wonder if even the acceptance that was denied you is worth the pain of wanting it.

I rage against my helplessness. When the fits first came upon me, I was thirteen years old, and didn’t have the strength to mess up the world. I read the Bible and memorized Kings in my father’s study. I don’t remember their names. I loved God more than McDonald’s, more than Little Women, more than my cat, Christina.

From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.

We were activists together, Cal and I, and his family was from Texas, by way of Pakistan. Cal was my first close Muslim friend, and once when we were in a tiny office at the law school, working to bring back affirmative action in CA, Cal told me he was fasting. Why are you doing that? I asked.

“I had a dream that I was killed for being crazy, like Martin Luther King,” Cal said.

Cal was irresponsible, selfish, corrupt, and, therefore infinitely free. Cal wanted the power to change the world. I wanted to hide from the power that I had. He was happy. I was depressed.

One day, Cal came down the stairs with all his missing front teeth. He wouldn’t go to the dentist. “I’ve never known,” he said, “what it was like to have people stare at me.” He’d borrowed my bicycle; the front tire had loosened in front of a bus, and he called me from the hospital saying that he needed a ride. He carried with him a bag of candy. My parent’s shop went out of business, he said, spilling it all in the foyer, so now I’m giving the candy away for free. He grinned from ear to ear, and I loved him for that bloody smile.

Unable to see, I heard my name being called.

I fell in love with Galileo on the way up from Fresno in another woman, Lula’s, car. Lula said I was lucky. “She may have cheated on you, but how else would you learn who you are? Love the teacher who teaches you out of love, because most people teach you about yourself out of indifference, or hate.”

“But,” I cried, “she says that she can’t be an activist and half-white, that her Mexican community wouldn’t tolerate her being gay, too.”

“If they’re so willing to reject her,” Lula asked, “Are they really her community?”

Then I walked outside.

That year, I wandered the streets wondering how I could best kill myself. I sunk to the floor and with the knife on my skin, I’d think, if only I had a shotgun. I’d drive around and get into a fight, and then go over a bridge. I was elaborate, if immature.

Ten years later: “Thank you,” the Doctor said, “for trusting me, and for sharing with me. We all have these thoughts. Don’t do it.”

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

I healed day by day.  My father’s memory became the glue in my cracks. Shams loved me less and less. It was as if my broken self, the one that needed to be fixed, was the true object of her affection. Shams is a poet. Shams is a Muslim.

Shams brought me to Allah. But she didn’t stay.

“You have such power,” Shams said once, our backs on the San Gabriel mountain dirt, the scent of the forest filtering the air. The stars above us made constellations only she named. “But you don’t know how to use it.”

Shams wrote me love letters about my demons.

I consumed them all.

Don’t go back to sleep.

She cried when I first tell her that I love her. “You don’t want to love me,” she said.

That first Ramadan, when I return from Guatemala, she confirmed that we already were partners. She was ready to take the next step.

I close my eyes, see her darkening my red sheets. I fall in love again and again.

“It is,” she wrote me on a card with a picture of a little diver on the front, “like being underwater, but all the gifts of morning are mine. The quietness, and the solitude.” I played tennis, wrapped up a jury trial, and took to fasting like one fish in the ocean.

It only happens that way the first time.

You must ask for what you really want.

I met Saimo during a play. We were both actors. During several scene changes, we hid in a dark corner underneath the bleachers where the audience hovered like insects. We had to hold very still, along with the actor who played my boyfriend. It was hot, and I didn’t want my sweat to ruin my makeup. Every performance, we’d have the same conversation.

Excerpted dialogue:

“Pssst, do you see Shams in the audience?”

“I don’t know what Shams looks like, but I don’t think so. There’s a South Asian woman a couple rows over.”

“No, that’s not her. Anybody else?”

We laugh about the ants crawling on the bleacher bars.   One night, I tell her that I fast for Ramadan.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Those last years in LA, we sit at the table enjoying Sehri: myself, Saimo, and sometimes, another friend. Daily, I read her Rumi’s The Glance and Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku. I think, as I look at this cherished friend that Allah has blessed me. I’ve never met another person whose soul radiated love so clearly, so loudly. Her family has me over for Eid. They gift me my first prayer rug.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

 In NYC, the Don is leaving. He tells me about a group of queer Muslims. He tells me there’s a difficult discussion about an outsider joining. I don’t need to go, I say. He holds me with his eyes. After he leaves NYC, I join the community. They answer my how-to questions about prayer. They study the Qu’ran with me.   They hold me through the fast. Pele tries to explain Wudu as I fast in Tennessee. I’m embarrassed as my hijab slips off before the mosque in Murfreesboro. I get it back on, half-assed, with hair clips, the way Saimo showed me.

where the two worlds touch.

“I don’t say I’m a Muslim,” I try to explain to folks in Nebraska who wish me a Happy Ramadan. “I believe in Allah, but I haven’t converted. Maybe I’m like a Unitarian version of Islam.” I can’t focus on the conversation because I’m starving.  There’s at least two hours left before Iftar.  Penny is waiting for me at our apartment when I get back to NYC. All the residents here are single. I have a relationship. This has never happened to me before.

The door is round and open.

People shamed me with God my whole life. But it was people, in the name of religions led by sexist men. So I will not be shamed again by laying claim to Islam, led by yet another set of men, who wish to shame me. I do not think Allah wants that.

Allah and I

We love each other

All claims fade

Not Infidel

A True Believer

Don’t go back to sleep.

***

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

-by Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks

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