Letter to My Younger Self From the Happy, Queer, Muslim Man of Colour I Became

Written by Safir Boukhalfa
Images by Nico

Dear younger self,

I’ve wanted to write this letter for a while. There’s a lot of injustice in the world, and I know how much it affects you when you see a person being mistreated because of their skin colour, gender, ability, or how effeminate or masculine they are. I know how difficult it is for you to witness bigotry because you are often the victim of it, too. You don’t see it right now, but this aversion to injustice will help you build a very strong sense of self that meets many different dimensions. 

And have I mentioned yet that you’ll be a happy, queer, Muslim man of colour? Other things too, but I’m not writing a book right now, am I?

Please don’t get me wrong though. You will, of course, be treated like an animal throughout the years, but for different reasons: sometimes too gay, sometimes too Muslim, and sometimes too Brown. Then other times too-one-thing or too-the-opposite-thing and sometimes, all-the-things-at-once. The Muslim Algerian part especially will be tough at first because you were lucky enough to be born not only in the ’90s, but also in France. 9/11 really helped the world see 10-year-old mini-you as a wannabe terrorist when all you were thinking about was your swim teacher’s speedos. And when you weren’t taken for the new Bin Laden, you were treated like some piece of garbage because you also personified Algerian independence over France. You didn’t really have to do much for teachers, classmates, or cashiers to despise you. You only had to enter the room. 

Your curls, dark skin, black eyes and Arabic-speaking parents would do the rest for you. It truly was a gift to be born in the country of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!

To add to the fun, there was also your attraction to cute boys, right? Because your childhood bullies weren’t peaceful enough to call you “terrorist”, “dirty Arab,” and “bougnoule,”* they also added “pédé,”* “tapette,” or simply “girl” (because as we know now homophobia and patriarchy sleep together). Who cared about all this, when as a matter of fact, homophobia wasn’t just interpersonal but, as you were often reminded, institutional and/or even structural! How lucky you were to be born in France where trans rights are far behind and the gendered language hasn’t properly caught up to non-binary people yet!

Above all, the true zenith of your upbringing, really, was poverty. You were a bit upset at first not to be able to buy the clothing you wanted or pay for music classes, but luckily, thanks to meritocracy, you will eventually be able to work yourself up and afford consumerism. To get there you’ll just have to work as a cleaner, a barman, a sushi delivery guy, a runner, a waiter, a cultural mediator, a babysitter, a warehouse technician, a salesman, and a store manager – while studying the entire time. You’ll also have to live off of friends sometimes, share their flats, apply to 500 internships before getting one positive answer, work 70 hours a week during said internship, never complain, have fun and spread how “working in fashion is really a dream come true” for not even 500 euro a month. You’ll just have to do all this because from hard work come great rewards! Oh, and I forgot the languages you’ll have to learn to make yourself more employable than anyone else! Learning English as a French/Darja speaker isn’t enough anymore, so add Spanish and German on top. And a bit of Japanese, too, just in case. But don’t worry. You actually can do all these things.

I hate to break it down to you my dear treasure but meritocracy is bullshit. You’ll work this hard and somehow go up the social ladder, but guess what? There are, if not billions, millions, of other hard workers who’ll never access a tenth of the privilege you’ll randomly acquire. 

The fallacy of this myth resides in the idea that “if you want it, you can achieve it.” The truth lays behind, in the fact that the only people that benefit from this system are the rich and rare exceptions to a lesser extent, exceptions like you. Sometimes one person is given the proper opportunity to “succeed” for no other reason than winning at the probability game. And once they’ve deemed you “exceptional” they’ll try to make you the rule so that other marginalized communities believe that they, too, can get their piece of the cake. You can be assured now that they won’t all get theirs, but what if you share the piece you get for yourself with all the people who can’t access this privilege? Maybe you can fight for them when they don’t have access to the tables you can sit at. Or maybe you can amplify their voices with yours if theirs is being shut.

safir-dad2

There is one beautiful thing about all the awful ways Western society treats people like you: a whole new lineage can emerge. Thanks to your Muslimness, you can easily connect with 1.8 billion people in the world. Because of your queerness, you can connect with some more. Through your Algerian roots, you can access yet another community. And a consequence of being part of all these constellations of minorities is that your ancestors aren’t only the ones that bore your parents, and their parents, and their parents; your ancestors are also all the Muslims who have lived and queers who have walked on Earth. Understanding your extended lineage will help broaden your experience. Someday your empathy will even drive you to become an activist because of the connection you share with so many people in the world. How could you close your eyes knowing what is happening in Palestine to Palestinians? How could you look away when Uighurs are facing genocide in China? How could you not condemn Russia’s and Chechnya’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people in camps? How would it be possible not to fight for better treatment of trans and Black people across the world?

What did I tell you when I started this letter? It will get better. You will love and be loved, and you will fight with your fists and the softness that makes your heart so rich. And you will win some battles, too, because we are the same person made of tears, of stamina, and most important, of smiles and laughter. 

So fuck them! And never forget that your aura irradiates.

Safir

* For rough translations from the French, “bougnole” is the most racist slur for North Africans, “pédé” the most offensive for gay men, and “tapette” another synonym of “pédé.”

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