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Archiving queer brown feelings

Reflections from a year of collecting stories
By Mustafa Saifuddin |
OCTOBER 15, 2020

Video created by Anum Awan
Music by Arooj Aftab
Illustrations by Hanifa Hameed

To explore stories and contribute your own, visit the Archive of Queer Brown Feelings.

Have you felt connected?

Lately, amidst the loneliness of the pandemic, I have been nostalgic for the exhilarating feeling of some of my first connections with other queer and trans South Asian folks. I have been cherishing memories of moments where strangers turned to dear friends through an urgent exchange of stories upon recognizing our intersecting identities. I have been hoping to recreate some of these feelings in the Archive of Queer Brown Feelings, and I am deeply grateful for all the people who have been so vulnerable in sharing their voices.

Each time I browse through the recorded stories in this intentionally messy collection, I feel held, supported and connected listening to familiar and unfamiliar voices. The stories in the collection describe the diverse range of experiences we have as queer and trans South Asian people — moments of feeling seen, feeling heard, feeling confident, feeling erased, feeling connected, feeling wild, feeling belonging, feeling terrible, feeling isolated, feeling expansive, feeling stronger, feeling open, feeling wonderful, feeling resonant, and feeling different.

Have you felt erased?

Crafting participatory prompts for this collection required me to challenge many of my assumptions related to queer and trans South Asian experiences. I was interested in using the archives to explore questions of erasure, silencing and removal. In the space of the stories in this collection, I learned the importance of interrogating the line between archiving and surveillance, and I heard of many instances in which resisting documentation and firmly guarding privacy could also be powerful tools to protect ourselves.

These stories challenged me to reframe my understanding of erasure to also respect the ways in which my community has actively resisted the record. So many of the stories I have valued most while working on this project never made it into the visible collection. These phone calls off the record and stories shared without the pressure of being documented form an important invisible extension of the collection for me. They shaped the contours of the collection and informed my questions and approach even though they remain unseen.

Have you felt seen?

I hoped that the framework of sharing feelings would create a shared space of vulnerability without asking us to make ourselves legible to everyone. By organizing the responses by feelings rather than personal identifiers and allowing our stories to co-exist in resonance and contradiction without prescribing too much structure, I hope they speak for themselves and find privacy in a tangled mess.

Hearing these stories, I find it powerful to note the range of responses: from the sadness of never feeling seen to the liberating feeling of finding resonance with others. Queer and trans folks are often asked only to speak of coming out narratives and provide stories of overcoming challenges. These framings can erase the complexity and diversity of our feelings, and I am reminded by these stories of the wide range of ways in which it is possible to feel seen.

Have you felt differently?

At the start of this project, I wrangled with the ways in which we are often asked to legitimize our existence through connections in history. I was worried that my own work was only motivated by a desire to locate these connections to dispel the idea that my queerness was a departure from South Asian-ness. These stories have helped me recognize both the comfort of recognition in connection to past stories, and the excitement and power of leaning into the ways in which queerness is a process of constant reinvention and creativity. As this fellowship comes to a close, I am saddened to wrap up these interviews, but I am also so excited to see how our communities continue to locate ourselves and leave our traces in the archives.
Illustration by Hanifa Hameed

Mustafa Saifuddin works as an ecologist and spend much of their time thinking about soil, fungi and trees. Mustafa's family is from Hyderabad, and they were born in Saudi Arabia before growing up in Texas. Mustafa's fellowship project centers queer and trans South Asian experiences across the United States. The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.