time travelling brown bears: intergenerational interviews with two transmasculine femmes of color on healing justice

with raju rage and mîran n.

this kitchen table discussion between two trans masculine-femme brown bears (of color) models healing justice through non-academic personal/political narratives. this interview uses imaginative time travel dialogue as a tool for empowerment. mîran and raju talk to each other and their younger selves to create a transformative discussion about what it means to be us: trans people of color in a world full of struggle and survival. this project embodies healing justice as a way through oppression, for our current and younger trans of color selves.


Raju: I really like this idea of doing this actually-at-a-kitchen-table informal interview as a form of empowerment and healing. I had originally been suggested a similar idea by my therapist and was reluctant to do it in front of someone without the life experience to understand what it means to be trans and a survivor. But with you, I can’t think of a better person to do this with and I think the time is also right for this.

Mîran: First of all, I want to thank our friend Jin Haritaworn for connecting us with this publishing opportunity. I was having dinner with you, Raju, and told you about my spoken-word-piece- -which-is-still-not-done-and-god-knows-when-it-will-be, where I, as my adult self today, write a letter to my younger self. My therapist also suggested that I should work with my inner child, but I don’t know if I, as a queer, trans, working class, fat poc with health struggles, want to talk about such intimate things with my white, abled-bodied, upper class therapist. I'm glad we realized this was something we are both interested in and want to work on together.
Raju: Yeah, that makes sense. So often we don’t have places to really voice how we feel because we are told we are ‘crazy’, paranoid or too angry, so we just end up shutting up and sometimes even shut down. It can start to feel stressful and uncom-fortable to discuss the oppressions of being brown and trans, and so I like how this organically happened. I guess we have, from our many conversations before, shared our very similar backgrounds and upbringing, and so it makes sense that this would work for us as something that we would both find empowering and have both thought about. I see our conversations as a community collective therapy already anyway, and feel safe to discuss this with you. I feel it would be a great exercise for each of us personally, and hopefully, something that other (trans/ gender nonconforming) people of color of all ages could also get something from? I hope so. Plus, I like time travelling. ;)
Mîran: Speaking of silence and paranoia, I think paranoia often protects us. Since as queer/trans of color people, we don’t have many spaces in which we can safely exist, or just relax and be ourselves. We have to make compromises every day, just to survive. That’s why I think it’s important to see this interview as a space to share something that we would normally not be able to share, because we don’t have the privilege to find each other easily, because we don’t live on the same continent, borders separate us, we don’t have the finances and many other reasons... Let's begin!

Younger Mîran interviews Raju:

Mîran: So I would like to start with my younger self asking you questions about me today.
Younger Mîran: How do I look?
Raju: You are handsome, Mîran [adult Mîran laughs out], you always have good hair and you talk about it ALOT,haha, but you have the best hat collection even though you don’t need it. Over time I have seen you become more comfortable with yourself.
Younger Mîran: Why do you call me Mîran? Do I have long or short hair?
Raju: Your hair is short. Right now you shaved it and its growing out, but when it is a bit longer it looks really, really good. Your name is Mîran because you chose that name for yourself. I also chose my own name and it's different from my younger name.
Younger Mîran: That’s so cool! I always wanted short hair but my mother never allowed it. She said I wouldn’t look like a girl anymore. But I never really cared about looking like a girl or a boy. I don’t understand what she is talking about. And I like the name Mîran!
Raju: When I was younger I felt similar to you. I had shorter hair but never in the style I wanted it, and my parents always encouraged me to style it and make it feminine, especially as I got older, but I did have it short. When I was 18, I left home and I cut it real short and felt so good! When you are 20 you will also do that, you will shave your head, too!
Younger Mîran: I will? Wow!!! And where do I live?
Raju: You live in Berlin.
Younger Mîran: What?! Berlin? Really?
Raju: YES! And you live on your own in your own apartment. It's really nice and I have stayed there sometimes. There are pictures of you there that I have seen.
Younger Mîran: I’m cute, right? :-) Wow, my own place. I can’t believe that. I thought that I will always live in Remscheid, study here, and probably marry someone.
Raju: Well you have lived in Berlin for a few years.
Younger Mîran: Really?!! Wow! ...but, Raju, can I tell you something? But don’t tell my parents.
Raju: Of course.
Younger Mîran: Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable in my body or I imagine myself differently. Yesterday, I was playing soccer with boys and it was really warm out, so I unbuttoned my shirt like them and they yelled at me. I think I like air on my chest but I also wanna cover it sometimes. Also I like longer hair and I wanna put make up on, but not all the time. It’s confusing.
Raju: I felt similar when I was growing up. I also played with boys when I was younger, but I knew I was different in some way and was also confused about that. I was sure about being masculine, but knew I was born female. I felt comfortable being masculine and didn’t even really question it, but friends and family had an issue with it. I felt that I wanted to be in a male body if I could choose that, but knew I wasn’t, and I wasn’t like the other ‘tomboy’ girls who still wanted to be girls. I also liked being feminine when I was younger but wanted to be able to decide and choose and do it when and how I wanted to. So, I liked to be masculine and feminine but it took a while to realise that was ok. I think your gender will always affect other people, and other people always want you to be what they want you to be, and see what they want to see. The main thing is being comfortable in yourself. That's easy to say sometimes and in reality it is difficult when people make fun of you and tell you that you should look and act a certain way, and when there is also racism on top of that. I think those people are also struggling with their own gender. It may make it easier to realise that?
Younger Mîran: Thank you for saying that, Raju. I think that is the answer to my problem. I don’t have a problem with how I look or what I wear. Other people make me feel uncomfortable.
Raju: So Mîran, how old are you? Who are your role models that you look up to? Do you have any?
Younger Mîran: I am 12. My idols are Leyla Zana and Freddy Mercury. My uncle says we like Leyla Zana because she wants to free our people. I like how she talks, she has shorter hair and she is very strong. I like Freddy Mercury because my uncle listens to his music, and I like the makeup! And the outfits! Sometimes I wish I could wear leggings and tighter things but my mother tells me I’m too fat and it doesn't look good on me. She also says that we are migrants and attract attention anyway, so we should keep a low profile. Also, I like Prince, too.
Raju: People think it is important to fit in and not stand out. I think it is more important to be yourself. The role models you mention are also some of my role models too! And none of them seem to fit in to me, they all stand out and are very powerful people. Freddie Mercury is queer and also a person of color and not many people realise that. He has struggled with his identity, and then Prince always gets called gay because he is feminine and he just carries on being himself. Sometimes it's hard to be yourself because in some cases that may make it harder for you to survive. That might be why your parents say these things to you. It is hard for immigrants to survive. I was also an immigrant so I know how it feels. Tell me more about Leyla Zana as I don’t know who she is.
Younger Mîran: Leyla Zana is a Kurdish freedom fighter. She is very important and I think she is very strong. She was in prison a lot and she spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament, even though it was illegal, but she doesn’t give up. And I like her hair.
Raju: Leyla Zana sounds like a very good role model. Some people are bold and daring and have the strength to fight. Sometimes you don't always have that and that is also okay because it is a struggle. The older version of you is such a fighter!
Younger Mîran: Really?! So, what am I doing? I always wanted to be an artist.
Raju: You are doing many things. As I said, you are definitely a fighter. You stand up for your community and fight for their political issues. You are involved in a lot of anti-racist organising with other queer and trans people of color. Do you know what queer and trans are? You and I work together on projects, too. Oh, and I forgot to say you are a dancer!
Younger Mîran: I think I understand. Queer and trans are people like you are and what I wanna be? A dancer? Wow, I hate dancing! But actually I like it but I never dare to. But sounds good! And what are people of color?
Raju: Being of color and using that term is empowering for us. It means we identify ourselves instead of letting people tell us that we are scum and not worth anything just because we are not white and don’t look like we were born here in Europe. It is a very political term. Not everyone uses this term and may use other words to describe themselves in a similar way, but many people do. It makes us feel good about ourselves and means we discover things about ourselves that we may otherwise not.
Younger Mîran: And of color is probably people like us? Things are unfair for us. So the other students in my class are not of color.
Raju: Yes, exactly! It also means we can find each other and build community and a chosen family. I wish my younger self could meet you. I’m sure we would be friends, just like our older selves, because we have a lot in common. Actually, we call each other brothers now and we really take care of each other!
Younger Mîran: I would like to be your friend, there are lots of things I would like to know about you! You sound really nice and I always wanted a brother! Sounds like I’m going to look like I imagine and I even have friends! Now I’m really less scared of the future.

Now the adult Mîran interviews the younger Raju.

Mîran: Hey Raju! Tell me, how old are you?
Younger Raju: Are you talking to me? My name isn’t Raju. But I like that name. One of my cousins is called Raju, too. I am 7.
Mîran: Oh, excuse me! I forgot to tell you that you chose the name Raju for yourself, recently. Is it ok if I call you Raju now?
Younger Raju: Wow, I like it! I didn't know you could choose your own name. My parents called me a name that is very unusual and not many people here can pro-nounce it properly. They make it into an English name which I don't like, and people don't think I'm Indian because of it, so I like Raju.
Mîran: So, I’m Mîran and I am a friend of the adult person you are going to be in the future. Do you have any questions you want to ask me?
Younger Raju: Yes, I have so many questions!!!!! So, am I old? How old am I and what do I look like and what is my personality like and where do I live? And, and... how do I know you?
Mîran: Wow! So many questions! I will try to answer them all. So, you are 34 now and you are still based in London, but you lived in many other places like Vancouver and Berlin. Actually, you are going to fly to India very soon. Right now, you are in Berlin, and that’s how we met 4 years ago. You were part of a performance group and I met you and Jin at the same time. Jin is also a good friend of ours. By the way, you look fantastic! I want to look like you do! Right now you have shorter hair again but a couple of months ago your hair was longer. It’s wavy and curly. You are 5’5, very handsome and I have to tell you: great style! You always know how to look good and combine your clothes. You are very outgoing and yes, shy sometimes. You are one of the most sensitive people I know and helped me a lot when I was very confused about a lot of things, like gender. You told me it was okay however I want to look and who ever I want to be. Oh, and you are VERY smart and a great and important activist. AND a masterbaker!!!
Younger Raju: I am soooooo old! Wow, that is amazing. I could never imagine those things about myself! I am so shy I could never imagine being on a stage performing. I don't like how I look now because people make fun of me and tell me that because I’m Asian, that is a bad way to look. Or, that I look like a boy and I should look more like a girl, so I feel ugly. I do like dressing up but I am confused about gender, I’m not sure I know what gender means. Do you mean being a girl or a boy? Because I want to be both!
Mîran: Well, that didn't change! You still like to dress up! You like to play with looking masculine, feminine, etc... gender, basically means how you see yourself (in terms of being a boy or a girl) but that doesn't mean it’s how people read you and it also doesn't mean that you have to be a boy or a girl.
Younger Raju: Does that mean that I can be both? Because I sometimes think I am a boy and want a boy's body but I don't want to be exactly like the other boys I know. I also like dressing up and make up and jewelry, too, but people say that's girls' things.
Mîran: One of the cool things with growing up is that you have more freedom with choosing your surroundings. You, for example, found a community with queer and trans folks of color, who respect who you are, how you look and what you think. I understand that it’s confusing right now, but later you will see that you don’t have to choose between boy or girl. You are great the way you are and the way you look. No matter what other people tell you, okay?
Younger Raju: That is good to hear. Nobody ever told me that before. I’m surprised to hear those things about myself. I’m also surprised that I’m going to India! Because my family were originally from India and I’m so curious about the place that my family is from. I was born in Kenya and only know about that place and I don’t like it here in England.
Mîran: I understand how you feel. When I was growing up I also never got to hear people say things like that. As brown people we grow up with a lot of white people telling us we are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough, etc. These messages are also all over television. But you are so cool! I don’t know you as a younger person, but I know you today as an adult and you are pretty fantastic!
Younger Raju: Are you like me? Because I don’t imagine having friends who knew about me and my gender? And being my friend. It's also not cool to be a brown person - are you brown, too? All the popular kids are white and you can’t wear Indian clothes or you get bullied. You have to fit in here, my parents tell me that, and I can see it is true, but I don’t fit in. Does that mean that the older me has friends who are like me?
Mîran: Let me tell you one thing, young sibling. It is SUPER COOL to be brown! We are actually pretty similar with the way we grew up. I am also trans and brown like you are. And yes, you have more friends like me! We have a big chosen family of queer/trans of color folks who love you and admire you. Don't worry about the popular kids! Later, they won’t be important. They won’t be relevant in your life. You are going to be so much more than just popular. If they were still lucky enough to know you, they would probably envy who you are and what you made out of your life.
Younger Raju: WOW! You can choose your family too!? Just like your name. That is so cool. I like that. I love my mother but I don’t like my father at all and I want to be like my brother because he is a boy and I want to be one, too. It's so funny to hear that the future can be so different! It sounds so good! And to hear that you also had a similar life, because I feel so different to my friends now.
Mîran: Yes, from the things you told me over the years, we both had to and have to deal with white middle and upper class kids. They are so much more different from who we are and what we face in our lives. Also, those kids still exist today in our communi-ties -- the people who look down on us for being who we are -- and it's tricky to deal with, but don’t be scared, we have our own people, people who grew up like you and me and we support each other, laugh with each other and also cry with each other sometimes.
Younger Raju: But how did we find each other? I wish I could find you and the others now! I never thought about my gender but now I can see that it is something that bothers me a bit because I can see that other people aren't like me and it makes me feel like I'm different in a bad way. I want to meet people like me. I want to meet you!
Mîran: The problem is that the world that we live in, separates us from each other and isolates us. But you are smart, you will break out of it, and find me! Very soon! Until then, you can read books by bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and other Black feminists. Read about Stonewall (but not the whitewashed version) and try to find books about queer and trans of color experiences. Maybe in a library... Another cool thing, later we will have the Internet connecting all computers -- computers are also cool! -- and then you can get information with that! Oh, by the way, you also publish about these things!
There are other queer/trans people of color who live close to you, that you don’t know yet.
Younger Raju: That sounds incredible!!!! This sounds like a sci-fi movie! I love sci-fi and I also love reading. All I am allowed to read right now is encyclopedias and educational books that help me learn English and fit in, but I want to read these instead. I’m not sure what they are or what they say, and I don’t know some of these words, queer and trans and the names of those writers, but it sounds amazing and I have a feeling that I will learn a lot! Thanks for telling me about them! I can’t wait to grow up now. I hate this place, it doesn't feel safe and I want to leave! This makes me feel so much better to know there are these things out there and that my life will change. And it sounds like I am happy and I have a good life!

<time travel ends>

Mîran: Wow, I don’t know how you feel, Raju. But that was very intense! I feel like this was more effective than a lot of therapy sessions. It’s so healing to talk to a good friend/comrade, watch and listen to your younger self. I never would have guessed how much we can learn from our younger selves. I was too scared to publish the letter I am writing to the younger part of myself but this encourages me to do so! Thank you, Raju, for sharing this intimate piece with me. Again, I see how important it is that we listen to and write our own stories, witness our strengths and supports and heal ourselves and each other. I like kitchen table (this one literally!) discussions with my cutie poc (qtpoc) siblings! Thank you for guiding each other through the scary past. It makes it a little easier to look into the scary future. Like the Black scholar Ruthie Wilson Gilmore said, “We should plan to win. And we can win.”
Raju: I liked using this narrative form of self therapy as a way to unfold and reach out to our younger selves. I feel these conversations have been healing to a younger part of me, and also very much the older present me, who felt and often feels isolated. I also enjoyed time travelling with you and would love to do this again, maybe continually, with you and for myself as a way of healing from past trauma that we often forget about or bury deep when we get older and have too much to deal with still, and when our struggle takes over. I feel it is important to share those moments to gain strength and solidarity. I feel like this has been quite a journey from the kitchen table to the inner depths of our fragile, but strong surviving younger souls, that carries us into a less scary and more safe future! Thank you, Mîran, for sharing this with me, for carrying me and protecting me, and showing me now and infinitely, that there is always a way out and/or a way forward!

 

Raju Rage, being disciplined from a young age with learning English and studying, wants to be a writer and artist and have his work published one day (he will!). He hopes to be successful, handsome and grow up to be a superhero living in a hot country!
Mîran N. likes ice cream (), music and soccer. They hate spiders, aftershave and white beans (will never change). Mîran wants to be a famous artist.

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