Marie Tattiana Aqeel
Name Your Gods
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
My Baba said it would be a thunderstorm when I go from thinking with a masculine mind to doing so through a feminine one.
Stripped down. A couple of years ago, I thought I was tearing down a tower of false confidence and pride that I had built up over time to prepare myself for stardom. Both my parents wanted to achieve more notoriety for their artistic pursuits. My mom released that urge when she started having children, but my father longed for it up until he died. Through no harsh words, they passed their expectations onto me. I was born singing, with the kind of fingers that can play any instrument. But if they had the heart and not the means to achieve celebrity, then I had the means while my heart looked elsewhere. My first art was drawing. I could sit for hours copying details of the still life that was around me. In my pre-teen years, I discovered I could hold a tune with the radio, and so ensued my mother's projections of what my career life would be like. She became my first vocal coach, sort of. And she was the first to instill in me a critical eye for the objectification and sale of women's bodies, especially by mass media corporations. This and the facts of racial inequality were her first big life lessons for me, though they didn't stop her from encouraging I get through them with my vocal talent. Her expectations synergized with mine, and before I knew it, I found myself wanting for popularity more than I wanted to know the gift of my self.
An angel took me when I was 17. I was hit on foot by an oncoming car on K St. NW (one of DC's busiest streets) during morning rush hour. I never even saw the car, never felt it impact me. All I knew was, I was blaring Damion Marley's There For You in my ear phones, catching the vibe, and then I was waking up with my back on the ground, pain in my legs, and people's faces making a circle above me. "What happened?" I asked. And that's when I learned it. In the ambulance, they cut my favorite suit straight down the pant legs and up the jacket seam as they drove me to the nearest hospital. I stayed overnight drugged on morphine and stitched on the left side of my head. They put me in a neck brace, and a scrape on my face was bloody and bruised. Some friends from school came to visit me the next day and I could tell by the expressions on their faces that I looked much worse than I actually felt. Maybe it's the result of physical trauma, or the effect of morphine, that I didn't remember anything between stepping off the sidewalk and waking up on the ground in front of it, but a wise and close family friend said that it was my angels who carried me. I took this into account, because something did start to change in me after that incident. I became more aware of my spiritual goals. I started claiming space for them, on rooftops staring at sunset, reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, and listening more intently to the mantras that my mother replayed on cassette tapes as I grew up. I was still looking to be discovered by some record exec (cuz that's what they told me to do), but I was more quickly gaining a sense of self.
After the crash I met and dated an older woman for about a year. The relationship wasn't so great, but she taught me the first things I ever knew about herbs and nutrition- how they impact so much of our daily lives, our mobility and energy. She helped change my whole perspective on eating, and the study of herbs took over my logical brain. I honed in on the if-I-do-this-then-that-will-happen scientific method and learned the benefit of patience in the process of letting the herbs heal me. It was probably the first time that I understood what a power I have in my own will. Once I felt the results of my pupilship, I would never live the same way again.
I had a new habit. I saw how fucked up our collective diet is as U.S. Americans, and I wanted to become a voice for change. This, while still trying to discover how I could achieve the artistic goals I had set for myself- bringing about social change, maintaining control of my image, finding my true voice. In my mind, I hoped for an agent who could support those goals, and I went back to school- to college- after a year of working random jobs. Rutgers had the only theater program that interested me and, luckily, they accepted me. It was okay. The taught me how to make sound from my most natural place- my breath and body. That peaked my life-interest, and I learned tools that I still use today. But I left after 2 years to travel to Brazil in pursuit of a connection with my paternal family line and to learn new music. I returned to DC after 4 months, and then I moved to California. There I found a breathing workshop that conjured up the same feelings of connection to my breath and body that I had drummed up at Rutgers. I got to feel my legs for the first time, like, ever. It felt as if my body had another body inside of it- an inner body- and my breath filled the space in between my two bodies. It was an incredible feeling. Electric. I vowed then to always continue this work of discovering motion through breath and body, release through sound. It gave me room for my soul to flourish, and I danced in the freedom it created.
There was only one other time before then that I danced so freely. It was the first time I heard House music. DJ Clark was spinning vinyl at a party for the DC Black lesbians and gays of generations before me. I was 18 and had finally found a home where I could learn about myself from adult women who loved other women openly, firmly, damn near politically, and certainly toward being freely. It was in this community that I met my first partner, L. She was my age, spunky, beautiful, and I couldn't resist having her. She was in California with me. She went through those breathing workshops too. In fact, we had paid for couples breathing therapy, trying to soothe the discourse between us. See what had happened was: things seemed perfect, then 1) I slept with her friend, and 2) my mama died, and I had nowhere to place the rage that welled up from within me afterwards. L couldn't forgive my trespasses on her and her friend, and I couldn't find peace after my mama died. We had moved to California to try something new, somewhere where nobody knew us or what we'd been through. I was 23 and my younger sister, Kailasa, had just had a baby, to whom I felt indelibly tied. So we took them with us and tried to work it out as a family. L and I worked all the time though, leaving Kailasa with the responsibility of learning to care for a new baby alone on most days. We couldn't support her entirely, so she and my niece went back after 4 months. I fretted about being left alone with L. We were so rarely happy that it's a wonder how we stayed together so long. Six years. The last one was off-and-on, but 6 years of being in love and trying to make a square and a circle match. She might say she could never do it because of what I did in the beginning of our relationship. I'll say we weren't safe enough for one another, ever. Trauma can suck the life out of a thing when it's misinterpreted. Just after my mom died, I remembered how my father touched the underside of my vaginal labia and lingered there, feeling it. I was 2. In the memory, I could feel my 2-year-old body freeze from the waste down and fume from the neck up. I had no words. I couldn't explain it to my family. How could I have a remembered a thing from so long ago? Don't they say our memories erase everything before the age of 3? But I remember some more things. I remember my mother's scent, and my grandfather's spirit's. I remember the white couches and rug, shiny wood floor, and my father's small black leather shoes peaking out from under the black slacks covering his shins. I remember being the height of his shins. When I remembered being touched by him, I suddenly was able to piece together the discomfort I felt when he touched my body at 18 (my parents divorced when I was 2 and I didn't see my father again until I was 18). I remembered my first desires for men were to crush them. Ha. If I could just snag one by the heart, one no-good-lying-cheating-stealing-son-of-a- then I would conquer him, just for the hell of it. Revenge really is my first instinct, and I have to work hard through many instances to drown it in "higher thoughts." Anyway, I never did get to conquer a man. Coincidentally, my attempts at such boomeranged and I ended up with a slandered name and verbal abuses thrown at me. I even believed some of it, when it came from L. I could never "redeem" myself of my actions with her friend. Never mind that I was learning that my attempt with him was of the same mission I had with any other guy I tried it with: destroy. This one back-fired and destroyed the pretty perfection of my relationship. It's kind of weird to adopt the thinking of a man in order to woo him as a woman (except that I identify as a gay man). That wasn't the only thing I adopted from this man's world.
I recently heard a TED talk by Rinat Sherzer in which she likens our mass membrane's work rhythm to that of sperm. Sperm perform- they go, the do not stop even if they crush other sperm, because only one gets the prize. Life. Sherzer poses, what if we live more like an egg, or better yet, an egg and a sperm, we would be more of a balanced society. Go get the things we want but have the receptivity to discern when we're being too selfish to live in harmony with others. I mean, after all, we did all make it here. We were that sperm… and that egg. The hard part is done. Now why not live like it?
Well, I left my steady job working for the man over a year ago, and since then, I've been battling so many emotions about my work ethic, how much rest I take, how I just dropped off the social map, and finally, most prominently, about where I could've been instead. Y'all! I literally asked for the time and space to heal my body-mind-spirit in nature and in community for at least one year, and that's exactly what I got. But because I spend half of a lot of days laying in bed, watching Netflix, reading, writing, or just sleeping, I know that some people would think I'm being lazy. I can't explain where I've come from to everyone. I mostly enjoy listening to other people talk, as I get to know them that way. The present moment is almost always louder to me than my past or future life, even though I know they are omniscient in my youniverse. Past-present-future exist simultaneously. The point is, I have time to consider their reactions to my (in)activities but not to debrief them on how I got here. Maybe I just haven't found the brief story of it. 8 years ago my mama died. Then I had a surrogate child and moved to California. Then my marriage fell apart. I moved back home to DC to heal my heart and be close to the matriarch of my family, my grandmother, in her final years. My father died suddenly shortly after my return, and I started a new job the next day- in the dead of winter in a snow storm. Hungry for stability, for focus, to move up in the adult world, I had to fend for myself after losing my everything. I made a new close friend in the process and I loved her and weed so thoroughly that I came to them both nightly. I danced so my body ached every day. Then I met Be Steadwell, and her film Vow of Silence gave me an avenue to say, without words, exactly what I'd been through. Through Be, I met a bunch of new queer POC artist-thinkers-activists and became family to them. I met a new mate, TJ, and we did well together for about 3 years before splitting and staying close friends. With them, I felt safe, safer than I had ever. Safe to love without abuse. Safe to stop moving so much. Safe to say I like other people while I love you and maybe one day I'll explore that, but it's not a goal and I'm fine with this friendlyass relationship! I was safe to give my body to myself in sex with them. I could feel myself. I wasn't a role or a fetish or an experiment with them. My sex was valued, understood, prompted. It was easy. And even though I had stopped dancing due to a foot injury during our first year together, I still felt movable. I was having the best sex and making the most money of my life at the same dzamn time. We just learned to want more, and it went in different directions.
I got more in touch with my gender queer sex. I wanted a woman. I wanted a woman that I could be a man with. I wanted a woman that could be a man with my man, with me. I had a smooth drive into that station, marked by sensual weekly cuddle parties, Madamme Seduction's qink classes, and a very friendly lover (thanks, E!). Then I met the love of my life, a whole one, and I swear, everyday she makes my character stronger. It's like I found the best ever radio station and it's just always playing the jams I can sing to - some that I know, some that I don't- with very few commercial interruptions, but even with interruptions, them joints be on point and for the cause. She's like my WPFW on Friday and Sunday nights, but all the time, Jazz & Justice baby. What's current, I can't speak about so much because it's present. I'm watching it, taking it in, learning its mannerisms and quirks. She cute. I can say that with 100% confidence. All my dreams feel valid with her. It's like she pics up where I left off and I come back with the fuel to feed her. And I don't just mean sexually. I'm talking about life GOALS. The shit makes me feel capable of anything.
So now we get to the point (try to read this part in rhythm) I landed where I wanted to. I learned from my losses. I grew in the interim- in my values, my place in community, my artistry, and my will. I made the Earth appear around me (even though I'm convinced this Goddess next to me is Pachamama). My days are mine for once- once in my life, they're mine. I wake up to me. I move to me. I say yes or no to me. I say Go to me. I sing to me, write to me, name myself before me, breathe and I know me. And yet I STILL
What another nigga think of me.
I watched my mama die. Did my duty to care for her every beck and call. I did my duty to sit at my grandmother's feet to hear her stories before she died. I kept my niece, kept my sister, I went to my uncle's beside before he died. I visited my father's grave, in spite of… I made attempts to connect with a family that could have otherwise been lost to me. I left that job, I left that marriage when I saw it was killing me. I moved when I did not know the next step. I received help. I learned to trust again. I expressed. And now that I bled myself into all these forces, I have decided to live (and rest) for me. Because I am my ancestors' dreams. Because I have what it takes to find true happiness. Because I found out that I don't need to be a popular singer or a stylish companion. I just need to sing and be (in) good company. I found value in nature and I held onto it for Life- there is no higher God in my world. Nature is Cosmic. It holds the key to the mysteries of Life. I've been shown time and time again that my rhythm is the true rhythm. Any other's is a borrowed dance. Only I am responsible for my life, bless my ancestors, bless my guides, bless the angels who carried me. The shit's shaking up because I'm blessing my calling. In the dark. Lightening has always been one of my favorite forms of energy currency. It is my joy to learn to direct it.
I had a lot of mishaps I turned into stepping stones. This pride I have now ain't false. It's the game only Life can teach. Life is triumph and let down, turn around, get up, fall down, look back, listen ahead, close my eyes, wish, and jump. And see what's left when I open my eyes again to marvel at the intrinsic wonder of the world. I'm not ashamed of any of it. My past mistakes, abuses, how I hurt people, what I'm still working on changing about my personality in order to live more harmoniously with the ones I love. My passage to womanhood is marked by and standing on manhood. Even now I've said all this and I still have not revealed my self. I am feminine by choice and choosing the vortex of the world was no easy chance. But it's loud in me and in spite of my propensity for revenge against the Greater masculine mind's conquest for control, I am more interested in what it may feel like to let go of focus on oppression and focus on my power to innovate, create, multiply, love, discern for self, make magic, and hear the Earth. Because my ancestors survived the Middle Passage. Because when I think of womaning a ship, I think of having a shipmate. Because mati is a word for the woman another woman has an intimate relationship with. Because in spite of our conquest, we are alive and still demanding love. True love. And I'll be damned if I don't give this woman- who is me- the love that she deserves.
See, my Baba also said this: a woman, no matter what her rank or role in society, she will always require to be worshipped.