UPDATE: Dr. Herukhuti will be guest editing a special issue of the Journal of Bisexuality on the life and work of Shaykh Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé. For more information, please visit the journal’s website here.
To those who wondered why we’ve been silent the last several weeks, this will shed some light on that silence:
“February 09, 2016. This morning at 12:03 am, our dear shaykh and guide Ibrahim Baba returned to his Beloved Friend,” I read the note posted on the website from his wife, Katherin, as I awoke and I felt breath leave me. Ibrahim was the second mentor I had who transitioned to ancestry (the phrase I use to describe what other people call death or passing away) from a heart attack.
Both Black men, Sufis living on different coasts of the United States, living very different lifestyles and yet they both represented the inequities in the life expectancies of Black men in the United States. In 2000, Genghis Nor, a Jazz musician and educator, transitioned when he was in his mid 50s. On February 9th, 2016, Shaykh Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé, religious scholar and educator, bisexual social justice activist, and cultural worker made it to his early 60s before transitioning home (For more information on the state of health for bisexuals, visit the Bisexual Health Awareness Month website).
It was around 2000, that I first became aware of Ibrahim’s work. In the anthology, Male Lust: Pleasure, Power, and Transformation edited by Kerwin Kay, Jill Nagle, and Baruch Gould, I read the title of Ibrahim’s chapter, “Holy Fuck,” and found a kindred spirit. Published under his previous name, Elias Farajajé-Jones, Ibrahim wrote,
“Part of our colonized mentality has made us queers think that if we deny and trivialize the centrality of sex in our lives, in our (s)experiences, in our creativity, in our thoughts, in our dreams, in our interactions, then we will be more acceptable to the dominating culture. Erotophobia leads us to trivialize all that is just too blatantly erotic, too “flamboyantly” sexual, precisely because of the power of the erotic.”
I would put his idea that decolonization “begins with the physical/spiritual/psychological process of making our bodies and our desire our own” into practice in my own work as a sex radical and educator by offering workshops to help people own their bodies and desires. I hosted sex parties, erotic wrestling events, massage circles and sensual nude yoga classes to advance a liberation fueled by the erotic as power.
When it was time to choose a member from the scholarly community as an outside member of my dissertation committee, I contacted Ibrahim and he graciously accepted my invitation. I chuckled when the faculty on my committee remarked at how erudite his feedback was. By that time, our relationship had progressed enough for me to know what most people who Ibrahim knew about him—he was a polymath who vociferously read and spoke in about seven languages. Damn right he was erudite.
And he was a freak. Before locs were Afro-chic and Black LGBTQ lives mattered in the mainstream activist circles, he wore his hair locked, taught divinity students how to engage in HIV ministry and was a founding member and faculty advisor to Howard University’s LGBT group Oshala back in the 1990s. He proudly identified himself as tattooed, pierced kink practitioner. He embraced multi-religiosity when it could get you fired and deemed a heretic and before doing so could get you an appearance on Soul Sundays with Oprah.
But there are costs to being a freak. When members of the New York City Police Department choked Eric Garner to death in 2014 as he exclaimed, “I can’t breathe,” I thought of Ibrahim. He was, like me, an asthmatic. Although I developed asthma as an adult, I, like Ibrahim, had come to know the horror associated with the inability to catch the life-sustaining element of air with our lungs. Public lynchings, whether through chokeholds or bullets, like those experienced by the many Black women, men and children whose names we’ve come to know over the decades pull us into the streets to scream and affirm Black lives matter.
They also obscure the daily, pernicious brutality of white supremacy that strips years, decades away from us and the time we could share with our loved ones because of the impact that constant brutality has upon our bodies. I’m speaking of the low-grade fever type of white supremacy with which we all live that eats away at our bodies and spirits, even though our souls are so strong, vibrant and brilliant. It is this too that enrages me, this that makes Ibrahim’s words about “physical/spiritual/psychological process of making our bodies…our own” so poignant.
As mentor-mentee and friends, Ibrahim and I shared our personal experiences of the daily costs of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. I could not cry that in the first 24 hours after learning of his transitioning. Rage filled me before tears could come because I remembered what he shared with me of those costs. I connected to the heartbreaks from professional attacks and monosexist marginalization he experienced over decades because he wasn’t Muslim enough, Unitarian Universalist enough, publishing enough, Black enough, monogamist enough, queer enough, etc. for someone with power.
In an experimental essay, “fictions of purity,” that I had the honor of editing and publishing in Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men with Robyn Ochs, Ibrahim wrote,
“In cultures that prioritize either/or thinking, either/or monolithic/oppositional definitions of sexualities/genders, in an either/or world, anything that occupies a liminal, an intersectional, an interstitial location is seen as a threat. Whether it be in terms of racial/ethnic mixities, religious mixities, etc. those who inhabit interstitial spaces, those who move between worlds, those who are literally fringe-dwellers, are seen as the ultimate threat.”
We all know what societies like ours do to threats. We criminalize, prosecute and incarcerate them. We discredit and marginalize them. We invisibilize and forget them. That is why I will continue to say the names of those Black folks whose lives have been cut short by racism and brutality of all forms. To one of the latest, Ibrahim Baba, peace and love. I know your spirit and work will live on.