Why we need to get away from box ticking identity
Each month we talk to someone who is shaping culture in their industry and showing us what it means to be Unmistakable. We will be posting the stories from our incredible Despora models in the coming months.
This month, Sabah Choudrey shares how their identity has been imperative in shaping their work as a trans youth worker, and the experiences they have faced that has led them to being a vocal speaker for LGBTQ+ activism.
What's your name and what do you do?
My name is Sabah Choudrey and I'm a trans youth worker, speaker, writer, and a carer for my dad.
How does your identity affect your work and your life in general?
I am blessed that I am in a position where I can use my identity in my work. As a trans youth worker, I've been working in a trans-led charity for the past 4 years and my identity is a huge part of connecting with other trans youth and youth of colour. As a freelance, I've been writing and speaking openly about my identities - in fact it is my identities that get me to some events. For sure I experience tokenism, ticking the trans/Muslim boxes, but I don't shy away from calling this out where I can. Being able to be so myself in these different worlds makes me think about privilege a lot, particularly the link between visibility and safety - i.e. who gets to be visible is who gets to be safe. I talk more transparently about the privileges I have and systems that I benefit from, being masculine, cis-passing and able-bodied, for example, instead of the ways in which I am oppressed. I believe we can learn a lot more from power than oppression, because it is just a lot more uncomfortable to address. And I like making people uncomfortable.
Who have been your role models and why?
This is always a difficult one for me to answer, because I don't really 'look up' to people, perhaps I look to the sides for inspiration. The people and places I take inspiration from are always changing. Most of the time it is my close friends, other queer people of colour or trans Muslims just being themselves, fierce, fighting, and fucking authentic. It's the space they take up in public being visibly gender non-conforming, it's them asking for help when they've been taught to be strong or that they don't deserve it, it's the poetry, prose or art they create that puts to words experiences I thought I faced alone.
Do you think other people see you differently to how you see yourself?
Yes. For example, as a trans person, I used to think so much about how other people saw me when I identified with a binary gender. How other people saw me was all that mattered, the pressure to be accepted/pass was huge. But I realised that everyone's ideas about gender are different, cultural, racial, geographical, generational. We have different lenses we view the world through, right, what makes a man/woman or what looks masculine/feminine. And I have different ideas, a different lens. And that's okay. It's not wrong. I'm not looking for people to see me as I see myself anymore. We can just try and be aware of that lens, but it's always going to make us see people differently. Learning that there is no right or wrong matters more.
Do you see yourself in advertising and marketing?
No, and I think this is why I've not really had 'role models' or looked up to anyone when I was younger. I think advertising and marketing are becoming more diverse now, at the same time, what I now take in or need from advertising and marketing has changed too - as my identity changes as I just get to see myself more, as I learn and discover who I am.
Are you tired of hearing about Diversity & Inclusion?
I am tired of hearing about D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) and not hearing anything more. D&I is more than just saying it right, it's more than just an event during LGBTQ History Month, it's more than just a two hour training, it's more than just a person of colour on your all-white staff team. I want to just hear about what people or organisations or communities are doing without using these buzzwords and just saying it for what it is. I ask myself, if I call this event diverse what impression does that give and what is the reality? Diversity is subjective and often lets me down. I often see a panel called diverse with just white cis men and white cis women speaking, or a people of colour event with only South Asian people presenting. I am tired of being disappointed.
What one thing would you say to your younger self?
I know you are doing the best you can do to survive. I know it's hard when you do find people like you and you're desperate for it when you carve out that space. Try and take your time. Breathe. They will always be there, just like they always were there. It just had to be the right time. You will survive.