I recently joined a support group chat organized by a friend so that a few of us with public platforms can navigate the emotional and mental toll being “seen” takes.
It’s funny, for years I thought that’s all I wanted “to be seen” like it was a code for being loved. I assumed being “seen” meant “validated” or (ha) “respected” but what I never considered is that it might bring the opposite—trolling and the insipid entitlement that some folks have to/over your life. In that process what happens is that you are dehumanized again and again.
Here’s an example: a few days ago someone wrote on an IG post I shared about the film Don’t Look Up that it was disheartening that a creator they like would, and I quote, “push the film on people”…………………. even though I explicitly said it was a flawed film (and IT IS, very flawed) but because I even posted about it I guess I was “pushing it on people.” Maybe because I’m an artist, I understand that art can be complex—it can be flawed and yet still important. But, primarily, I think this is because I’m queer, like actually queer (a student of mine Feargha shared recently, paraphrasing the late great bell hooks “to be queer is to be outside of everything” and I really felt that in my bones). So I’m really interested in processing things in a complex and nuanced way. If you follow my work, you’d know that. I see things as holistic as opposed to stagnant, I see the variables and never the absolute. Nothing can be or is absolute in a mercurial world and yet the division of our today exists in a tension proliferated between people who have an unwillingness to be wrong. It’s all ego, and it’s bred by a narcissistic desire to be right all the time, believing that there’s only one way to be so.
Maybe that’s why abolition and transformative justice frameworks appeal to me the most—because within their very praxis there’s an in-built awareness, an understanding, of the mutability of being human—I like the idea of us moving with each other, accepting that we are flawed. That’s something profound my sister reminded me of today. I had apologized last night for projecting onto her after a conversation I had with her and our dad. When she pointed it out, I earnestly told her I’d never project onto her again, only stopping a few moments later to be like… “I actually probably will again, lol.” To which she reminded me that that’s the OK, that maybe the most important thing is that we can hold each other’s failures.
Which also means making room for opinions that differ from yours. I ask this all the time, but why are we so carceral with one another? Why such possessiveness? What do I owe anyone the reads me but my own honesty? If I’m one of your “favorite creators” but there’s no space for me to be who I am, like what I like, do what I want to do… what does that say about how you respond to my work? What do any of us owe each other but a true portrayal of who we are, and a desire to want to do better? There’s a hagiography that happens (that’s non-consensual btw) when you are in the public eye, and every supposed wrong turn (and this is subject to literally anybody’s interpretation) you are re-written in somebody’s else’s perspective, no longer their favorite creator just because you shared a differing opinion. Now you are not credible and thus worthy of being hated.
This isn’t about nazar, but it also is, because nazar is really built on projection. It’s an idea that a person is no longer dimensional they are just what you think of them, and therefore are subject to your criticism, your anger, your hate, your jealousy, your envy. Envy is a big one. “In envy, the other is perceived to be "big" in regard to the advantage in question while, at the same time, perceived to be just another human being. Meanwhile the self is perceived to be "small" with regard to the advantage while just human as well. A split has occurred in the way the other and the self are appreciated perceptually, cognitively, affectively, and intentionally. In jealousy the self is enhanced with regard to the advantage, the rival other diminished, with self and object representations split accordingly,” writes Robert E. Anderson in a paper entitled Envy and Jealousy that was shared in the support groupchat.
I’ve come to realize a quality that people exercise the least is nuance. It’s either / or. Right or Wrong. Negative and Positive. Bad or Good. Evil or Angelic. But, aren’t we trying to abolish binaries? It’s difficult when now there’s so much languaging that people have learned that’s coded, which implies a certain level of self-awareness that upon further inspection isn’t there. The only two times I’ve been called a narcissist are ironically by people who I assume are narcissists. There’s a subtlety here, are people angry at you, or themselves? The more I thought about nazar, the more I realized it was about an absence of what one felt they didn’t have, projected onto another.
Recently I watched All Light, Everywhere by Theo James which is a documentary about, amongst other things, surveillance. Particularly within the police force/ in general policing. This line hit home: “The act of observation obscures the observation. Where the world meets the image of the world, the image falls apart.” This made me think of how I felt when I watched the film Spencer, the pressure-cooker of being watched (everywhere, at home, in public) was what unmade Diana.
She died (literally) trying to escape the paparazzi.
I protect myself always with the four protection surahs (Surah Al-Nas, Surah Kafirun, Surah Ikhlas, Surah Falaq) that are said to be some of the most potent spells to ward off evil in Islam. Because what else is a prayer, but a spell? It’s what God teaches you to guard yourself with. The smoke of the oud clearing, as I pray for God’s protection, I chant these surahs in my home daily, weekly, as I feel called.
Recently I was told by a Shaman that I worked with was that one of my power animals is a cow, and I kept thinking of Al-Baqarah, “The Cow” an exceptional surah to also ward off all that is not good for you. As I was growing up my mom would play the loud Arabic chanting of Al-Baqarah, and it would bounce off the walls with it’s quaking. When I was a kid, it scared me. As an adult, it brings me such comfort. Maybe because my relationship has been forged by myself, for myself, with God. And I’ve come to realize how much I need God.
Funnily enough, the word nazar, is an Arabic word for surveillance.
To be watched. To be judged. “It is commonly believed that the evil eye can be given in the guise of a compliment, signifying its connection to the destructive power of envy (for one’s wealth, beauty)…” I read in a quick Wikipedia search of the word nazar. Maybe that’s another reason my mother never wanted me to feel too good about myself, maybe she was scared someone would come and take it away from me.
I think, also, in so many ways, because I was raised by an unlikeable mother who did cruel things to everyone, it’s made me someone who will forever see the nuance of life, of people, of untenable situations. When your mother (or father, or family situation) is monstrous you have to learn how to accept the complexity of humans, otherwise, you will go mad.
I think, also, there was no way for me to be bad. I had to be the best version of myself ALL THE TIME otherwise I would be punished. My mother was the only one who could be immature or bratty, if we were, she would hurt, berate and humiliate us. Which I’ve realized is a trait of the narcissist, how they move with impunity. Believing all their actions come from grace and everyone else’s is full of malice. I observe this on the internet a lot. How lacking in integrity most people are, how they move in contradictions but when they see that in others they are so quick to judge. It’s wild.
Having a mother like mine has taught me a few things: always be better than someone who is trying to hurt you, there’s value in that. Even if no one ever witnesses how good you are, how hard you try, you just have to keep showing up with that level of love. That’s what it means to be moving in/with integrity. It’s also taught me that when someone tries to come for you, as my mother so often did, don’t engage. And I don’t. Now, thank God, I have the tools to completely log off. I mean, I got off Twitter because I wanted to declutter my mind but I was also so exhausted by all these people wearing their self-righteousness as some weird Superman cape avatar when in actuality all these people are problematic af. But the posturing of who you are in public versus who you are in private is going to be a very important discussion of our times. I think, inevitably, something we will really have to face is how much unchecked narcissism is encouraged in our society.
I started noticing this a couple of years ago when I saw a person who tried to take me down in a piece obsessively thirsting over white celebrities on their Tumblr with their homies, who had also written shit about me. No offense, but it was kind of funny? I realized, wow, not only is nazar completely gendered, it’s almost always women coming for other women/femme folks coming for other femme folks… perhaps because of jealousy that they code as critical discourse and yet in private, these very people who are writing elaborate takedowns, are also just valorizing men, any man that they find hot. It was the first time I realized how incredibly boring cancel culture can be because it’s always coming from an equally flawed person who has decided that they’d much rather focus on how they think you’re wrong. Presumably, so they don’t have to face all of their own shadows.
The vitriol, the hate, is nothing if not comedic after all. It’s like that meme of the white kid with their vein-popping out. Like, bro, in this economy? Maybe that’s what I liked the most about Don’t Look Up, it’s the satire (and accuracy) of our unwillingness to really look at ourselves. How much we just want to fill up space with nothingness as we face such difficult, ecological times. That even when a comet is hurtling towards us we are, instead, incessantly filling our lives with needless activities so as to not face this mortal coil and plane. This means bitching, gossiping, hurting others, canceling others, lying (this is a big one) when what we could be doing is growing towards one another with vulnerability. Evolving. Turning to God.
I saw this with someone I was dating recently, too. How so many queer folks know the right things to say online, the right books to post, and yet in their interpersonal lives there’s not an ounce of dedication or effort to try to be better, to reflect the person they supposedly are online. So many people are just mirages. It’s concerning to me that we are breeding a culture that accepts this. And these are also the same people who want to take others down, who are so critical of other people.
And that’s the thing, too, how much people are willing to expend such energy of hate to (sometimes) strangers or even people they know. Even weirder when people who know you give you nazar, it’s sad that we have a hard time accepting each other’s power. It’s sad that we are still here as a species.
A huge thing my dad taught me about evil eye is to remember that it backfires. I’ve learned Don Draper levels of “I don’t think about you at all” when it comes to people who send me hate. I shield myself energetically every day, but more than that I rest in the gratitude that energy healing teaches you that when you send negative energy toward someone it only comes back to you. In the Qu’ran they say tenfold, but I’ve heard similar ideas shared in non-denominational Spiritual spaces. I wish more people truly knew that. That you’re always the one who gets hurt when you don’t meet someone with kindness and generosity.
I’ve seen this in my own life, too. I’ve seen the results that my dedication to God has brought me. It’s been a long road, clearing the crap on this path, to find myself again. When I have a falling out with a friend I completely disengage so as to never accidentally send nazar. I don’t want that shit on my hands! I want to be clear of it all, I always want my forcefield to be of beautiful energy and intent.
By the end of Don’t Look Up I was balling. Just completely distraught. I hadn’t watched something in years that had affected me so much (about the world, in particular). I felt completely overwhelmed and sad at the reality of what’s to come. A friend of mine was saying to me today how the film depicted with such accuracy our times — the Ariana Grande bit, Leo a stand-in for Dr Fauci (and the absurdity of him becoming a sex icon) juxtaposed against JLaw who is demonized and called crazy, or how even a woman president will fail, as will the media and literally everyone in power. I mean Mark Rylance as a dumb billionaire archetype… chilling! Those teeth… It’s a dark comedy, and like the best satire, it shows you the holes in society so that you can effectively do something about it.
Recently I’ve been reading some non-fiction by Ursula Le Guin. As I read it, it’s hard not to notice that I think she was an Islamophobe. Yeah, spoiler alert. That’s been hard to accept about a writer I care about deeply, and whose ecological work especially has been incredibly grounding for me. We are nuanced creatures who are always in a state of failing. Yet we still try. But these two distinct realities can coexist with one another because they do. That’s what it means to be human. We project ideas of perfection onto people when we know the most human thing is to fuck up. That’s what our histories through the ages detail. Our failures, as much as our triumphs.
I wish we could hold each other better in this world. That’s a really big wish I have for us as a civilization and a species that’s so very close to extinction. All we have is each other, as we hurtle toward unprecedented times. This is the fluidity of love I wish to move with. To me, above all, this is how I am human.