Ramadan Redux: Embodiment, Embarrassment, & Aural Erotics
“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” --Word of our Lorde, Ameen
Ramadan is here and already I’ve experienced big blessings and big emotions.
If you asked a group of Muslims about why Ramadan is so important, every answer would be as diverse as the Ummah. It’s important to me because it creates a time of structured loss, such that I can be more agile when I encounter it outside the month. I really understood Ramadan when my younger sister passed away a year and a half ago. They say there’s no right way to grieve, but for me there was a definitive wrong way. I didn’t want to do anything that took me out of my body. Having been symptom free from four cognitive disorders for a few years--dissociation being a symptom of two--I didn’t want to bring about a relapse. An able mind and body were luxuries white supremacy, mental illness, and chronic pain denied her until she died at 27. As a way to acknowledge my privilege, honor her life, and accept her death, I stayed spiritually, emotionally, and physically present with the grief as possible until I had adapted enough to carry the magnitude of her loss.
Eating and drinking are such important architecture for the day to day, that for me fasting produces an echo similar enough to how I felt when losing a loved one. However, for every day of fasting, your community is rejoicing and embracing the loss and the blessings that are found within it. Anger, fear, resentment, and sadness are much more available. Yet unlike during a time of random loss, Ramadan’s predictable lack doesn’t mute happiness, relief, and joy. Ramadan is the open space where the most heightened ends of every part of the emotional spectrum find a space for balanced expression. It’s so open that any old emotion can wander in and take center stage and who shows up depends on what kind of year you had.
I’ve spent mine using different modalities to become more embodied as a rebellion against white supremacy. This has included some very heavy losses like losing Lila and being forced into becoming the face of a yt persyn’s sexual trauma right before Ramadan, to some very high notes like getting married, finally having a word for my queerness, and rejecting the practice compulsory monogamy. Through Spiritual work, video work, improv class, going to black centered shows, posting my self-portraiture, and educating myself with and getting physical training through an organization centered in fitness justice, I’ve been able to meet and take my body right the fuck back on many fronts in the battle to reclaim self from the maw of capitalism. After glorious and vile war, standing still in the exposure of Ramadan has left me feeling most often two emotions that have never been very present for me.
In this the first week of the holiest month, I’ve been grappling with the purest streak of gut gripping embarrassment hand in hand with arousal like I ain’t never seen.
Embarrassment is easier of the two for me to talk about. Even if I have to keep it fed and sat in a corner of my mind because I’m a performer, we still have a pretty clear relationship. Embarrassment is what happens when self-awareness flips it’s dress over its head and walks off into the vestibule to talk to strangers because I got distracted buying a Jamba juice. This Ramadan, self-awareness has taken its dress off and is now running and screaming into a flock of fast walking seniors in a crowded Mall of America. And I just stand there and let some security guards chase it, because frankly I’m too weak from not eating and drinking. Eventually, I just give up and go to Games by James until it come runnin back. I don’t even know how I ended up at MoA in the first place, tbh.
Arousal is more complicated for many reasons, the first being that sex is automatically equated to it. Even though sexual arousal is the avenue we take when in general discuss it, it’s a stroke in the the painting, not the whole work of this word. People focus on the quick, easy, porny definition over the actual definition and I can relate. That’s what the world does when it defines black womxn. Without Ramadan, I don’t think I would have been able to detect the nascent instances of arousal proper and might have continued the ingrained reductive approach to it and myself. The first day of fasting, I smelled some tofu seasoned with gojuchang. Usually smelling food during Ramadan makes me feel hunger, which eventually starts to feel like nothing because it’s so consistent. There’s a slow, sleepy, shuffling on of the mind past recognizing the scent a quick dua for the fast to go faster, and I move forward
This time, I became the textbook definition of aroused--Awakened, alerted, and attentive. About halfway through a short poem about the fragrant nature of Korean pepper paste, I stopped in a bizarre kind of awe and gratefulness only Ramadan can bring. I am in the American system, which runs on the rapid disembodiment and subsequent rapid use of black womxn. I am working hard trying to stop my own hand from becoming a tool of my oppression and the oppression of others. And there I was, standing in my kitchen, embodied and going slow enough to feel moved by something as simple as a condiment I encounter daily. It was a moment where I felt the divine was saying “Hey, I see you showing your work.” I cried. I’m still crying.
But yeah. There’s also a lot of sexual arousal.
This has been my biggest struggle of any Ramadan to date. My fight to enjoy my own body from a sexual standpoint hasn’t been a year long focus, so much as a lifelong Battle of Winterfell, with way worse lighting, making out with the Fall of Gondolin. And truly, I’m shocked. Up until this Ramadan, I thought I was ace/greysexual. Turns out, trading persynal power for empty sexual encounters, as has been demanded of me by an overwhelming amount of past partners, is a huge turnoff. Who knew? I’ve been handling it, redirecting my thoughts during fasting hours from sexy time ideation to enjoyment of the fact that against every odd, I’ve taken this much ownership over my body. It’s not feeling sexually aroused that’s flooring me so much as the immediacy and frequency with which sexual arousal has been present during this fast.
But this isn’t what I’m struggling with.
The true struggle is that it’s led me to have to enforce what I used to think was one of the dumbest rules of Sunni influenced orthodoxy:
“If you on that Rama-D, stay away from git the drawers R&B.”
--Somebody old, black, probably started out a Nation brotha, Muslim dad on a stoop.
I’ve always had a sort of synesthesiastic/erotic experience with sound and word, except instead of seeing colors, I experience physical reactions/placements. Sung music with accompaniment produces an even more potent experience. I react differently to everything, but certain works produce an algal bloom of persynal power that blossoms in the waters of my emotions so aggressively, I can feel the sensation of it coming up underneath and rolling across my skin. It’s amazing. And this is what happens outside of Ramadan. During this first week, music has taken on this beautiful even fresher nuance that feels for the most part like dating a long known love in springtime. It’s renewed the relationship dynamics and made me gooey eyed again. But I’m finding even that after I break my fast, I can’t stand listening to git them drawers jams. And that’s MOST OF MY JAMS.
It’s like being someone with a highly sensitive and freshly cleansed palate tasting lao papaya salad--Too complex for their brain to understand. Instead of grinin on that flavor wave and throwing it in a circle, the richness, the rawness, the earnest pleas for them drawersness make me want to throw myself to the floor. It’s the worst. It takes my relationship with music from springtime walk with a lover to Stravinsky’s premiere of Rite of Spring with a quickness. Currently, I’m listening to some of my local faves who keep it generally distanced from that particular vibe. I think eventually, I’ll even out after the month is over, but I’m wondering how this interlude will change the way that I interact with music going forward.
Struggle, ease, drawers or no drawers, I’m enjoying my fast this year. Capitalism has tried to destroy communal cultural breaks in time like this for a reason. Chronologically driven people are easier to take advantage of because they experience no collectively supported death and reshaping of identity. If you start disempowered then you remain that way for your lifetime, like one sustained note. Ramadan with it’s joyous lack is providing the much needed gap of silence for me to understand the movements and transitions in the score of my life. This section is called “Black Womxn, Your Body, You’re Winning.” I’m just doing the dance.