With January comes a deeply-felt exhale of new beginnings, reflections, and rituals. maya finoh speaks to us this month about their own rituals for feeling comforted by + in communion with their ancestors, consciousness-raising practices within their different types of work (cultural worker, model, advocate, and educator), and the defiant act of being joyful as a fat Black queer non-binary person. Thank you, maya. <3
Hello maya– we are thrilled to be connecting with you this month. It’s January, which means we’re reflecting on the year that has come and gone and the months ahead that will also come and go in their own time. What rituals or practices do you incorporate into this time of year to usher in this period of new beginnings and transition?
This time of year always makes me feel like I need to move very intentionally. I see January as the setting in of the winter season, when so many animals hibernate and plants lay dormant until they revive in the springtime. Winter is a necessary part of the cycle of death/rebirth so I’m trying to listen to the lessons that nature exemplifies and slow down drastically this January by not taking on too much work. This is the time to prioritize rest and marinate in your creativity so that you’re replenished and ready to explore your ideas by springtime.
In addition to slowing down, I also love the “turning of a new page” energy that January has. A lot of my annual rituals in this season happen around New Year’s Eve, which for me means usually having some combination of black-eyed peas, cornbread, and collard greens or offering some libations to my ancestors who come out of Sierra Leone. I also try to have 1:1 meetings with friends that I haven’t been able to connect with recently during this time period too. I’m not too much of a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I do enjoy the practice of reflecting on the wisdom I gained from the year that has passed and calling for more things to enter my life that bring me pleasure and encourage me to sharpen my political analysis.
The holidays can be a challenging (or at least complicated) time for many folks. We’ve found ourselves turning to community, blood-related or otherwise, year after year as a source of comfort, stability, and rejuvenation. Where do you turn when you’re searching for comfort?
If there’s anything that I’ve learned over these past few years, it’s that we really do need each other to both survive and ultimately thrive in this world. I don’t know how I would have made it through the start of the pandemic if it wasn’t for the support, kindness, and care that came from my community. When I’m searching for comfort, I have historically turned inward and isolated (I have a Scorpio moon haha) but I’m really working on the practice of reaching out to my close friendships now. I am also very grateful to have a partner who feels like home and a refuge from the stress/uncertainty of day-to-day life. Chosen family is really important to me—I think so many of the narratives around love prioritize romantic connections only so I’m really grateful for the intimacy I’ve been able to nurture within my friendships, especially with my Black queer and trans community.
You weave advocacy, education, and your modeling work together seamlessly on your social media platforms. We know all too well that nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems on Instagram, and many of us are now celebrating the authentic acknowledgment of life’s complex layers and intricacies. Can you tell us how your personal work and community work reflect and build upon one another?
I don’t really view my personal work and community work as two completely separate entities: all my work is interconnected and feeds into my values/beliefs. I identify as a cultural worker, which means that the advocacy, education, and modeling work I engage in is all in service of creating a revolutionary culture that leads us toward collective liberation from the systems of oppression that impact our lives (including but not limited to racial capitalism, anti-fatness, settler colonialism, imperialism, ableism, and cisheteropatriarchy).
The human rights advocacy I do is focused on being in coalition with folks who are also invested in reducing the harm of oppressive public policies both domestically and internationally. I always end up gravitating toward political education work in the movement spaces I’m in so any opportunity to facilitate consciousness-raising via social media, workshops, or writing is something I try to engage in. I also see my modeling as an embodiment of my fat liberationist politic because fat folks deserve to see evidence of themselves adorned and glorified in public life.
You seem to embody + exude JOY both for yourself and others. Have you always moved through the world this way? What is your ultimate pick-me-up for those slower days when joy doesn’t come easily?
I definitely haven’t always moved through the world this way, my joy is hard-fought and hard-won. Joy has been an active, defiant choice for me in the face of those everyday transgressions I experience as a fat Black queer non-binary person. I think those days when joy doesn’t come easily are moments when we should give ourselves the most grace. It’s impossible to feel joyous 24/7, especially when you’re living through an ongoing pandemic and are bearing witness to so many unprecedented global events like we all are at this moment in time. On those slower days, I try to let myself actually process and name out loud whatever I’m feeling whether it be sadness, grief, loneliness, etc. I’ll then watch something that allows me to zone out a bit like Love Island UK or read some poetry that reminds me that I’m not the first or only person in the world to feel whatever heartbreak I’m feeling. Laughing at Instagram memes/reels, singing around my apartment, and having a meal with loved ones are just a few of the other ways I pick myself up when joy is difficult to access.