I don’t feel “seen” by labels, acronyms, pronouns, languages, or mainstream media — even gay culture. But over the years, I’ve learned that liminality doesn’t have to be lonely. I’ve learned to revel in the in-between, the grey spaces that add color to both myself and others — because they’re not all that grey; to me they feel like a prismatic spectrum.
XY&Z sets out to do the same. A digital magazine and community platform, it’s an opportunity to explore those intersections of categories and bleeding edges, to question what “identity” means and challenge the idea that labels must foster tribalism or feel limiting. It’s about all the enigmatic parts of ourselves that feel too tiny to interrogate, or that we’re pressured to repress or ignore.
Each issue is led by a guest editor who curates the content based on the things they love, their people, and the parts of who they are that are tough to articulate. The mission of this format is to create a platform that, like us, is endlessly varied and always being reimagined. It also allows us to avoid asking anyone to fit neatly into a box, to reflect stereotypes or represent an entire group alone. As the founder, it feels right to introduce the format. This inaugural issue comes from me, with the support of Sarah Burke and Leila Ettachfini.
Issue One is a love letter to my community — the queer SWANA diaspora — and in some ways, an attempt to situate myself within a culture whose tongue and traditions have long evaded me. A combination of patriarchal customs, conservative religion, and lack of forums for progressive public discourse makes the SWANA region a particularly inhospitable place for LGBTQIA+ folks. As such, many who choose to be out of the closet are in exile in other countries — although these new homes aren’t always welcoming or complete havens for queer SWANA folks, either. This diaspora creates a range of mashups and hybrid cultures. From Norway to Canada, America, Egypt, Lebanon, and France, our contributors for this issue have built homes, families, and identities for themselves all over the world.
The stories in this issue are rooted in tension and paradox. Mariam Bazeed’s deeply personal essay about Sarah Hegazy explores the emotional work those of us in the queer SWANA community must constantly perform to affirm our existence both to family members who won’t accept our sexualities and to westerners who can’t fathom amiable queer/SWANA intersectionality. Khalid El Khatib’s personal essay reflects on how isolating with his father during the pandemic helped him close the distance inscribed in relationships between immigrant parents and first-generation children. And our photo essay explores the tension, felt by many in the SWANA region, between private and public personas — a necessary safeguard and psychic uncoupling in spaces where homosexuality and gender non-conformity are profoundly taboo. Finally, from the dance floor to digital spaces, the issue also hosts conversations about decolonization that seek to center SWANA bodies, history, and traditions. These and other pieces ask: How can SWANA artists incorporate their identities into their work while also resisting exoticization and tokenization? How do we share our culture while protecting it from being co-opted or consumed like an oud-scented candle from Diptyque?
Many of us in the queer SWANA diaspora are denied our histories, families, and culture.
These intersections and paradoxes feel particularly resonant right now, with another pride month in the rear view mirror and another flare-up in the ongoing ethnic cleansing happening in Palestine. As chromatic, corporate pride floats bejeweled with muscled cis gay men ambled through Manhattan, the streets of Gaza are still strewn with jagged rubble, twisted shrapnel, and the memories of family members lost. The Black Lives Matter movement reminded us last year that there is no queer liberation until there is Black liberation. There is also no queer liberation until there is Palestinian liberation. There are no parades; there are marches, and we continue the fight until we all have freedom. While this pain overseas has made the production of our first issue emotionally difficult, it has also been a massive motivation and rallying cry. No pink-washing can disguise the apartheid state and genocide being committed against our family in Palestine, and this issue seeks to thread our liberation together.
Many of us in the queer SWANA diaspora are denied our histories, families, and culture. This issue is a love letter to all who have processed those losses and built something from it — whether it’s nightlife programming, music, writing, or poetry. As we continue to connect the dots of our diaspora I have faith that our community will one day return home. This project is one step towards that goal.
On a personal note, Issue One has strengthened the muscles of my cultural identity — as I was influenced and mentored by the many talented contributors of this issue and the innumerable casual Zoom conversations about the above topics and sentiments. I am deeply grateful to each and every person involved in the production of this magazine, from our incredible editorial team to the artists and writers who colored-in a rough outline in ways I could have never anticipated — I have learned so much from each of you.