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Global Roundup: Women Musicians in Kashmir, China’s 1st Clinic for Trans Youth, Urban Indigenous Youth Reframing 2Spirit, Rapper Targeting Racism and Environmentalism, Hong Kong Teen's Used Bookshop
Compiled by Inaara Merani
Shabnam Bashir plays the sitar. (photo by Syed Samreen via Women’s Media Center)
For decades in the Valley of Kashmir, Sufi music has been dominated by male musicians. Sadly, this devotional music is slowly dying out. Sufi music still remains popular in the west, however the traditional forms are not as popularized. At a time of violent conflict and patriarchal norms in the region, five young women are trying to challenge this narrative through their beautiful renditions of Sufi music.
Rehana Yousuf, Irfana Yousuf, Gulshan Ara, Shagufta Lateef, and Shabnam Bashir are dedicated to overcoming stereotypes and the patriarchal values that govern their region. Together, they are known as Yemberzel, meaning the first flower after winter. The young women are all between the ages of 18 and 24, each from the village of Shilvat in the northern district of Bandipora.
The group uses instruments such as the tabla, sitar, saaz-e-kashmir, and santoor to accompany their singing. Sufi music is based on the idea of “undying love” for the divine, and is known to be mesmerizing. These young women are not only upholding this beautiful tradition, but they are also inspiring women in the valley to speak up for themselves and choose to do what they love.
The onus of preserving the cultural heritage of Kashmir doesn’t just lie on men. I don’t think women are any less. I believe that we can achieve anything a man can; there should be no comparison at all. - Irfana Yousuf, founding member of Yemberzel
Despite receiving online hate and abuse last year from Kashmir men, after gaining media attention, the group has continued to perform at different programs and concerts around the valley, and have also received many awards. Yemberzel will also begin teaching young girls to play Sufi music.
In a world where new forms of music are emerging and there’s greater influence of English songs on us, we should preserve what is ours by inheritance. If we don’t save our nose, who else will? Kashmiri language is our pride and preserving it our duty. - Rehana Yousuf
A group poses for photos at Shanghai Pride, 2017. (AFP via Getty/ STR via Pink News)
China just opened its first clinic for trans youth, a surprising yet necessary development in the country as the government cracks down on the LGBT+ community. The multidisciplinary clinic is located at the Children’s Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai.
The clinic engages with a number of disciplines, including psychology, urology, endocrine and genetic metabolic departments, and it will also serve as a bridge between trans children, parents, doctors, and circles within society. Bridging the gap between stakeholders is very important because many trans youth suffer from mental health issues because their identity is not accepted within society.
It’s definitely a good sign… It’s essential to have transgender clinics targeted toward children and teenagers because many transgender people develop gender awareness in childhood. - Xin Ying, Director of the Beijing LGBT Center
According to a 2013 census bureau report, there are an estimated four million transgender people in China, but being trans is still considered a psychiatric disorder.
Trans people are required to undergo surgery, be over the age of 20, be unmarried and gain permission from their families to have their gender legally recognised.
Recent months in China have been characterized by fears of a government crackdown on the LGBT+ community. The government insists that broadcasters must only promote Chinese traditional culture and to enforce this, effeminate men have been banned from appearing on TV. The government also announced that video games featuring same-sex relationships would not be approved, and there have been reports of LGBT+ accounts being wiped from social media platforms.
Last year, Shanghai Pride was abruptly cancelled without explanation and earlier this month, a major LGBT+ advocacy group shut down without warning. It seems that LGBT+ activism in China is being targeted and there is little that allies and advocates can do to stop this from happening. In light of this, we must continue to raise our voices and keep this fight alive.
Author and educator Marie Laing. Credit: Morgan Sears-Williams via Xtra
Queer Kanyen’kehá:ka author and educator Marie Laing recently published her book Urban Indigenous Youth Reframing Two-Spirit, which offers insights from young trans, queer, and Two- Spirit Indigenous peoples in Toronto who examine the depth and breadth of the meanings of Two-Spirit.
Laing grew up in Kingston, Ontario and her family is from Six Nations of the Grand River. After completing her degree in sexual diversity studies at the University of Toronto, she came to realize how white the program was, and how it, ironically, lacked diversity. Shortly before she began her masters degree, Laing heard the word ‘Two-Spirit’ for the first time, which revolutionized her writing and her understanding of Indigenous queerness. As she began to complete her masters, she came to realize that there was limited research about queer Indigenous identities.
A lot of mainstream LGBTQ organizations at this time were starting to tack us (Two-Spirit people) onto their acronyms. I kept seeing this single, very literal one-note definition of what Two-Spirit means: an Indigenous person with a male and female spirit. - Marie Laing
The coining of the term is usually attributed to the third annual Inter-tribal Native American/First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference, which took place in Winnipeg in 1990. Introduced by elder and scholar Myra Laramee, “Two-Spirit” was created to give language to the unique experiences, identities, and challenges that queer Indigenous people faced, and continue to face. The meaning of Two-Spirit, however, can differ depending on the person
I have long felt that Two-Spirit’s inability to be boxed into a static meaning is part of what makes it such a powerful, inherently queer term. - Riley Yesno, queer Anishinaabe writer, researcher and public speaker
Laing wanted to create a resource that queer Indigenous peoples could turn to. She interviewed 10 queer, trans and Two-Spirit Indigenous youth in Toronto, and asked them to describe what Two-Spirit meant to them personally. Each youth’s answer is different from one another, but together they create a community of belonging that queer Indigenous folks can turn to for support in their journeys. Laing is hopeful that this book might make it more possible for Two-Spirit people to take up space in the publishing world. The more queer Indigenous writing there is in the world, the better.
I grew up very much brainwashed in the mentality that there are agents of power, all the white dudes in suits, who are in charge of everything. And to change stuff, you just have to change their minds. I thought, ‘I’m going to get my degree in education. I’m going to change everybody’s minds...change isn’t going to come from white people understanding what Two-Spirit means. Change comes from when our community members can come together and share our ideas and create together. - Marie Laing
Ariel Davis via them.us
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rapper bbymutha creates music that affirms the cockroach as a beacon of ecological hope, while simultaneously dismantling racist tropes. In this essay for them.us, Ashia Ajani explains that bbymutha positions the cockroach not as a creature which should be feared, but as an example of insurgent survival, and a symbol for liberatory reclamation.
The American cockroach, also known as Periplanta americana, reached the North American continent from West Africa aboard the boats of colonizers and in the hulls of slave ships. At the time, enslaved Africans were blamed for these infestations; this was one of the original widespread myths which connected Black people with filth, and supported the justification for segregation and healthcare apartheid. Dark-skinned women are sometimes called ‘roaches’, associating the unpleasantness of cockroaches with Black identity.
In her music, as in her life, the 32-year-old rapper (born Brittnee Moore) does not shy away from the gross, the “aesthetically displeasing” aspects of survival. She embraces them. Having grown up in the south, bbymutha would often experience the pains of colourism, which still haunts her. However, every time someone insults her, she taps deeper into her self-love and uses her music as an outlet.
The purpose of her music is not to just affirm the power of the cockroach, but it is to flip society’s obsession with violence, discrimination, and racism. Environmental racism in the US predominantly affects Black and Indigenous communities, yet white environmentalism has an obsession with ‘returning things back to the way they were’, which erases the experiences of people who have historically faced environmental apartheid.
bbymutha encourages individuals to look beyond propaganda and greenwashing, as these are methods used by corporations to place the onus of climate change onto society, rather than accepting the blame. bbymutha pushes the boundaries of what environmentalism can embody, and she does so in a way which advocates against the racism that Black people have endured both through institutionalized measures, but also through environmental apartheid.
At the end of the world, whenever it comes, I imagine me and my merry band of cockroaches chewing away at the waste and wreckage of the American empire, making room for something beautiful in its wake. At the end of the world, I want to go out screaming, "Fuck a raid," like bbymutha, knowing — as she has known all along, “roaches don’t die. - Ashia Ajani
Link to song:
Bailey started ReBooked because she wanted to make sure her old books would end up with people who appreciated them. Photo: SCMP/ Winson Wong via South China Morning Post
Bailey Cherry, a 16-year-old from Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, recently opened Rebooked, a shop where all the books are second-hand, hence the name, and are mostly children’s books that are written in English.
Rebooked originally started as an online project 2 years ago when Cherry was 14. She was doing her spring cleaning and encountered a problem; not knowing what to do with the books she no longer had an interest for. She first sought out donating her used books to book drives, but then found out they were not open year round. Many NGOs told her they were not interested in books but mainly items such as furniture and clothing.
I [found] it quite difficult to pass on my books in a way where I [knew] these books [would] end up in the hands of other readers who would read them, cherish them and enjoy them as I did, - Bailey Cherry
She found her solution through Rebooked. She started collecting books from her family and friends and started to sell them on a website she created. Currently the store has a team of 20 volunteers, and has collected around 60,000 pre-loved books, resold more than 18,000, and donated around 10,000 to NGOs that passed them along to communities in need.
Cherry is just another young leader of the next generation, who is demonstrating the importance of promulgating knowledge and engaging in sustainable practices, while simultaneously supporting the surrounding community.
Inaara Merani (she/her) is currently completing her Master’s degree at Western University, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a collaborative specialization in Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about gender equality and social justice and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women and vulnerable populations have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat.