ERKAN AFFAN | اركان عفان


Orientation— Siegessäule

February, 2020 ︎

Interviewed by Joey Hansom, English editor of Siegessäule.

How would you define orientalism?

Erkan: Historically, the British and French empires would come to the so-called Middle East – itself an orientalist term, because where is this Middle to the East of? They would study the local people under the guise of “knowledge is power”, make massive generalizations, and create policies in order to divide and control us. Over time, we've seen how this orientalism has seeped into day-to-day existence.

How do you experience it personally?

Cupcake: For example, with dating and working in clubs, I'm given an opportunity to be “rescued”, but I never really get enough space to empower myself. It causes anxiety and depression for me.

Erkan: A lot of white LGBT communities gatekeep what it means to be LGBT. In response, we feel we have to embody a certain type of identity to be recognized. If I want to be a proud person of Arabic and Turkish descent and to identify as Muslim, it means I can't identify as LGBT at the same time. But who created that binary in the first place?

Erkan: Yes. One form I've encountered is based on the assumption that I'm a self-hating queer and that I'm extremely oppressed. People like to sexualize our oppression and in doing so they see themselves as a vehicle of our empowerment)!”

Cupcake: I grew up in Lebanon. When I go on a date and get asked, “Why did you move to Berlin?” – I know everyone gets asked that question, but I feel like I always have to bring out a monolog. I can talk about my unfortunate background, yes, but this costs me emotional effort. It's draining to be this vulnerable for someone who just wants to feel sorry for you. And then there's positive racism, like “All Lebanese guys are hot!” Really? Have you met my cousin?

Photo by Virginia De for Siegessaule

When I moved here, I got really taken away by the kind of attention I got. On a date or hooking up, it would only be minutes till they would say, “Oh, I really like dark hair” or “I really like your hairy body” or whatever. It's this act of downsizing you to only one element. Oh! One time, this guy grabbed a Quran from under his bed. He said he got it from his friend's house. I hadn't read one in such a long time, so I was flipping through it – and then he started going down on me! I closed it and said, “No, no, no, no, we're not doing that!”

Erkan: We all have judgments and stereotypes about others that need to be unpacked. At the end of the day, we must all work through them and unpack their toxicity. For example, if you like Arab men, cool, but don't go out there expecting every Arab man to fulfil your perceived assumptions of masculinity… You should spend time thinking about where you gathered these toxic tropes of our identity in the first place, as most of the time their rooted in the very realities of Orientalism that we touched on above.