- ZaʾfaraanA Space for Creative Expression of LGBTQ Folks in the MENA/SWANA Region
Zaʾfaraan Collective was founded in 2016 by two queer migrants from Yemen and Iran. The collective, a community- and space-building initiative, works to define a queer/trans MENA/SWANA (Middle East and North Africa/South West Asia and North Africa) narrative that centers the physical and emotional experience of migration. This project seemed necessary because none of the existing queer SWANA spaces were centered around migration, an issue that impacts the life of most queers because they are often subject to social and institutional violence and, consequently, chosen or forced exile. Since its inception Zaʾfaraan has led community- and concept-building workshops at multiple LGBTQ conferences, including Creating Change, the national US-based LGBTQ conference, and has built a national base of queer/trans SWANA activists and artists. In 2019 Zaʾfaraan limited its work to its online zine, of which the fourth issue was released in the winter of that year.
Zaʾfaraan zine is an online multilingual (Arabic/Farsi/English) art and poetry publication first released in the summer of 2017. The zine curates a space for the creative expression of LGBTQ folks in the MENA/SWANA region and across the spectrum of migration. To stay true to its original purpose of creating migrant-centered spaces, Zaʾfaraan does not require submissions to be composed in English. All written submissions are translated into at least one other language contingent on available translators, as language accessibility is one of the most relevant issues concerning migrant/immigrant spaces and decolonial work. This space is very important because of its scope and framework, because it invites everyone across [End Page 94] the migrant spectrum to share their original, first-person work. In doing so, it resists trends that exploit and co-opt narratives of non-English-speaking MENA/SWANA folks and provides an antidote to purist attitudes that dismiss the relevance of diasporic queer work to the region. To continue defining an alternative, heavily intersectional narrative, Zaʾfaraan prioritizes works submitted by the less-represented language, ethnic, and gender minorities in the region, outside the region, and spaces in between.
Currently, Zaʾfaraan is coedited and cotranslated by two US-based queer Yemeni migrants, Layle Omeran and Kayan. The zine is always in search of volunteer translators, especially in non-Arabic MENA/SWANA languages (such as Farsi and Amazigh). Calls for submissions are often circulated through social media and Zaʾfaraan’s listserv network, as well as by word of mouth. Because Zaʾfaraan is a closed community space that is mainly concerned with sharing stories of struggle and solidarity and that wishes to avoid orientalism and savior voyeurism, it seeks, for the moment, to not be significantly exposed on the internet. Since its third issue Zaʾfaraan has been able to secure funding to compensate poets and artists of selected submissions, because one of the collective’s values is to appreciate original work using the currency of the system in which the work has been created. In the winter of 2019 Zaʾfaraan released an online archival website.
In “Him, in Amman … Her, in Beirut,” Maya, a transgender woman from Jordan, takes us into her journey of transitioning between identities and spaces, with all the pain, loss, and self-actualization that come with it. With raw language and striking honesty, Maya bravely narrates a vividly real account, one that is rarely represented or shared.
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“HIM, IN AMMAN . . . HER, IN BEIRUT,” BY MAYA ANWAR
Many people are living burdened with worries; living each day carrying mountains of fatigue and worry on their shoulders. And every worry differs from the other, and every fatigue—even if the causes differ—still holds the same name and meaning to those who carry it.
Some people’s worries revolve around providing food for themselves and their children,while others search for warmth against the winter cold. There’s a university graduate who graduated years ago and couldn’t find a job to start their life with, and that whose worry is...