Finding where we belong

Related event
Contributors
Share

In the first edition of Encounters, we hosted a conversation between Joëlle Sambi and Mert Şen. Joëlle is a writer, poet, theatremaker, and LGBT+ activist. Mert is the co-founder of Bebe Books, a queer publisher and ongoing collective experiment. Central in the discussion was the topic of belonging. Joëlle’s newest piece Maison Chaos, plays in Theatre Nationale 03.04 - 13.04. As a Different Class member, you can attend Maison Chaos for free on 09.04 and 10.04! Make sure to reserve your spot - we’ll see you there!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the projects you’re working on?

Mert: I’m Mert, cofounder of a queer collective called Bebe Books. Since 2018, we’ve been printing publications, but our project has evolved to another format and now we are also organising events and exhibitions. At the moment, we are residents at Netwerk Aalst and at Cas-co Leuven, where we’re developing a project exploring queer printing methods.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89eb2bc984d41b350d2_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_01.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d90c8561ccea3c7a0a49_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_09.webp"/>

Joelle: As for me, I am a writer and poet, I perform and do theatre, I'm also an associate artist at Théâtre National. Since 2015 I’ve talked mostly about LGBT+ issues, police brutality, and belonging. Being born in Brussels and growing up in Kinshasa, I’ve always wondered where my place is; I often question that notion in my work. My upcoming theatre piece, Maison Chaos, combines music and slam poetry, and talks about the topic of violence towards women and children.

Being born in Brussels and growing up in Kinshasa, I’ve always wondered where my place is

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89ea0bdac5078bb2340_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_02.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89f7a1af89c84983483_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_03.webp"/>

M: Belonging is something I think about a lot. I was born in Turkey, lived in Portugal and now in Belgium. As a queer person, going back to Turkey, I don’t feel like I belong, even though it’s my home country. Then here, as a queer immigrant in Belgium, I’m an outsider as well. But I think I have a solution: my body is kind of my home. That gives me peace of mind and helps me move on.

J: I agree. I feel most at peace in both Brussels and Kinshasa. But as a queer person over there, you don’t completely belong. It’s if it changes something about you, like your nationality or your colour. And here, as a black woman, you are so visible. It’s like you don’t really belong anywhere. For me, my home is my chosen family. The people I travel with, my close friends, where they are, where I am, where we are: that’s home.

For me, my home is my chosen family

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d136b4162459d28bdbdc_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_29.jpg"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d1354bf49870397e0b48_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_26.webp"/>

M: How is it when you go back to Kinshasa? What is the queer community like?

J: I’m actually working on a documentary and I’ve met a lot of queer people in Kinshasa. There are known queer collectives who go on TV, for example. But I wouldn’t say it’s a very open or gay-friendly country. As a girl, growing up, there is this thing called a Carine, which is like a girlfriend. So every little girl can have a Carine, until you are 12, it’s like some sort of game. Then, you are a woman and it’s not allowed anymore. But I grew up having a Carine and I never stopped. [laughs

It’s funny to see how the communities are changing, as the new generation is becoming part of it. They’re so young but already very aware, defining themselves in a more precise way.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89ef8c358516525695a_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_04.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89fb82c2bd6d54a80ab_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_06.webp"/>

M: Identities are really changing. What queer means nowadays is so different from even five years ago. For me, it took so long to come out. You need to discover yourself, it takes time. Being queer is still not completely accepted, but it’s much better than in my youth. The new generation really knows themselves better and accepts it.

You need to discover yourself, it takes time

J: A few years ago, we used to say ‘queer’, ‘dyke’, ‘butch’… but not ‘lesbian’ - as if it was an insult, you know? I think we also need to question these definitions that are served to us. Because when you don't question the system it becomes very rigid.

<img class="editorial-image" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/660c095210e3cdb6473816bf_differentclassDC_Joelle%2BMert_LOW_10.webp"/>

M: Yeah, sometimes we’re told what the right way of being queer is. It’s suffocating. I struggled when I was still in the closet: being told how to be a man, how to be a straight man, how to act,… And then you come out, and you’re told how to be queer, what to wear, where to go…

J: We are never far from being wrong. Sometimes within our communities, we give guidelines: ‘this is good, this is bad’ It can be hard to navigate, especially for people who are more vulnerable.

M: It’s a learning process. I think representation is really important. That gives me hope. It’s so nice to see people like you on stage. People can learn from you and see you as an example.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89eda6155ac86b3d616_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_14.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6602d89ee2d92c3f2e9fe20d_DC_Joelle%2BMert_HIGH_13.webp"/>

J: Well, it’s a big responsibility [laughs]. I don't know if I'm an example, but at least I'm out there. Because we have lacked that representation. So it’s good that now others can look at queer artists, see what they are doing and say: ‘I can also do that.’

M: Of course, there are still so many problems. But if we compare with even ten years ago, I think we are making progress.

J: Some places are slower than others, but we are getting there. 

M: Seeing how my queer friends in Turkey still struggle, I feel a bit helpless. There are such talented people who get no support from institutions and can’t present their work because they’ll get backlash from the state. That's something I’ve been thinking about. ‘How can we provide support there, and create this kind of bridge?’ 

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6606e7340215bc7382ffe3aa_differentclasscutDC_Joelle%2BMert_LOW_23.webp"/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/6606e73452bfabb3f0eac76e_differentclasscutDC_Joelle%2BMert_LOW_12.webp"/>

J: A friend of mine in Kinshasa has this organisation that is clearly queer, but they cannot get official recognition. Still, they get funding from abroad and have really gotten far. They started by organising gatherings and are now doing conferences talking about homosexuality and discrimination. They’re very courageous.

M: I have a book with a funny title here. It’s a photobook of Iranian homosexuals, but it’s called There Are No Homosexuals In Iran. I think the president of Iran said: ‘We don't have a homosexual problem because we don’t have homosexuals’ [laughs]

J: [laughs] Ah voilà, problem solved.

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @josambi / @mertsen_ / @bebebooks.be <br/> Maison Chaos at Theatre Nationale, Brussels  </div></div>

Different Class works with the interest of their community at heart.
Our work’s purpose is to foster a solid network for independent artists, those who love them, and those who want to support them. Become a member to contribute to the local Belgian art scene.
THE BASICS OR THE FULL EXPERIENCE

Our membership plans

devoted
The dedicated package for 1 month
10,95/month
Access to all events
Discounts in our shop and in other stores
Our magazine every 2 months
standard
The basics for 1 year
7,95/month
total of 95,4 billed once a year
Access to all events
Discounts in our shop and in other stores
devoted
The full experience for 1 year
8,95/month
total of 107,4 billed once a year
Access to all events
Discounts in our shop and in other stores
Our magazine every 2 months
A Different Class totebag
All prices are in Euro (€), tax included — renews automatically, cancel anytime
Welcome

Name Member