Almost a year ago (can I say this if I feel that in the last couple of years, time has stopped still and I only existed in my own imagination?), every other post on my feed started to be the picture of you. I had not heard your name before, or couldn't remember if I did, but I definietly knew your story.

You were the only woman between those who were arrested in a Mashrou’ Leila concert. I knew the story from having sat in numerous conversations at SOAS bar discussing whether you had done an act of bravery or colonised a space with a western symbol.

For me the story was one of hope and reclaiming. I felt for you. I knew the smile in the picture, and your tired eyes were speaking to me.

Perhaps you had also thought at points that the sharp colours of their rainbow, did not exactly give space for the naunaceness of who you are. Perhaps like me, if it was to you, you would have chosen a softer set of colours, one that isn't arranged in such defined horizontal stripes. Perhaps a swirl, of pastel colours.

colours that are don't have the strength to be so bold and sharp, they are tired and pale and soft, but that is what actually defines their beauty. To honour 'remaining soft when the world is doing its best to make you anything but warm.'

But then you decided that it was the easiest way to tell so many people you are representing them. You are claiming space for them. It was raising that flag that I also don't necessarily feel connected to, that makes the news of your suicide one that I haunts me a year on.

The flag was a signal for me to think I know the nature of the pain you were walking around with, or the frequency of that constant hum in your head that perhaps got too loud on the 14th June 2020.

I also wish that there was a nicer way of saying this, but I don't always want to be alive.

To be honest I feel relieved that I don't. As if it was otherwise and the uglyness of the world was not bothering me enough to want out, I had definietly lost so much of what I love about myself.

Imagine becoming someone who doesn't see how the “The sky is more beautiful than the earth and wants to choose the sky, not the earth"! I wouldn't fit in my friends circle anymore.
So I totally get the incitement of your choice. Of choosing the sky. I on the other hand am still fighting. I wouldn't say it has been that much of a choice, but the only option I have been forced to believe to have, through the emotional blackmail of those who love me and how I cannot do that to them.  

I have been fighting for as long as I can remember.  I have been fighting a world that won't have me as me, as well as me who is too scared to let me be me.  I have been fighting out loud and fighting even louder in my own head. Believing in (or forcing myself to think that I believe in) that becoming 'me', the unbreakable goddess that I am, is worth it.

But throughout I have also wondered "if I would find peace in the moment of my death, or will I still be fighting to assert my existence?"

then I think of you whose death was the biggest assertion of her existence (and please never again call it a fail!)

In the spirit of valuing vulnerability and understanding no thought or fantasy is shameful, I tell you that in my frequent flirts with suicidality, I always think that if I finally kill myself it should be at least for something that makes some noise and gets some people thinking? and I realise how having such an active ego is probably a sign that I don't actually want to die and talk myself into some other vanity projects.

However passing through the guilt of even thinking these thoughts considering how much I have going on for me, I allowed myself tonight to think, Has the last 12 months been worth the fight? I'm sure you see from up there that the world is still as cruel, and I would have really like to ask you if you found peace in forgiving it and leaving it behind?

It would be hard to list all the amazing things that have happened that make me grateful to have lived the last 12 months.

That I got to hug my dad, my mum, my 'siblings' and 'friends', one more time is something I can understand to be enough. That I got to see the ocean in my niece's eyes seems more than enough.

But if I could speak somewhere that god cannot hear, so he doesn't get offended with my lack of gratitude and punish me for it, I would like to tell you that I don't alway think that it has been worth it.
I could have done with not having made to realise how deep certain fears have been stored in my being and how bottomless the effects of violation on my body has been. 

I could have done without the feeling of betrayal, realising I was just made to believe I am expecting too much, when in fact I was only expecting the wrong people.

I could have done with staying more naive, thinking somethings are to stay.

But most pressing is I could do with this constant voice, who wants out, stopping. It's exhausting to be constantly secretly scanning your surrounding hoping you find the plug,  it is exhausting living in the ocean:

"For me, and I suspect for countless others like me, the threat of suicide isn't like being carried over a waterfall — it is like living in the ocean. Not as sea creatures do, native and equipped with feathery gills to dissolve oxygen for my bloodstream, but alone, with an expanse of water at all sides. Some days are unremarkable, floating under clear skies and smooth waters; other days are tumultuous storms you don’t know you’ll survive, but you’re always, always in the ocean.

And when you live in the ocean, treading to stay afloat, you eventually get the feeling that one day, inevitably, there will be nowhere for you to go but down."

You wonder if it makes sense to just choose the sky, but I don’t want it to be soon. 

I’ve become adept at treading. But will is never enough, and so I have learned to surround myself with ways to stay afloat. Like people I am going to send your letter to.

A Letter to Sarah
June 14 2021. Words by GHM

On Becoming POA

Through the many conversations we’ve had with people who have come into contact with Pride of Arabia (POA), we realised it’s time for a retrospective, an honest conversation about how this group has evolved over the last few years. There were a couple of reasons why it was created, one was a desire to meet and connect with other queer people from the region and the other was to march in London Pride. We didn’t feel seen or represented in the London LGBTQ scene so we marched and we got to meet a lot of people. Approximately 70 people marched and danced and sang together for the first time that day. We realised that it was hard to trust so many strangers when we were taught to be suspicious of each other. We also realised that London Pride was not the right place for us. It was exclusionary and overrun by corporations. Our participation was  also an interesting exercise in negotiating visibility. A lot of us concealed our identities, there were those who had not come out to their families, others who were afraid of their governments. Why then did our queerness have to exist within this uncomfortable dynamic? At that point, we didn’t know how else to be queer but coming into direct contact with that tension forced us to reconsider and be creative in carving out a different kind of space for ourselves, one that had no pre-existing mould. The parties were important. They are a place of resistance and expression, a space to overcome the false idea that we had to pick one or the other (our ethnic/racial/cultural/religious identities or our sexualities and gender expressions). We can be both at the same time, we can be all of it at once. There is no need to compromise.

The physical release of dancing, sweating, moving and laughing together felt like a balm on an old wound. We often heard people saying that they never thought they would meet other people like them or that they could inhabit a space that allows for their queerness and Arabness/Middle Easternness simultaneously. It has been beautiful to witness and experience. But there were also incidents of xenophobia, misogyny and transphobia. We understood that there was no such thing as a safe space but only safe(r) spaces and it would be uninformed to assume that a club space with over 300people would not come with its complications. So we tried harder to articulate our politics and the politics of our spaces; all the things we wouldn’t stand for and the things we couldn’t take for granted. Our development as people coincided with the development of POA, quite frequently as a result of our work within it as a collective. We went to Black Pride the year after and felt far more comfortable, proud to see fellow QTIPOCs so wonderfully organise and express themselves in hostile environments. But then we started to question the very notion of “pride” and the “coming out” narrative. Not engaging with either of those didn’t mean that we were ashamed of who we were or any less queer. Not being visible on social media wasn’t simply an issue of fear, or a lack of commitment to queer politics. it is a complicated negotiation with our situations. So while some were comfortable doing it on the gram (being out, visible, vocal), others chose to do their work through other channels and on other frontlines, where they were seen and heard within the community. It is important to create a space where both approaches are seen as valid.

As we slowly developed the language to communicate this, we were being invited to speak at public events and to hold workshops. Every time, we were nervous, doubtful of ourselves and what we had to say. Who were we to talk to university students or audience members? The insecurity partially came from the white heterosexist capitalist patriarchy (thanks bell hooks) but also because we were in a process of becoming. We were shifting and morphing and our ideas were changing more rapidly than our language could keep up with. What good are ideas if you cannot communicate them clearly? There is too much emphasis on words and often the knowledge came from moving together and holding each other and saying nothing at all. But we spoke some more, engaged with others, read some things, felt as deeply as possible and the language started coming. It was liberating to realise that the language didn’t just have to be words, it was also the looks and the energy and the visuals, the physical expressions of touch and movement, the love and empathy and compassion. It was being critical and constantly questioning, finding peace in knowing there was no particular destination we needed to arrive at. Every time we were scheduled to do a public event, we would spend days discussing what the 2-3 lines of a POA bio should be and every time it would be a little different. What a relief to realise you don’t have to wait for certainty in order to express who you are, to be in a constant state of fluidity and flux. It was great to work with a number of institutions who knew we disliked institutions and their conventions and power dynamics, and  still gave us the space to be a work-in-progress in a public setting (our gratitude to the organisers of these events, they were the ones invested in making this happen and not the institutions). 

We discussed space, race, queerness, language, movement and what it means to be non-normative. We also started holding and recording intimate conversations with the amazing performers who came to our community spaces. Then there were the book clubs that provided us with a different kind of intimacy, a space for thoughts and words and themes that always intersected and were never limited to issues of identity and categorisation.

Most importantly however, we got questioned by others. About the name, the events, the visuals. That’s a great place to be – at the receiving end of questions and questioning. It forces you to think about what you’re doing and where you stand. The name we didn’t take too seriously, it was tongue-in-cheek and even if we don’t feel at home in pride parades and know that “Arab” is a historically constructed identity that entails a lot of violence and exclusion, it’s good to remember how much our thinking has evolved over the years and to not take ourselves too seriously OR cover our tracks because we are ashamed of a previous version of ourselves. But it’s also important to acknowledge the impact words have. It’s why we’re writing this piece. To share with you that this constant dialogue we’ve been having with everybody we’ve ever been in contact with has helped us to grow and transform and that we are sooo grateful for it. If it wasn’t for this continuous exchange we wouldn’t have been able to organise activities or go to talks and express our desire for another way of being. It’s exhausting to constantly have to fight to create our own spaces to be who we are but it’s also a wonderful act of imagination and solidarity. Boxes have always been created for the comfort of the majority/authorities, but in finding each other (the ones who don’t neatly fit into boxes) – we can live outside them, on top of them, juggle them, colour inside their lines, and exist in all the ways we find nourishing. May we never stop becoming. 


We can be both at the same time, we can be all of it at once. There is no need to compromise.

A3deh: Colette Dalal Tchantcho

GOD THEY’LL MAKE U THINK YOURE THE ONLY ONE. @cdtchantcho on tactics of racial othering from our convo, December 2019. Film + edit by @rough_silk

Conversation 1: AA

Workshop @ AA, London with Diploma 3 architecture students 05/02/2019

We are sitting in a circle, this is a safeR space, a collective exchange, a conversation around the impact of language an connection with space


“Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think instead of identity as a production which is never complete, always in process and always constitute within not outside representation.” (Stuart Hall, 1990)

There are at least two different ways of thinking about “cultural identity”:

1) There is 'one true self' hiding inside the many other more superficial or ‘artificially imposed selves’ which people with shared history and ancestry hold in common. Common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which can provide us as one people with continuous frames of reference. This understanding played a huge role in the post-colonial struggles and had a critical role in reshaping our world. Frantz Fanon called this “passionate research” for identity “directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today.” But then isn’t this re-centering experiences of colonialism where we are only focusing on unmasking what the colonial experience has masked.

The production of identity rather than a rediscovery - “not an identity grounded in archaeology, but in the re-telling of the past”. This production requires imaginative practice and we should not underestimate or neglect the importance of the act of imaginative rediscovery - ”cultural identity as a matter of becoming rather than being”.

2) Cultural identity as a matter of “becoming rather than being” is the second understanding of cultural identity. It is aware of the many differences as well as the many similarities. This position recognises that, as well as points of similarity, there are also deep and significant differences. This understanding of cultural identity belongs to the future as much as it belongs to the past. it is not something that already exists, transcending time and place, although it comes from somewhere. It has histories, but like everything historical it goes through constant transformation and doesn’t have a fixed root that needs to be discovered to secure our sense of self for eternity.

“Identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves
within the narratives of the past - present and future.”
Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall (1990)

It is not once-and-for-all discovery of a fixed origin but also not a phantasm. It is something that has histories.
Always constructed through “memory, fantasy, narrative and myth”.

Wanting to have a fixed cultural identity is a continuation of the colonial attempt to want to always root us to
some ‘origin’ other than existing ‘here’ now.


Communication takes so many forms (verbal, physical, artistic, musical, form and content) but words are particularly powerful because the words you use or language you speak affect how you interpret the world and consequently how people perceive you.There is an assumed commonality within language and interpretation. Language is one of the most unconscious mediums of representation and often leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication. The assumption being that we all understand things the same way (do we all think of the colour blue or love in the exact same way?). We are not always aware that we are imposing meaning on people and things through the language that we use. We are constantly projecting our own understanding on other people’s experiences. Framing and priming in media and mass communication are a great example of this. The people doing the communicating are choosing what to include and exclude and are relying on your pre-existing schemas and how to fit their narrative within that. There is an over-reliance on words and we take the words we use for granted. Words are as subjective as art. Even our physical understanding of space and time is altered depending on what language we speak. Examples of ‘long’ wedding (long periods of time are sometimes referred to in other languages as ‘tall’ - long vs. tall - do you imagine time moving horizontally or vertically?) and the gendered bridge (in the languages where it is feminine, bridges are often thought of as beautiful and in languages where it is masculine, bridges are considered strong). Language is constantly evolving just as we are evolving as human beings. So what does that mean when we are constantly identifying and re-identifying ourselves and what implications does that have on our labels and the groups we belong to?


Spaces have been created with the ability to represent, they are forms of representation. Space is used as a formation of an identity. We speak of space as a social, mental and physical realm and we think of queerness as this ephemeral concept. If we were to draw parallels between identity and physical space, who gets to construct these identities? This is where the concept of third space comes in, as an alternative to the binary. The binary exists because of the power structures forced on us, people don’t have the imagination to think outside this binary. Queerness is the imagination to operate beyond this space. The third space was created due to a lack of space of belonging. Language is our medium to create this third space and it forces you to challenge yourself to think about things differently, understand why you speak about things in a certain way, to re-conceptualise words and spaces and why you chose to be in them.

Architecture is the intersectionality of semiotics, language, orientation - when you go into a space it's all of those.

Semiotics - codes of visualisations that operate on an unconscious level that play a role in understanding and reading a situation.

Existing in the binaries of representation and considering the limitations of words, the production of identity becomes a question of compliance or resistance. You are either inside or outside, included or excluded, man or woman, muslim or queer.

When we do subversive campaigns - the intended language in the production becomes trivial - you start to play with it because it is not at the mercy of binary thinking.

But what if you were able to create a space where these binaries are abolished? How can you construct such space? What form does it take?

What are the temporalities of physical spaces? Like culture, location holds its meaning at a given time as inhabited by a given subject. It is ever evolving, never static. Its purpose is recycled by those occupying it, take this room we’re in, originally designed as a residential quarter, now it is a lecture room, tonight it is claimed by us.

Third space: subjective yet ephemeral. It leaves no trace, its agency travels by non-conventional mediums.
Travels with word of mouth or on a fleeting ig story or a provocation of an emotion.

In essence a third space exists as a collection of primary data (a combination of Arabic and English words, juxtaposed with our visuals), whatever it produces is a hybrid of its original yet emerges as an autonomous and independent product. What it produces is something completely new, detached from its origins, deviating from the original meaning. Our use of audio/visual material is liberated from the limitations of the intended use. What does it convey? Is knowledge of the language still important to understanding the message? Hybridity grants autonomy over the resources used.

Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall (1990)
The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon (1961)
Queer Phenomenology, Sara Ahmad (2006)

Conversation 2: SOAS

We were invited to speak at SOAS CGS (Centre for Gender Studies) in Nov 2019 -
5 of our members who have been involved from the early days, went away on their own and wrote about their journeys of making/encountering/becoming POA in the form of ‘personal stories, testaments and forms of expression that embody POA and that POA has embodied’. These were presented as five different segments. What follows is a combination of those five pieces, weaved into a conversation with one another, forming a political monologue, because ‘even though our politics may not always align, our existence as a collective is always political.’

2017, before and after: from the past to the future and back

Its 2008 and i needed a lot of things, I needed to express my sexuality to establish a "gay" identity
to be accepted
to be embraced
to be heard. There was no space for me anymore.
I moved to London. It's 2012 and I needed a lot of things, I needed to express my Syrian nationality
to establish an "Arab" identity
to be accepted
to be embraced
to be heard.
I had nowhere to go.

We started in 2017 as a response, a reaction to London Pride - the year before we felt very disengaged from and underrepresented and decided to come back the following year with a group of MENA people and march. We started with about 70 people and grew from there. The year after, our conversations evolved and we felt London Pride was not the platform for us, and we felt that we should be presenting ourselves in spaces that are more representative of our communities and identities. We were at Black Pride the year after - our network grew, conversations evolved and became a lot more based on queerness, temporality and how we embody this experience as diasporic people from the region living in london. From London Pride, to black pride to no pride

hey you, the mirror on the wall, what do you see? confront me

however stay with me cause you know I’ll fade away without you

cause you know that i’m an insane weirdo with an unstoppable rambling mind, who no one else can really understand, except you

i know it’s really tough with all the expectant, demanding voices around, to hear each other

I know other judgmental and prying eyes, prevent ours from meeting freely.

it’s kind of more on my shoulders. they tend to make me want to block my ears and close my eyes so as not to hear and see their ridiculousness that causes me to cringe with disgust at their pittiful limits

and that’s why I don’t get to see all the colour and hope that you are holding

so you got to call me, reach out to me remind me to open my eyes and look at you

then you get to, you ought to, confront me

but you got to promise to stay with me

cause you know

i’ll fade away without you  

Diary entry from one afternoon in the past

My moving through the world was a reaction to the world reacting to my body. You are a woman before you are a person. Then a woman from a particular country, ethnicity, of a particular size and sexual orientation and people have a ready-made interaction for you and your personhood is downgraded to the categorization they’ve chosen for you. I’m a reproductive body, a womb or a vagina to fuck, that’s almost universal but then I came here and all of a sudden I had an Arab vagina and the tits to match, apparently I’m also a POC now. I’m also of a different class. The privileges and protections of my socioeconomic status were chipped at, because those cross borders like a bad foreign exchange rate. All these things to count and account for before you could become a person.

Rendering the real you invisible. So visibility becomes a fight against what people are already seeing. You have to make someone unlearn how they see you rather than having the freedom to build yourself for yourself from the ground up. When you meet someone you’re not starting at zero. They’ve already gone to 100 and you have to make them work backwards. Just being becomes a “luxury”- you must do your work and the work of others, for others.

Sometime maybe 1997; a flashback/memory first recalled sometime this summer, 2019

It’s the middle of the night

I am standing in my parents room

My mum is deep asleep

My dad is snoring

I know I have to wake her up but I cannot

I am petrified, absolutely silent

I try to call her

But no voice comes out

Just my lips bumping against each other twice, mouthing mama

I take a step closer and try again, but no voice comes out

I stop breathing

I want to hear what it sounds like if I am not here

Where can I go what can I do

How do I disappear

I wish, as she often wished upon me, hands and face raised to god, that I would die right now

I am wet and numb

It's 2017

it's pride day I'm in full drag strutting down Bernard street.

Russell Square, pride march meeting point.

A Sameera Tawfiq fantasy, Cinched to the gods, black tights in 11inch platforms

my heart is about to leap out of my chest

I get to the park I pause

"what in the fuck are you doing?" I tell myself.

I carry on.

That day Russell Square shifted. It stopped being the park next to the museum. A common meeting point for my soas people.

Yet exactly as it always is.

But something in it shifted. Something in my perception shifted. In front of me was another possibility to the park.

Little I knew back then, these few steps, this conscious act of moving, will change my life they will give me a possibility of futures I didn't know existed.