Fluidity is the core of our spectacularly multiple experiences and existences. If life is a one-dimensional spectrum, its only extremes are life and death; everything else is up for grabs. Which begs the question: who is grabbing? Not the other. And yet because the other is us as we are the other, there ceases to exist an other.
Other is given to those with hands not long enough to stretch—not because they don’t possess long, beautiful hands with monumental grabbing effect, but because the category is “sections,” and these people cannot be sectioned. And so we cut off their hands. And so we call them the other.
June is Pride month, rife with summer days and vegan milkshakes made from soya milk, cookies baked thick with chocolate chips and flour that swells in the heat.
“You live around?” asks the man behind the counter as he pulls the milkshaker down and the cream rises above the edge of the cup.
“Yes. You work here?” Bibi asks, chuckling along with him as he answers — “No, you know, I just come around here sometimes and get behind that counter and start making milkshakes.”
At Kinkerstraat 312.3 stands a house called Kinky Penthouse 4.0. On summer mornings, the citrus tree casts its reflection against the windows on the second floor made uneven by burgundy bricks with leaves rustled by the thrill of subtle wind that comes from the east of the city.
Bibi meditates from across the window as the sunlight rests against the tempo of their breath. When the slits of their eyes slide open briefly, they catch a glimpse of the white contraption across the first floor, fading in and out of time. When they tune into sound, they hear a construction machine whirring, see smoke rise above the furnace, and soon their mind wanders. They turn to me, saying:
“We see day and night and allow our minds be tricked into restricted belief in an order of things. As though our night doesn’t instantly become another’s day, as the earth spins on its axis. So many existences are revolutions, all contained within their own heartbeats. Only God knows the perfect integrative work done in our innermost seams; only we can decipher it.”
Hours-old cigarette smoke guides you along the narrow staircase that leads to the second floor of Kinky Penthouse 4.0. On the second floor, Bibi soaks in the bathtub. Rose petals float in the water. When Bibi steps out, they wipe their feet, sighing with satisfaction.
Pious purrs from underneath the cedarwood table. Pious was once a tiger, hiding in blades of grass, peering out, as though waiting for some prey to lose guard, so it could pounce.
Pious was wearied of being a cat of the outside. It kept its eyes on Bibi who lived on the second floor and stood naked against the big window that faced the back of the house where the green was, smoking their cigarette as the birds flew past in slow motion.
“We had a lot of flirtation, a lot of hide-and-seek before Pious finally chose me. But I knew it put itself in my way. If you ask anyone who the real owner of the second floor of Kinky Penthouse 4.0 is, they’ll tell you: Pious. There are traces of its piss everywhere, the pompous thing! You know I had to call it Pious. It’s the way it looks at you.”
And it’s true—in its eyes, all of Pious’ defenses crumble. Bibi is a collector of luminous things. It’s the same way they collected me when I stood outside in the rain, looking for shed, ultimately deciding that there was no shelter or shade. They came to me, offered me their jacket, brought me home.
It’s Sunday and Kinkerstraat is consumed by a gentle silence that beckons, invites you to rest with it. On the third floor, Bibi has their sewing machine, with spools and spools of colourful thread strewn all over. There’s a hidden staircase that leads to the rooftop, where there is a grill, some bottles of wine and other old things.
On Sundays, we try on their dresses and sing. Sometimes Bibi’s neighbour joins in with a violin that sounds as though it comes from an innermost place, the faint sounds mixing with Bibi’s voice and my humming, which Bibi calls a “disaster.” We sing because we’re free.
We sing O Holy Night, because have you ever really witnessed the holiness of night? If you aren’t awestruck and bowing at its magnificence, then look again. And bow down. And when it’s time for the final song, when our heads and the smell of our breaths are heavy with wine, Bibi sings You Are Too Precious with a striking staccato.
While I thought about crafting this, I reached a point of exasperation, felt an intuitive envy for those who don’t constantly have to explain themselves. I recoiled at the idea of writing an intellectual monologue to prove why and how we exist.
I once tried to explain to someone who I’d seen tear down other walls forcefully. The way they had thrown in words like “confused” and “American academia” had broken my heart. Now I have learned to be even softer.
It’s the only way some of us can survive.
People always want to be convinced that a human can take many forms, as though there is anything new. The whole world is full of newness, which isn’t really newness—just cycles, loops and repetitions, although our perceptions are limiting. We see someone who persists in a different reality than us, we quickly turn away.
When we were out protesting on the streets, I had insisted on celebration, claimed it was my only role to play. At that time I was listening to Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt and that was when I decided that they—he and his team— invented celebration. They celebrated dog-years—which no one at the time was celebrating. I wrote in my journal that “Rockefeller means to celebrate.”
If I have to do anything at all, I want to invent celebration, too. If I have to be anything at all, I want to be a portal through which people can step into celebration, or at least something that reminds people to seek the celebration in themselves.
I want to write to us; not to those who have refused to see us, those who insist we’re attention-hungry hybrids of nothing. I want to write to Bibi, and to all of us like Bibi, who are learning every day to love and accept every bit of ourselves, who have had to do the painful work of unraveling binaries, making them come completely undone, before we could even start to see our true faces.
photographs by Ananta from //studies in luminousity//