Nadia has been through 24 fucked up hours of racism and transmisogyny. She is pissed off and shaken and wants to channel this rage. I love her and I love to write. So here we go.
Nadia has been in Pakistan for the past 6 weeks. Her father was Pakistani and mother white Danish. Being in between societies, never fully seen as ‘real Danish’ has been her lifelong reality. However, the racism she has experienced in the past 48 hours since returning to Denmark make her question if there is a place for her in this society.
Yesterday we gave a presentation about doing journalism and documentary photography stories about people and communities who are often sensationalized by media. We have just been in Pakistan together where Nadia introduced me to the transgender women she has been friends with and worked with as a photojournalist for some years. I felt good about our talk! The audience seemed quite engaged and on board. There was one slightly uncomfortable question trying to pin transphobia on either Islam or Christianity but I managed to deflect that false dilemma and point to colonialism and power hungry men.
Nadia. A strong and talented documentary photographer who deals with way too much bullshit in Danish society.
Later in the evening Nadia met one of the (now drunk) audience members in Pride square. It was close to the stage and Nadia felt completely cornered for the next fifteen minutes. He thanked her for talking about ‘real problems’ trans people face - not that shit that’s always in the Danish media. “I’m so tired of hearing about those fucking trans woman bitches in Denmark”, he told her. “Can’t we all just get along? I’m not political, I’m just a man who loves men,” he said. “Why do they have to make it such a problem all the time? Like with the Danish Girl. Why do they have to complain about it? It was just a beautiful film but they make it a big issue.”
Please note how transgender people become a ‘they’ here. A group assumed to hold uniform opinions and fundamentally a ‘downer’ ruining his gay male party in LGBT-land. Also, there were many Danish trans people publically criticizing The Danish Girl in mass media - but only one transgender woman: read more.
Understandably, Nadia went into self-defense mode. Who is this guy? What is he capable of? She stood with her back to a fence with this man gesticulating with a beer in each hand, arms spread. She began to run through our presentation, wondering if she had something to support hatred of trans women in Denmark.
The man rambled on, bringing up a birthday party for a trans person he went to that was ‘so fancy, it was absurd’. He bragged that he ‘took those trans people down’ at the party for being fancy. He gets the real story of what it’s like to be a transgender woman, you see, because he met a Pakistani trans woman a couple years ago at pride and still writes with her ‘every day’. “Did you know that they struggle to get a visa to come to Denmark,” he asked. YES, she knows. She was literally the person who handled their visa application, carried out a media campaign and complaint, and succeeded in bring them to Denmark.
Nadia and me in Pakistan earlier this summer. Photo by Waqas Aziz
He used a whole range of slurs to talk about Danish trans women – most of which degraded them for being too weak, whiny, and feminine. Nadia describes feeling like she was being punched in the gut with each new slur. He began complaining aggressively about ‘those trans women’ who take up too much space in media with their complaining, who are always making things a problem. From his comments Nadia felt certain that he was referring to my girlfriend, Laura, who had been at the talk. Whether or not the man was actually referring to Laura is actually irrelevant: Nadia had that sense, and it drained her, caused her to question herself and her work. This wasn’t the only time in the last two days when Nadia sensed an expectation that she would dislike trans women because she’s brown. Sharing this with me Nadia tried to explain that she felt paranoid even bringing it up but couldn’t shake this feeling. This is an un-sexy, hard to pin down psychological effect of unrelenting racism and micro-aggressions: gas lighting, self-doubt, anxiety.
Today Nadia got a call from her bank about some suspicious activity on her account. As the minutes dragged on Nadia couldn’t shake a lingering uneasiness about the premise of the conversation. Of course it’s great that the bank is on top of any suspicious activity. How could she put into words, then, that it didn’t really feel like they were on her side even though she’s their customer?
She asked them to send a list of the suspicious transactions. No, not possible – they needed to discuss them line by line over the phone, immediately. There was a fixation on Nadia being in Pakistan. Questions about transactions as small as 50 kroner in a café in Lahore though it had clearly been established that Nadia spent a lot of the last to months in Lahore.
After 20-25 minutes the bank representative says, “By the way I need to mention – we received a photo. When you sent your tax information there was a photo attached as well and we have been very concerned.” Nadia explained that she has thousands of photos on her computer seeing as she’s a photojournalist and apologized for the mishap. But the bank rep pressed on, “We are really worried in the department because the photo depicts a woman with a gun in Pakistan.” At this point Nadia still didn’t know what photo they were referring to or what she was being accused of – an uncomfortable position for anyone but especially who makes a living out of photography.
The controversial photo by Nadia Horsted-Narejo. At the very least we can say with certainty that the photo was provocative... just as Nadia anticipated.
It turns out the controversial photo is of a woman wearing a hijab at a mini-carnival of sorts near Lahore’s Old Town. This image is that cover photo of this article. The woman is indeed holding a gun: a toy gun used in a carnival game where one tries to hit a target and win a stuffed animal. When she realized this, Nadia tried to explain that the photo was actually intended to stir up confusion in a western viewer. A man stands passively by while a woman in a burka fires a ‘gun’. Why do they assume the photo was taken in Pakistan? Why didn’t they mention the photo 7 weeks ago when they got the mail? Why does the bank representative feel that that man standing idly looks ‘menacing’?
There wasn’t time for Nadia to process and piece together this strange, mistrustful attitude and racist assumptions before heading to Lars Løkke’s Pride reception. She met up with my girlfriend at the entrance to experience the whole thing together. To Nadia it felt like the wonderful diversity of the room was mentioned every other sentence. Looking around she saw two black men, a friend who is also Pakistani-Danish and a bunch of white people.
Nadia is a professional photographer. Still it's apparently hard for her bank to comprehend that she would have a lot of photos on her computer, travel for work, and have interest in supporting other artists. Go figure. Photo by Nadia Horsted-Narejo.
Before heading to the event Nadia had fired off a series of sarcastic riffs about how she’s going to be the darling of the party because everybody needs a brown girl for their pride event – no matter she’s cis and straight, it makes for a good photo. She called me from the event because the reality of being this token was too absurd, too overwhelming. To complete the picture she stood next to my (trans) girlfriend. Several of the media crews filmed them from a distance for extended periods. Not close enough to hear their thoughts, not interested enough to ask their opinions – just right for a clean photo-op. Nadia repeated again and again – they think I hate her because I’m brown. Or it’s exciting that I don’t hate the trans woman because I’m brown.
Two days after all this absurdity, Nadia’s bank froze her account. They claim there was more ‘suspicious activity’. This super dodgy activity was Nadia trying to transfer a sum of money to the Pakistani bank account of an artist. Because she bought a painting from him. The bank didn’t care to elaborate on why it was suspicious when she explained it to them or unfreeze her account.
And there you have it. Happy pride, folks.