Interview with ‘Queer Bodies’ panelist Hengameh Yaghoobifarah

In the run-up to the panel discussion Queer Bodies on February 15th, I was asked to devise a few questions to the panelists. These interviews aim to further contextualise the upcoming panel discussion. It is important to keep in mind that the discussion is not simply about queerness, but queerness in black and brown bodies and contexts; queerness in relation to non-Western diasporas and histories.

Questions with Hengameh Yaghoobifarah:

Can you tell us a bit about your practice and how queerness comes into it?


I am a journalist, an editor, and a blogger. This means I have a lot of responsibility when it comes to creating narratives and choosing language to describe something. Being  non-binary and queer myself, I try to break the binary of the German language which is the one I work with the most (since I live in Berlin). It is also a matter of representation: Since 2014, I’ve been running a style-blog called “Queer Vanity“ where I portray people who do not fit into normative beauty standards. Most of them are queer in a LGBTQIA-sense, others are queer in a broader sense.

 

Who are your favourite queer artists of colour of the moment?

I love the performance-duo DarkMatter, the musician Zhala, the performance-artist Travis Alabanza, the illustrator Rudy Loewe, the writer Tyler Ford and the sound-artists Neda Sanai.

 

What does ‘queer bodies’ means to you? Or, to be more specific, how can bodies be queer and how can queerness be embodied?

This is where I would apply “queer” in a broader sense, queer as in striking against beauty standards such as heteronormativity, cisnormativity, whiteness, being thin, being able-bodied, looking “proper“/middle-class. I do not believe in a queer aesthetic that only applies to queer folks and that all queer folks embody, I think this is very lookist and excludes mainly BIPoC* , disabled folks, fat folks and working-class people. I also think that the queerness of a body can shift depending on the space and/or geographies.

Obviously what we now call queerness has always existed around the world, in the histories of POC in the global South so we cannot say, for example, that homosexuality is a Western import. Can we say though, that this way of naming is a Western import and invention? Are there problems with taking on terms birthed from a Western history of sexuality?

I agree, queerness is not Western, the term however is. My heritage is South-West Asian and the people I know there do not use the term “queer“ unless they use Western media a lot. Otherwise, they have their own vocabulary that me as a diasporic person has no access to. I guess what is mostly Western about it, is the urge to define sexuality and gender so eagerly and so specifically.

 

How important do you think it is to excavate and make known previous ways of naming, like ‘mahu’ or ‘two-spirit’, and the different ways queerness existed? Could you elaborate on the necessity of teaching children, especially queer children of these colourful queer histories?

I think it is important to use “our” own vocabulary as well to show how diverse queerness is around the world and to expose Western ideas about being queer. If children grow up with these histories, they will be less likely to internalize white supremacy and the Western norm of what queerness is or is not. It will also create a less toxic environment for children who identify as queer.

 

What are the best avenues of accessing this colourful queer history?

I think part of it is also to decolonize (nuclear) family and to spread queerness as parts of our heritages amongst many generations. Which is quite a challenge, considering I have a lot of conservative Muslim relatives.

*BIPoC: Black, Indigenous People of Colour