words Jesse Charif

photography Tarek Moukaddem

artwork Karl Moubarak and Thalia Bassim

Looking back, I don't remember exactly what I meant by this, or what it is that had triggered such a religious, almost conservative statement on the pages of my diary. But I believed in it so strongly at the time that I wrote it. To be honest, I still do. For one to allow anything to happen, I am convinced that there needs to be faith. There needs to be prayer. One needs to believe.

But believe in what? I ask such a question not because I'm searching for something to believe in myself. I ask it because I'm desperately curious as to how different people find their different objects of faith. How does one get to the sacred? What is your personal Jesus?

For this, I turn to theory. In the blissfully bizarre world of psychoanalysis, the notion of the fetish has been theorized time and time again and has been crucial in thinking up psychosexual life. The fetish is important here because it is meant to perform one crucial task: to compensate for a lacking. It is the substitute for something misplaced, gone; it fills a mysterious gulf left by an ancient anxiety—one accompanying a dark, abyssal loss. It makes up for something we (think we) once had. It's nostalgic, romantic. Even if monstrously so.

In many ways, the fetish is a religion; it is a sexual and spiritual obligation. Through it, we make tangible the unknown. It is therefore at once phantasmic and real. It is present and hidden from sight. It is an idol, a god. 

We swear by different fetishes every single day; we worship and service them through different rituals. They are inasmuch spiritual as they are bodily and embodied. We wear them in different colored silks and leathers. They are written in different languages, transmitted differently using various codes and signals. They come in different colors and textures. They satiate different needs, answer different questions. Fetishes touch, wrap, and cling to different parts of many bodies, in different parts of the world, at different times of day. They are celebrated in different rooms and spaces that vary in size, lighting, and function.

When we get together, we celebrate the fetish on hallowed grounds—it is more often a group activity. Our fetishes are sacred, they are precious. Through showing our love to them, we pray differently to different deities. On some occasions, we are ready to give our lives for them without a second's hesitation.

Since the fetish is so strongly linked to the notion of past-ness, it only makes sense that the notion of the future is a crucial constituent of the fetish itself. We need to realize that the fetish, then, is not just an echo from a past loss, but a totem bearing the etchings of a mystical futurity.

During traumatic or pivotal moments in our lives, the past and the future seem to intersect and birth the present moment. They place us in the here and now. The only sensible direction to move is always forward. It is a sacred ritual that one has to undertake. There is no turning around or taking a detour; there is no looking back. One has to declare their own death. One has to follow the signs and symbols; asking many questions but also absolutely none.

To move forward, I will go through the ritual, like an animal.

Jesse Charif is a Beirut-born queer artist and academic who has recently graduated with a research MA in Gender Studies from Universiteit Utrecht. Jesse has worked on the film Refugee's Welcome by Bruce LaBruce for Erika Lust, as well as Bliss Point by Robin Vogel in collaboration with Dutch TV broadcaster VPRO.


If you want the doors to open, you have to say a prayer. It has to be quiet and it has to be complacent. You have to believe.