Letters to Ummi



<clock ticking>

هلا بيكم شلونكم

Thank you for coming and being present here.
I know there’s so much going on in the world
but if you’re listening in to this episode,
it means that just for this moment,
we are sharing the most valuable thing... time.

The recordings you are about to hear are a taste of a growing independent archive, a sensitive community project built through a foundation of diverse conversations.

Any language is welcome here, but in this particular sharing you will hear Arabic, English, Farsi, Cypriot Turkish, and Kurdish. Honest conversations belonging to the ongoing, multifaceted project, Letters to Ummi.

Ummi in Arabi means my mother, but in the context of this long-term, intergenerational project, it’s used as a broader phrase to express anything that has offered an experience of life. From a person, to a language, culture, religion, custom. It could be any gendered person, a sibling, a friend, relative, or a stranger. Mother here is not confined to a woman with a womb who has birthed you, but to all the complexities of life, of ancestry, of place, time, and anything that has shaped you.

Ultimately, Letters to Ummi, is for you, me and about us; Queers and all those around us. Centering those often silenced conversations so many of us deeply crave to have with existing systems that for whatever reason have kept us silent.

It’s a space for our communities to safely share themselves, as wholly or as partially as you are, to speak your truths as delicate as they may be. We do not live in queer monoliths but often in heteronormative worlds and environments which for the most part, attempt to dictate so much of who we should be in order to exist, sometimes even disappear, within them.

Confines, conditions and systems.

So this space is for those around us too.

In particular Letters to Ummi is an evolving project that centers non-identifiable and anonymous ways of engagement, focusing on West Asian, South West Asian, North African, and East African realities, both from within the regions and their diasporas. These regions are merely a starting point for conversations, because our peoples, our ancestors, were nomadic long before borders were ever drawn. So as the project evolves, so will the language used to explore it.

For those who need it, the following conversations carry some triggers with them.

Topics discussed are:

physical and mental abuse
conditional love
sexual abuse
governmental torture

There are both English and Arabic transcripts for this episode also.

For more information and/or to get involved, please visit:


شكراً وتفضّلوا




<movement + phone ringing sounds>


Can you hear me?


<Soft and moody music begins to play>




Accepting my transness has been like coming home in a way
The one that

I didn't realise that
I was missing or
that I was
far away from really
Being so pre-occupied
with just




“Methliyin” means same sex


the literal meaning is same sex

Abirat, Abireen are the transwomen, transmen




As queers we…


we normalise living
fragmented lives

that allow us to navigate
our families,
our societies,

And I guess I'm finally

at the stage where
it's no longer
a necessity
for me
to do that




Do you think they
will be happy?
If we said
“oh our daughter is gay.”




Didn't I tell you for her not to do your hair?
Be careful… I've prepared (warned) you

I really don't know how it will be if I discussed
or I open up with any one of them about this situation

I mean you asked me yesterday about my concerns and I told you that I never discuss it with any member of the family.

I'm always keeping myself to myself. 





Her name warms my heart
even at this point
where I am feeling lost from myself

Her face is familiar and
a face that I can never forget
she comes with a feeling that stabilises me
without making an effort, without her being present
in this space I'm in.

Just the thought of her makes me feel a little bit better.

the feeling of




Baba, I don't want her to take the influence from you.
I don't want her to.

I don't want you to talk to her
“I don't want men
I don't want men”




we were driving on the way back from London
and my partner had been living with us
for about a year and a half anyway
in the family home, with mum and dad

Yeah but I didn't know

You didn't know we were an item.
You thought we were friends.
We had a plan basically,
her and I
to move to London.
We were looking at options
and then mum on the way home asked me
“What's your plan?”
and I said
“Oh I think that…”
I mentioned my partner’s name
and a few other friends wanted to
find a place, together
kind of to avoid the idea of
them knowing that we were trying to find a place just alone
and then mum asked me
“do you want to be with her”
and I said “what do you mean?”
and you said
“well, do you want to be with her, like properly be with her…”




But… it’s good to marry for love,

I think so too.

If you don’t love, of course you can fall in love later with that person maybe you get used to them or something but love is something else. When you see them your heart goes güm güm güm, your heart beats fast

<both laugh> 




Didn't I tell you the conversation is between me and you?
Why did you make it a “situation”
Why did you make her go against me?




I… I know that they will not accept it.
In a way or another, and they will…
I'm just trying to protect you and
make your relationship with them as normal as possible




“Guz” is like the Turkish Cypriot version of “Kuz” which means girl.
So his name is Girl Mustafa “Guz Mustafa”

because he had long hair.
There's a book written about him
I just translated the blurb of this book and it says

“Seen many times while flying towards the hill surrounding Dilekkaya village”

He was always seen flying like
I asked my grandma like “are you sure you’ve seen this guy flying?”
And she was like “Yeah… I've seen him with my own eyes flying”
Apparently he wasn't human.
He was like a jinn.


Yeah he's pretty famous in Cyprus…
People used to come from
even other countries surrounding.
People used to come and get their coffee cup read or get their fortunes told by this person or whoever.
People in the village used to say
“God first
then Mustafa”
as in this person
or whoever


And was it known that he was gay?
Well I did ask my grandma that once
and erm… she said probably.
My mum also met him.
My mum said he used to go to the class
cause this village is really very, very small.
He used to go to the class and only give the boys sweets or like money.
Not the girls.




I don't know how to say gender is a social construct in Punjabi.




but don't forget that me,
I didn't know at the time
I didn't know what gay is


I had no idea about it in Kuwait, at all. 




My earliest memory of sex is associated with sexual abuse
I was abused as a child
I was thirt…
12 or 13.




My sister’s daughter.
About 2 months ago
she got exposed to sexual harassment from her mother’s husband
she went and told the police.

I mean a girl, of only 12 of age
so brave seeking justice


She's so so brave

What did they do?

They went to bring the harasser
and gave him a warning.

What is this?
No way!
This is a child!

She's 12-years-old




I just told him
“your daughter and your son are gay”


So you told…
at the same time?


Ah ok


sorry I just find it funny now
but at the time it was traumatic…





Where are we
where are they?
It's impossible
That I am the only one
in my family




I have an aunt, so beautiful.
She is something else…
Allah give her health and happiness
Her age now is
She's a farmer
she doesn't read or write
but she's a poet
She's very strong
and very much respected in her community
She is from the people of Hillah
but she is living outside Hillah,
near to the ruins of Babylon
She lives in the same house she was born in
One of the stories that always remind me of her and stay in my mind…One time a woman from the village she's from used to work in the city of Hillah
an employee in the ministry
and there was a male colleague who used to sexually harass her
and she didn't want to tell her family because
if she told them it may make a problem
and there may be a calamity and she didn't want that
so she came to complain to my aunt
and said

“there's this guy and he does this and that and 

he follows me,
and he hurts me etc.
and I don't know how to get rid of him”
so my aunt said

“I want you to make him a promise

as if you are agreeing to what he wants.
I mean…
Trick him.
Laugh at him.
So promise him and tell him to come with you
and bring him close to the river bank”
which is close to my aunt’s house and the woman's house.
The river was low, there wasn't any water in it

“So bring him in the car close to this bank and
then I will come out”

So most importantly…
My aunt hid,
on the edge of the river
inside it
and the woman came and she brought the guy with the idea that

was going to happen between them
and then…
my aunt comes out


She's carrying her gun
she opens the car door and says 

“get out

He got out shaking and was like


she said


She brought rope with her
She got him down
and started to tie his hands and feet
and told the woman

“come tie his hands and feet together”

and then she gave her a stick and said 

“hit him”

So the woman started to hit him
my aunt didn't like it
she wasn't hitting him hard enough
she didn't see her rage at him
or at his sexual harassment towards her
So she started to hit him hard, real hard.
And they opened the boot of the car
and picked him up and put him in it.
And my aunt, she knows his family.
So she went and took him to his family.
They arrived at his family’s house
and my aunt yelled

“Mother of fulan!”

The mother of the boy came out
and then my aunt said

“I didn't know you were a cheater!” [as in dishonest]

the mother responded in shock

How could you speak like this?
No no no… on your fortune not me…
What, how?!”

My aunt said “well because this isn't someone’s son.
This is not a man’s behavior.”

And she told the mum everything that he did
and what they did to him and said

“go take him.

Open the boot of my car and take him, get him out”


So the woman
opened the boot of the car
spat in her son’s face


and she got him out of the car
and he got put back in his place
without there being a local problem
my aunt solved the issue
and from then on,
he started walking with his eyes to the ground so afraid of all the women
because behind them all
is a woman like my aunt.





I will kill, I will kill
Those who killed our sister

I will kill, I will kill
Those who killed our sister
I will kill, I will kill
Those who killed our sister
I will kill, I will kill
Those who killed our sister
I will kill, I will kill
Those who killed our sister




I still remember that day
I was walking in the village like
lost or something
I was just crying and lost




So I am gay
They are straight and imprisoned.
What will happen to me?
I could be raped
Torture, torture
in the political prisons
Imagine, if I go to prison as a political prisoner and a gay prisoner.
The government will use my gayness and punish me for it
And they'll use my politics and punish me for it
They will torture me extra… double




I do think guys it's worse
because there's a lot of pressure to carry the family name there's also a much more…
I think culturally…
They see it more as a…
a vulgar thing
because they view the sexual act before anything else


and with women they claim we can't have sex cause
“there's nothing to have sex with”

mm mm mm

so for men
it is seen as worse
because it's like a much more physical act
and I think that that really frustrates me
there isn't an understanding
of homosexuality within our communities
outside of sex


it’s just sex
there's no empathy or understanding about the love
or the attraction
or the passion
or the devotion towards one another




Why did I say…
Why, why did I mention that she's in every cell in my body?

Because I grew up with her
from ahhh…
when I was back at uni
before I met her
I would say I was an embryo really
there's no experience in life
nothing real
really apart…
I mean I know I went through my mum’s death and all
but I was like closed
my eyes were shut
I don't think I saw life the same way
Not I think…
I'm sure
I didn't see life the same way since I laid eyes on her
we both had a rebirth of us
when we met
and then we went through
helping her gain her freedom
from her family and all of that
it was
it was like we were in labour
at that moment
and then when she did finally gain her freedom and come to the UK
I have grown so much in that year and I have learned to love the way I loved
at her hands




You cannot continue to live for the sake of other people’s happiness if it is compromising who you are as a person.

Yeah fine, but despite the fact that I told you at some point not to tell anyone of the family, you went and told who you felt you want to share this with, right?

Yeah because I'm not going to tell everyone because…

Yeah exactly fair enough.
You want to tell the world go…
You don't understand that

it's nothing to do with the family only
it's the society
it's this scary world we live in.

I do understand that

It's so many things, it's…

I do understand it mum

People they just
they can kill
kill you

I understand it
for the sake of this you know

You know I do think it is a family issue
I tell you why I say that
because people outside
come from families inside.
And the more we give excuses for families inside the more shit happens

and so for me I don't see it as a separation
I absolutely see it as a togetherness
because if there was boundaries of behaviour
of people holding each other accountable
and people holding themselves accountable inside


then not all that shit is gonna happen outside
but it's because of the fact that
most families don't talk about the problems
most families sit in shame with their problems
most families see abuse but never call it out





Freedom is our right,
Zhina is our code word
Freedom is our right,
Zhina is our code word
Freedom is our right,
Zhina is our code word
Freedom is our right,
Zhina is our code word
Freedom is our right,
Zhina is our code word

[referring to “mahsa” amini]




Anyway anyway
if you're walking with a mustache

no they won't allow it
they'll say cover it
either wear a niqab or remove it
they won't allow her to walk around in a mustache

Actually that will be interesting
Just interesting as an experiment…

Do you want to try?




Ok so what did your sister say about this whole thing? 

She didn't take a stand.


She said…
”Why didn't you wear…” like this…
you get me?


<deep breaths> 

oh my god…

After it, afterwards,
she testified with her daughter
when her daughter presented the report
she testified at the police station to say that he had even sexually harassed the domestic worker

oh my god…








First thing we say about women is
they didn't take their full rights
for example lesbians, how are they living in Saudi Arabia?
Transwomen do not find any rights
they don't find any protection.
If a woman experiences violence
the abuser gets a warning.
He takes a warning and leaves
until today.

He gets a warning

if he abuses her
for example for physical abuse
he gets a warning

Saudi Arabia doesn't even call us gay
actually they call us “shuthooth jinsee”
all of LGBTQIA+ they call it “shuthooth jinsee” not LGBT
No they don't call us gay or same sex
they say shuthooth

What is shuthooth?


Ok shuthooth means
when you call someone shath
it's as if you're saying faggot

This is from the government; they speak like this? 

Shuthooth yeah.
It's not just Saudi Arabia, it's all the Arabic countries
except Lebanon.
I mean they all call it “shuthooth jinsee”
it's against the law, it's a crime to be gay in the MENA
it’s a crime
I'm not sure about North Africa exactly to be honest,
I'm not sure about Tunis,
but I know that
Saudi Arabia

And all of them call it like this?

el “shuthooth el jinsee”
Look… the “shaath”
the meaning of the word shaath
it's the one outside the norm
Outside “nature”
It's the odd…
shaath basically means odd, ok?
I mean, the literal meaning.
So, it's not, you're not the norm
you're not within the equation
you're the odd one out
so this is the meaning of shaath

But what do we say to that?

is the one whose manners are rotten.
For example your sister’s husband is shaath
He is a shaath… this pedophile… shaath.
We are not shaatheen
we are just gay
our inclinations are just gay

just like your inclinations are straight


That's literally the only difference between us
but they say about us that we are the shaatheen





<Arabic prayer for the family>

Please Allah do not hurt me with my son, or my daughter, or my husband, or  myself, or my mother, or my brothers and sisters.
I always always, every prayer, I have to pray like that.




I, I contemplated a lot about what to say in here, that…
can describe how I feel
and how important it is for me, to know that I could change someone’s life
through words and
by talking to them, no matter how far our distance may be.
I wish to say that,
in our lives, we haven’t got much time to waste.
Time is the most precious of the tools we have, to make our dreams
come true

therefore we are not allowed to throw it away, the same way we can’t abandon our dreams.
I believe that perhaps, realising and valuing this connection between time and our effort to fulfill our dreams, in these times [referring to uprising in Iran & standing for LGBTQIA+ lives in Iran], is of utmost importance.
That’s it.





This episode is presented with the support of Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Middle East Office, Beirut.

Letters To Ummi

Letters To Ummi is an evolving multilingual, intergenerational and multifaceted project that centers non identifiable and anonymous ways of engagement, focusing on Queer West Asian, South West Asian, North African and East African+ realities, both from within the regions and their diasporas.

It is an on-going project that centers lived experience and questions how to safely archive vulnerable and intersectional realities.