“Forget everything. Know nothing. Step... “
— Barry McQuinn (1961–2020)
Amir Mohammad Nazzim was born in a hurry. He was also born nervous.
Amir’s parents, Nasrene and Arif Nazzim, had both been born and raised in Damascus, Syria, but their academic careers had given rise to an opportunity for them to relocate to Paris in the early ‘70s.
Nasrene, the practical half of the couple, had followed her passion for structure and precision into the field of architecture, while Arif, ever the dreamer, had given his life to the study of philosophy. When Sorbonne Université offered both Nasrene and Arif positions on their faculty staff they jumped at the opportunity and relocated their lives to Paris permanently.
Amir’s older brother, Fahad, had been born prior to the leaving Syria, and Nasrene had fallen pregnant with Amir at around the mid-point of their two-day train journey from Damascus to Paris.
Upon arriving in France, the young Nazzim family had been excited to explore their newly adopted country. While a day trip to Versailles some eight months after their arrival had initially sounded like a stimulating outing for both Nasrene and Arif, though for vastly differing reasons, when Nasrene went into labor while walking the Hall of Mirrors things had quickly gone awry. Having been in labor for more than ten hours before delivering Fahad, Nasrene expected it would be many hours before their new addition would actually arrive, so they’d casually flagged down a taxi outside the palace and advised the driver to return to Paris at a gentle pace.
Not less than twenty minutes later, however, Amir’s distorted head had appeared between Nasrene’s thighs, much to Arif’s shock and horror. The nervous taxi driver, upon hearing the increasingly hysterical screams coming from the back seat of his vehicle, had decided that the best course of action was to speed as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital without so much as stopping at red lights or stop signs. Actually having a baby delivered in the back seat of his vehicle was something he’d never dreamed in a million years would ever happen on his watch. Pleasingly for the Nazzims, the outcome was a healthy addition to their family, with the main casualty of the day being the traumatized taxi driver’s descent into intractable insomnia and a mild but persistent case of PTSD.
Amir was a restless baby, prone to sleepless nights; a habit that persisted into adulthood. Amir also quickly demonstrated a degree of nervousness that seemed vastly out of proportion for an infant in a stable, safe home environment. Little Amir’s nervousness mostly manifest as a state of hyper-alertness, and a disarming tendency to stare at the world with extraordinarily wide eyes. It appeared that Amir had somehow inherited the imperative to incessantly scan his environment for possible threats to his well-being and safety, and that this unnerving tendency seemed to rarely, if ever, take a break.
Amir was small as an infant and toddler, with fragile limbs, translucent skin, jet black eyes, and abundant wavy black hair. When puberty arrived, however, Amir grew precipitously, and he plateaued out at an average height. Throughout his adult life Amir maintained a frail appearance, though his constitution was decidedly robust. When this was combined with his passion for long distance running and strenuous exercise of any kind, it meant Amir was never a sickly child or teenager. In fact, his immune system was one thing about Amir that was far above average.
Amir and Fahad were close as children despite displaying opposing temperaments. Perhaps it was the family’s isolation from their country of origin and their extended network of family and friends that necessitated the close brotherly bond, both for security and practicality’s sake. Nasrene and Arif were never concerned for the safety of their offspring in Paris after their own upbringing in Syria, however, and the boys were given free-reign from a young age to play and explore the Saint-Germain-des-Prés region of the city—close to the Sorbonne—where the Nazzims had taken up residence.
Amir’s experience of school was generally a positive one. He had a quick mind and was able to absorb and retain facts effortlessly. His strengths were history, geography, languages, and literature. In fact, it turned out that Amir was one of those rare humans who had inherited positive traits from each of his parents: avaricious assimilation of facts and structure from his mother; fluid emotionality and open-minded creativity from his father. His teachers loved having Amir in their classes because he was always intensely interested in the knowledge they had to impart, and they were constantly kept on their toes by Amir’s probing questions; ‘inquisitive’ was a descriptor that came up frequently when Amir’s teachers got together to evaluate the progress of their students.
It was on commencing secondary school that Amir first started to notice his physical attraction to other boys. Amir was worldly enough to know not to make this attraction known to the world around him, but by the time he turned twelve it was clear to Amir that he was gay. While doubt and indecision were fundamental issues that arose daily for Amir around many aspects of his life, his sexuality was one thing that Amir never once had any doubt about.
Throughout his four years of collège, Amir was happy keeping his sexual desires and attractions in the fantasy realm. On transferring to lycée when he was fifteen, however, Amir was excited to discover that there were several openly gay students at his new school which somehow gave him permission to start exploring his homosexuality more openly. Throughout the three years leading to his baccalauréat general Amir developed a close, intimate, friendship with Victor—a Parisian native who shared both Amir’s inquisitive and doubting nature, as well as his thick, wavy black hair. To most observers, Amir and Victor were merely friends. What started out as a study partnership, however, quickly progressed to a kissing partnership, then a masturbating partnership, and finally to a fully-fledged sexual partnership.
Victor was an introvert, like Amir, with a clear focus on acquiring knowledge, but Victor also possessed a confidence—bordering on arrogance—that Amir was attracted to as it was quite foreign to him. This confidence, especially in the sexual arena, was what Amir was most drawn to in Victor, and in future years and relationships Amir often found himself comparing his partners to his first teenage love.
When it came time for Amir to attend university, it was natural for him to attend La Sorbonne, with his major subjects being a mix of literature and philosophy; by this time Amir’s intellectual interests had become significantly more aligned with his father’s than with his mother’s. In fact, Amir had found himself growing more and more distant from his mother, and progressively closer to his father through his teens. Throughout the ‘80s living in Paris, Nasrene had become progressively tighter and more judgmental, while Arif had become progressively more relaxed and content, showing little incentive to do anything other than the absolute minimum required of him in any situation. In the lecture theatre, however, Arif fully came to life and into his element, and Amir, along with most of the students in his philosophy class, loved attending his father’s lectures.
Through the four years of his undergraduate degree Amir had his heart broken twice. The first was affected by Rick Harris—a loud-mouthed, hard-drinking, fun-loving American from Pennsylvania. Rick’s parents worked for the United Nations, and they’d been posted to UNESCO in Paris for three years in the early ‘90s. Rick had decided to join them there.
Rick proceeded to open Amir’s eyes to an arena of life previously unknown to him—partying. For six months Amir took up smoking, though he quickly dropped the habit once the affair with Rick ended; a clear knowing of the harmful effects on his health and well-being over-riding the temporary head-spinning high of sucking on the ubiquitous Galoises. For six months Amir drank excess amounts of red wine daily, and regularly awoke in unknown locations with a head-splitting hangover and variable degrees of amnesia. For six months Amir opened to having sex with more than one partner at a time, and he was delighted to discover the freedom and abandon that accompanied participating in orgies whilst under the influence of various smoked and ingested substances, though again after the affair with Rick, Amir was completely uninterested in participating in orgies or taking drugs ever again.
It was the early ‘90s in Paris and being gay was rapidly becoming both more socially acceptable as well as significantly more exciting than it had been in the preceding decades. Gay bars, nightclubs, sex venues, and saunas were springing up all over the city, and it appeared that Rick was more intent on gaining a degree in present-day Parisian gay culture than in his nominally enrolled Sorbonne course of economics and marketing.
Both Rick and Amir had started to hear rumors about the gay plague—AIDS—that was taking hold in the US during this time, but despite this the six-month period that Amir dated Rick had opened his eyes wide to the full smorgasbord of hedonism that was available in Paris at the time. When it was over, however, Amir felt no desire or need to continue giving his energy to such pursuits, and his life happily became quiet and simple once more.
Amir’s second heartbreak came as much more of a surprise.
In the wake of his breakup from Rick, Amir found himself being consoled regularly by his closest university girlfriend, Danni Gerroux. Danni was extremely bright intellectually, but she was also of Amazonian proportions physically, with voluminous dark auburn hair, a strong muscular body, and sultry dark brown eyes.
Danni was someone who was deeply and intimately in touch with both her feminine and masculine sides, described herself as bisexual, and was a keen student of Tantric Yoga. Amir found Danni’s natural strength combined with her vulnerable tenderness to be captivating. At about the same time as Amir’s breakup, Danni had become heavily involved with a Goddess worship group, and she excitedly shared this new aspect of her life with her best friend.
Finding himself spending more and more time with Danni, Amir slowly had to admit that he loved Danni more than would be expected for a platonic friendship, and in fact he found himself daydreaming about her when they weren’t together. Amir also found that something inside him was aroused by Danni’s physical presence, and he started to wonder if he could love Danni more intimately; for the first time in his life Amir found himself doubting his sexuality after all.
The pair would walk together along the banks of the Seine for hours, often late at night or in the early hours of the morning, deeply engrossed in conversations about love, truth, justice, morals, God . . . and Goddess. Amir was clearly infatuated with Danni’s mind, and after a startlingly frank conversation about it, they both decided to explore the possibility of Amir also falling in love with Danni’s body.
In the spirit of adventure, and of exploring new territory and new experiences, Amir and Danni planned a sacred container for them to come together sexually. The location was chosen—Danni’s apartment—and prepared with candles, incense, and soothing background music. The preparation continued with a brew of tea made from psilocybin—magic mushrooms—which they shared stoically in silence. The young couple then engaged in a strenuous hour-long session of couples’ yoga and pranayama lead by Danni, finishing with fifteen minutes of gazing silently into each other’s eyes at close range while they gently cupped the other’s genitals in their hands.
By this time the mind-expanding effect of the magic mushrooms was well and truly in play, and Danni invited the Goddess to enter her body. Goddess-Danni then took control of the situation, erotically arousing Amir, and it wasn’t long before she was guiding Amir’s lingum inside her yoni. Time quickly melted away as they surrendered into the pleasure of the chemically enhanced encounter, and they copulated into the wee hours of the morning.
In the aftermath of their sacred erotic meeting, however, Amir found himself feeling anxious, even paranoid at times, for no obvious reason. He withdrew his energy and presence from his friendship with Danni as he tried to make sense of what was he was feeling. In truth, it was the ingestion of the psilocybin and not the out-of-character sexual pairing that was responsible for triggered a previously latent pathological anxiety trait in Amir. The anxiety took years—not to mention many hours of intense psychotherapy sessions as well as some potent anxiolytic medication—to finally come under control. Danni wasn’t at all impressed with Amir’s reaction to their lovemaking, however, and she quickly switched the focus of her love and affection from Amir to the next available adoring person in her proximity—her new English roommate, Sandra Dixon.
It was only months later, upon seeing Danni on campus later in the summer, that Amir even discovered that Danni was pregnant. Their eyes locked for a moment across a stretch of empty pavement, and time briefly came to a standstill. In the moment of silent meeting, Danni made it clear energetically that she wanted nothing to do with Amir, and the subject of her impending child’s paternity was never broached. Danni swiveled her gaze back to Sandra, and simply moved on with her life. This was the last time Amir ever saw or heard anything from Danni.
Amir’s heart was broken, not so much by Danni’s rebuttal of his friendship, but by the exclusion from any possible relationship with their biological child; he knew in his bones that the pregnancy had resulted from their ritualized mating session. Amid the heart break and grief he now experienced, however, Amir was surprised to find a beam of hope and joy radiating from the depths of himself. It was as if something had suddenly and mysteriously been awoken in him by the experience of the grief and pain of the loss, and it progressively came to life within him. Amir felt an unfamiliar excitement as he started to explore what this could mean for his life.
In the wake of his affair with Danni, and upon finished his undergraduate degree at the Sorbonne, Amir decided it was time to move away from Paris, and from the possibility of a painful estranged relationship with Danni and their offspring.
While most of American culture held little interest for Amir, he had been intrigued by the life and energy he sensed existed in New Orleans from the youngest age. Something about the mixed history of the Créole culture, and their celebration of life through music, dance, art, and food drew Amir to apply for a master’s degree in fine arts/poetry at Loyola University New Orleans.
Speaking fluent French as well as English made the transition to his new home quite smooth for Amir, and his brown skin meant that he was well-received by the colored residents of the city. It was this same skin color, however, that Amir quickly realized was the source of much projected fear and hatred by the fairer skinned residents of Louisiana in particular, and America in general.
In Paris, Amir had never been subject to discrimination based on race or skin color, having easily found himself fitting in to the melting pot of life and ethnicities in the France’s exotic capitol. Now, in the deep south of American, Amir found that something he had no control over—the color of his skin—could get him rejected, abused, injured, or even killed. The anxiety that had arisen after his magic mushroom experience with Danni now reappeared, and for a period the fear of racial vilification in New Orleans lead Amir into some dark places psychologically.
While he enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of the courses he threw himself gratefully into at Loyola, Amir concomitantly became more introverted and withdrawn, and for a number of months he found himself in the strangling grip of a deep depression.
Pleasingly, as the years unfolded for Amir in New Orleans, he discovered that he was welcomed and even celebrated by the Créole folk of the city, and he allowed himself to start enjoying the cultural life and diversity he found there. The main turn in his fortune, however, happened when the University councilor referred Amir to see a psychotherapist, Bonnie Grainger, about his intractable anxiety and depression.
It only took Bonnie a few minutes to recognize Amir’s core issue: his overactive, fearful mind. She deftly reflected what she saw back to Amir and suggested that he would benefit from hypnotherapy as a way of bypassing his neurotic thinking, and to access the deeper intelligence and love of his subconscious mind. He agreed without hesitation, and together they journeyed into Amir’s subconscious on many occasions with great success.
A few months into his therapy, Bonnie introduced Amir to the idea of spiritual awakening—something Bonnie was passionate about herself, and finally the penny dropped for Amir what this ray of hope that had been activated by his grief and loss back in Paris actually was. Yes, he finally admitted, there was something calling for his attention that his mind could not even begin to understand, but which some part of Amir knew was the most important thing in his life to date. Spirituality was the thing which would finally give Amir’s life meaning and purpose.
Putting his active mind to good use, Amir immediately started researching spirituality, and he was surprised to discover that his own family’s traditional religion, Islam, had an esoteric branch that appealed to him in some cellular-level way. As soon as Amir started to read about Sufism he was transfixed. “This is it!! I’m sure this is the answer to all my questions.”
Amir found a small group of Sufis who met in a far-flung suburb of Baton Rouge on a weekly basis, and in finding them he realized he’d finally found his community in this country. The group included people from widely varying ethnic groups, educational levels, and skin colors, but more importantly, the various practices that they engaged in were a strong support for Amir to be less invested in his neurotic thinking, more in his body, and more at peace with himself and the world around him.
When his master’s degree at Loyola finished after two years, Amir was curious what was next for him career-wise, but he didn’t much care. He took a low paying role in a retail clothing store in the French Quarter, continued his weekly Sufi practice meetings and daily meditation practices, and had a couple of short affairs with some gay men he met at neighborhood gay bars. While he wasn’t making much money or making much of his life on the material level, life felt simple, and Amir found himself becoming quieter, and most definitely happier and more fulfilled than he’d ever felt in his life to date.
This period of simplicity of life for Amir lasted for almost a decade, then he suddenly found himself wanting to return to his intellectual pursuits, and to the academic world once more. By this time Amir had become much more flexible and capable of navigating the complicated racial issues that abounded in America, but the World Trade Centre bombings in 2001 had created a huge upswing in antimuslim sentiment in the country that had brought with it another layer of discrimination for Amir to deal with. The only way Amir found to cope with this was for him to keep his head down, to keep out of trouble, and to try not to ruffle any feathers unnecessarily.
The thing that was re-awakened in Amir during this period was his interest in politics and justice. To this end he applied to undertake a PhD in political science at New Eden University. It was against all his security instincts and survival strategies to move to New Eden, but Amir found himself drawn inexorably to the heart of the city that had been so painfully impacted by the 2001 terrorist bombings.
The move to New Eden was not an easy one for Amir. He found it virtually impossible to find any work in the city other than menial tasks of washing dishes and scrubbing floors. He was also confronted by discrimination at every turn that limited his housing options. In the end, he took a room at a men’s shelter run by a Middle Eastern family in the outer reaches of Brooklyn. As his first month in the New Eden ended, he reflected that life was no fun at all, and he started to consider returning to Paris to live.
The year was 2006, and Amir had been following the teachings of an American woman, Evelyn Bourne, with some interest since he’d been introduced to her by his therapist, Bonnie, in New Orleans. Evelyn Bourne had a simple invitation: to discover true freedom and liberation simply by stopping everything, just for a moment. Amir was already in touch with a depth of peace within himself through his own spiritual practices over the past decade, but he was strongly drawn to the simplicity of Evelyn Bourne’s teachings, and he was keen meet her.
When a 3-day retreat in New Eden was announced for October, Amir signed up without hesitation. It was during the first meeting of the retreat that Amir and I met, and the rest, as they say, is history. We shared an incredible moment of communion during a repeating question together, followed by a never-ending lunch. I then invited Amir to visit Bernard’s Bookstore where I introduced him to Bernard, Adam, Mrs. Chu, and William, and to his future life,
Amir and I fell deeply in love in the blink of an eye; it was like we’d both been waiting for this meeting our whole lives. The foundation of our relationship, from the very beginning, was one of absolute truth, absolute honesty, and the unreserved support for each other’s awakening, freedom, and happiness.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, with a position opening up for a part-time manager at Bernard’s Bookstore that needed to be filled, and which Amir was perfectly qualified for. Also, the studio apartment at the back of the bookstore was to become available now that Bernard and Adam were moving into my freshly renovated and vacated third-floor apartment soon after the fire.
A couple of years later Amir moved into our East Village apartment, though he continued to work at the bookstore, never wanting to leave the nourishing environment Amir felt whenever he was there. He had found his lover, his home, and his chosen family—his ‘chamily’—and Amir was beyond happy with how his life was turning out.
The other relationship that Amir now developed, and which he cherished deeply as it evolved, was with Mrs. Chu.
Lola Chu was one of the most innately political humans Amir had ever met, and he would sit for hours listening to her expound her views on just about anything. Amir possessed a strong political viewpoint himself, but in Mrs. Chu he found someone who not only echoed all his beliefs, but who was also driven and energized enough to go out into the world and make change happen.
Correspondingly, it was Amir who was one of the main influences on Mrs. Chu’s decision to run for Congress again in 2014. Amir took on the role of her campaign manager, and no one was more excited than Amir when she won in a landslide, paving the way for Lola‘s voice to be heard in Washington. Amir continued to be Mrs. Chu’s primary staffer throughout this period, and one day he reflected how excited and happy he was that a gay Syrian was walking the halls of the Capitol building, supporting a Chinese American woman as she defiantly shook things up for the right-wing establishment.
And so, Amir’s story now also arrives at the intersection point of all our stories: July 4th, 2020.
Amir is particularly excited tonight as his third book of poetry has just been accepted for publication by one of New Eden’s most respected independent publishing houses, and little-by-little he is making a name for himself in the worldwide gay-fiction writing community.
The COVID-19 lockdown over the past three months had passed by with little concern for Amir, although two of his close friends had lost relatives to the disease, and his lifelong companion, anxiety, had reared its ugly head once more as the infection and death rates had climbed precipitously all around him. Luckily, Amir now has many tools in his armamentarium for dealing with the troubling symptoms of his anxiety, and he happily extended his daily meditation practice during the lockdown period.
This evening Amir is also excited as the Eco-Vigilante Action Group is finally meeting again after a COVID-enforced hiatus, with the hot topic to be tabled tonight that of their next target: the dastardly right-wing sociopath, Ken Abercrombie. Mrs. Chu has been riling against Ken Abercrombie and his ego-fueled political ambition for years, and Amir is very happy that the time has finally come for him to be taken down a peg or two.
With this being election year, and the announcement of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates currently being finalized and made, Amir finds himself daydreaming about America possibly being moved politically towards something more humanistic, inclusive, and peace-loving. At present, Amir is the only other person privy to Mrs. Chu’s secret news of being asked to be James Brody’s vice-presidential running mate. He’s so excited by the news, and easily pictures himself spending time in the White House in the coming years . . .