By Chiara Canale
CoverPic: Chiara Canale
Mala Badi descends the stairs of the apartment building where they live carrying a heavy tray. The line of a tattoo on their chest appears from under a green lace shirt. They say hello, smiling before taking a seat at a wooden table in the small garden close to their house. They put the tray down, placing a teapot, two small glasses, dates and a packet of tobacco on the table.
Mala Badi (28) is a non-binary person. They do not identify as either a man nor as a woman. They are a Moroccan artist and activist, and a refugee in Amsterdam. They perform in many European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and France.
Their activism started within the punk and metal community in Casablanca: there they began reading Marx and questioning society. In Morocco, in 2013, they were part of the February 20 Movement during the Arab Spring, and together with other activists, they founded the Aswat Collective against discrimination based on gender and sexuality.
Mala sat down with 31Mag to answer some questions about their life and activism.
Why were you exiled from your home country?
Because of being queer and activist. I was homeless for some time in Morocco. My family kicked me out when I did my coming out when I was 20. I’ve been exiled for 4 years and now I am starting to feel at home in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is beautiful, but some things need to change, so together with other people I founded Sehaq, a safe space for queer and trans refugees.
What does queer mean?
You can google it.
Okay. What does it mean to you?
Queer for me is “getting free.” queerness has freed me. It helped me stop being ashamed of myself, my skinny body and my coloured face. Queer is not my sexuality or gender identity, it’s an idea that makes me hope that people can like me how I am. The vagueness of this term gives you freedom, you can use it the way you want.
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What are your pronouns in English?
They/them. I don’t identify as a man or woman, I identify as free. Binarism and white masculinity have a lot to do with colonization, Christianity and its version of family. Colonial sociology, as well as psychology, anthropology and the sciences in general are very binary and racist.
So, there was no gender binarism in Morocco before colonization?
We don’t know much about the history of the country before the arrival of the French, but the languages give us some suggestions. In northern Morocco, for example, we speak darija, a language that has three ways of saying “you”: nti for the feminine, nta for the masculine and ntina for the neutral.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I consider myself an intersectional feminist. White feminism is not the solution for the liberation of women, non-binary people and men. Intersectionality is not only about gender, but also about race, religion, disability, sexuality, age, class and being transgender. Women liberation is not about getting good business, but equality. You may be a white woman, but maybe you are poor and classism forces you to live a hard life, lose your house or get paid less than a man for your job. Feminism should also include decolonisation. My struggle is not only for my rights, it is necessarily linked to that of Palestinian women, for example.
Speaking of decolonisation: a few months ago, you put on a performance in Amsterdam on this issue. What was it about exactly?
The performance is called War on Bodies. The colonization was not only military and land occupation, but also exploitation of bodies for work. In Algeria and Morocco, the French built houses for sex workers for the army, so they used the bodies of Algerian and Moroccan, Muslim and Jewish people for the pleasure of white men. My mother and grandma had a lot of stories to tell me about colonization. I am also traumatized by it and this has a lot to do with my body, how I treat it and show it, how beautiful I feel. The standards of beauty are related to colonisation. With my performance, I try to decolonise myself. I don’t want white people in the theatre to feel bad, I just want them to perceive other spaces and times, to understand the pain of other bodies, so that together we can build a future without pain. White people need to decolonise their bodies too. I cannot heal if white people don’t heal.
Have you ever experienced any discrimination within the feminist movement?
It happens frequently. In Morocco, for example, some feminists told me that their collective was only for ciswomen [cisgender people identify with the gender of the biological sex they are assigned at birth] It’s not about ciswomen: their liberation is the liberation of trans people and queers. But black, trans, disabled, and poor feminist people have a large view of the future and of what needs to change. So, on the liberation of the people on the bottom, we can all get this liberation. I would like to say that the future is an intersectional feminist.
Feminist struggles today are amplified by the internet and social media. The same happened with Black Lives Matter, #Metoo and the Pride. Do you think people who post photos on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag of the moment are really committed to the struggle? Or do they forget about it shortly thereafter?
People taking pictures helps to spread ideas. That way the movement grows and younger people can become activists. It takes time. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the protests, you can also start with yourself and the way you see the world. We can contribute with energy we have. We must not forget to take care of ourselves, otherwise we cannot take care of our community. In my spare time, for example, I write communist poetry. I like to make it romantic, because it’s not always about the struggle. We need novels and poetry; we need to enjoy our struggle.