Interview by SUSPECT with a straight-identified activist of colour (translated from German)
When did you first notice that you’re straight? Heterosexual experiences came with socialization. But to say that I’m heterosexual took longer in my case, as I also had homosexual experiences, as early as the age of ten. Besides, looking at some of my friends who had similar experiences, I think many Turkish or Kurdish boys of our generation have had similar homosexual experiences, but it’s not talked about. In my youth I often hung out with gays and it’s always stayed like this, and people have often assumed that I’m gay or at least bisexual. I’d say, at this stage I’m heterosexual with homosexual experiences in my childhood, but I’ll explicitly leave open if that’s going to be the case for the rest of my life.
How would you define yourself anyway? I do think that it would be more appropriate to call myself a non-heteronormative man of colour. I have a very strong anti-racist, rather than an ethnic, identity. Which doesn’t mean that I won’t situationally position myself as a Muslim, or also as a Turkish or Kurdish person, when it’s important. In the past I’ve been called queer once or twice as well, but so far I haven’t been able to claim this identity for myself. I am read more as a heterosexual man after all and don’t know if it would be an appropriation or an inflationary use of queer identity if I called myself queer. That’s why I’m very careful with this.
Are there queer people in your family or friendship circle? There is a distant cousin from Holland. My brother told me that he’s had his coming out now. When I heard this I was so happy that at least one person in my family has come out. I have always wanted to look for him, to show him my solidarity. But then we haven’t seen each other in fifteen years, and he doesn’t know how I think and live, either. If he needs allies in the family, I would obviously stick my neck out for him.
When did you notice that there’s something wrong with power relations between queers and non-trans straight heterosexuals? I think it began when I started hanging out regularly with gay men. In our neighbourhood there was a market where every weekend I’d meet a few gay men. I was at ease with them and noticed how people would react to that, especially boys my age. For me this was a reality then already, and I think it was the same for my younger brother. He realized from a young age that I have a connection with gay men. The point where I really started noticing this was when I was in a position to defend people. To notice there’s oppression, mechanisms, etc. Later at uni there were the student unions, where some queer people were also active, where we worked together on specific issues.
Society is full of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. When did you decide to start fighting against it? Different factors led me to understand that you can’t look at these phenomena and separate them out from each other. But my time as a student and my exposure to postcolonial theory especially, e.g. the book Spricht die Subalterne Deutsch Does the Subaltern Speak German? ed. Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez and Hito Steyerl, helped open my eyes. From this moment on materials from postcolonial feminism and Black feminism have continued to shape my life.
What kinds of political activities do you engage in, also as an ally? I think I can’t draw a line around my political activities and would like to include academic activism, but also the actual political work in the street. My every day, too, is very very politicized and I try, whenever possible, to take every opportunity to express criticism and stand up even for uncomfortable positions. Which nevertheless demands a lot of energy and strength from me, and in some cases upright courage.
How do you raise your kids with regard to power relations, discrimination and multiple discrimination as well? That’s a really essential question for me in my everyday life. My approach so far has been trying to create an environment where the absence of people of colour and any so-called ‘deviance’ from white, heterosexual, gender conforming man is seen as a normality. The children are raised bilingually, Turkish and German, and we try to teach them ‘free‘ from ethnicity. In other words, just because they speak Turkish they don’t have to define as Turkish. I try to make my identity clearly transparent to my children and explain where I’m involved and why I am politically active. Finally, I explain various identities to the children, again and again – often by using examples.
Do you share the observation that queers of colour sometimes find it easier to enter into alliances with non-trans heterosexuals of colour rather than white queer/trans organizations? I definitely share this observation (laughs). From a perspective critical of racism it would be interesting to ask: Why is this so? What is it about racism that is still so specific? It seems that experiencing racism in today’s context in Germany unites people much more than commonalities based on sexual identity. I can’t give you a conclusive analysis of the reasons for this. Maybe it’s also to do with picking up threads from a historical tradition of anti-racist movements, which by the way have always been more diverse than white feminism, gay organizing and most recently the queer movement. But of course I am really happy to see that straight/queer/trans people of colour ally themselves to do anti-racist work together.
Do you see any parallels between the majority white queer scene and the white mainstream gay scene? There are parallels but also differences. One tends to produce openly racist exclusions, while the other (which calls itself explicitly antifascist and antiracist) tends to do this in a hypocritical and coded form, often even as part of a so-called antiracist politics. This has become very clear with anti-Muslim racism, which in Berlin manifests itself in indirect and even direct connection with processes of gentrification. These days I would rather live in Charlottenburg or Dahlem (white middle-class suburbs) where power is out in the open. Where I know where I stand in relation to bourgeois whites as a man of colour. Without any pretense. Sometimes those people can handle this better than the ‘supercool‘ queers who come here, appropriate our neighbourhoods and then go to Prinzenbad (a popular outdoors swimming pool in Kreuzberg) and make fun of the teenagers there or get scared of them. Another factor is class (laughs). Most of them are probably middle class. Finally there’s another thing that’s struck me: Most queers are young and the mainstream gays are often older. This is my question: Why are queers – and this also goes for many antifascist activists – mostly young? Where do they go when they’re older? It’s strange, they disappear when they’re older (laughs).
The interview is translated from German and was first published in the special issue on intersectionality (SUSPECT and Migration Council Berlin, in December 2010).
NOTE FOR RESEARCHERS: Before you turn this autobiographical and political piece into pre-theoretical fodder and stick it on your own CV, consult our article in Bully Bloggers on labour, risks and gains and the relations of production and consumption of anti-racist critique http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/where-now-from-pride-scandal-to-transnational-movement/