I am writing to you whilst on a train to London Euston. It is 12.30am and I’m sitting here in a flimsy dress held together by an even flimsier rubber band that's clinging to my heaving chest. The chest in question is of course, covered in blood, sweat and rubbing alcohol. I’m on my way back from performing a piece at Centrala, an arts space in Birmingham run by the Polish Expats Association, as part of ‘Thinking Flesh’, a feminist live art performance evening responding to themes of corporeality and non-normative desires (apparently the piece went well, although we did get a complaint from a white woman named Linda).
I suppose now’s a bad a time as any to finally give you my notes on our interview which I’ve been putting off for an unreasonable amount of time. The reality is I was anxious about any potential social or professional ramifications that could result from my asinine honesty. Having already met you- you are so intelligent and charming- and we had such a wonderfully engaging conversation before, when it came to the interview I totally forgot about having any kind of filter and now I find myself going through 45 minutes of my own voice (a sound I find less tolerable than that of an anglegrinder) relay idiosyncratic rants and personal anecdotes that have the potential to get me in some seriously hot water.
But there’s something about sitting on this train, bloodied and alone, that’s making me realise that it’s useless now to try and practice decorum.
Developing this piece got me thinking about how we censor and self-censor our primal impulses and the disturbing, erotic, and compelling art that can develop from those impulses. We often do not see this work through, for fear of humiliation or persecution. I am slowly coming to believe that it’s this kind of visceral, imperfect and corrosive work that has the power to speak to the most hidden parts of one’s soul. It’s the kind of work that we can connect to on a primitive level; that can interrogate our fast-held ideologies and prejudices, suggest new and radical ways of being together and even alter our perception of what it means to be human.
It is this sort of work, this sort of honesty, that endangers the lives and livelihoods of artists, activists and writers that dare speak truth to power back home in the Middle East. It’s because of this sort of work, alongside my curatorial practice which pushes this sort of work from queer and marginalised artists, that I have found myself under threat of persecution should I continue to live and work in the region that I am from.
I knew it was going to happen, sooner or later. This looming threat has caused me to question what it means to be honest in my work. In my adulthood, I have felt that I must suppress my primal impulses and intellectualise my desires. This has translated into my creative life as well; I have chosen to eschew my own relationship to pain in favour of an epistemological study of the ‘othered’ body in pain. While this research is close to my heart and a tricky, often gut-wrenching territory to wade into, I never experienced the catharsis that can only come with making autobiographical work. This catharsis is precluded by a terrifying realisation that vulnerability might not mean what I think it means, that kindness might not materialise in the form of an endless river when I am dying of thirst. That I might begin to speak and be silenced, and be silenced again, and be driven out of town. That I may begin to love and be silenced, and be driven out of sight. I still speak, although I sometimes wonder if anyone is listening. I still love, although the way I love has been branded deviant. I still exist, although there are those who so desperately want me to disappear. I speak. I love. I exist.
How can we make great art, how can we bridge ideological gaps, how can we make thoughtful, critical social progress, if we cannot love openly? Love is such a rare, precious thing, so difficult to find, even harder to maintain, how can any government, any religion, any ideology dare to quell or stop or criminalise it?
I hate slogans. I hate parades even more. For all intents and purposes, there is nothing for me to revel in this Pride season. Sitting here in limbo between two cities, London and Beirut, I can't tell which is worse; the corporate-backed neoliberal nightmare pastiche of what once was a riot led by trans women of colour, now spearheaded by opportunist brand ambassadors and transphobic ‘radical feminists’, or an entire community being forced into hiding by a mafioso government that outlaws any form of sexual expression short of machismo?
What a time to be alive.
This is why platforms like yours, and projects like Thinking Flesh, are so important. They create space for our difficult, raw, imperfect narratives to be heard uncensored, without an agenda to sensationalise, demonise or exploit us. They give us the opportunity to fess up, fuck up and still be regarded as human. Thank you for sharing your spaces with me.
My interview with Queer Narratives Beirut can be found at http://www.queernarrativesbeirut.com/episode-9brart
Thinking Flesh is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting sensory experience through a queer and feminist lens. https://www.thinkingflesh.com/