A CONVERSATION ON PROCESSUALITY

WORDS

NIMCO KULMIYE HUSSEIN

VISUALS

RAFAELLA BRAGA

Our processes are vital to the way we look at our experiences. Reflecting on practice, we cover personal processes that operate in territories that stand against the norm.
  In this rich conversation, we share deeply personal stories with three individuals: Berlin-based Brazilian artist Charm Mone, Sydney-based artist Bhenji Ra, and renowned Brazilian born model and activist Lea T.   The dialogue forms around shared experiences of transness, and allows everyone to reclaim the space needed in the contemplation of everyday challenges and the confrontation that comes with it.

NIMCO: First of all, I could start by saying that I’m excited that I can discuss the theme of processuality with you.

A process is something that’s on-going and may end in an outcome––something that is determined by its context. It can be performative, iterative (involving some kind of repetition) or quite linear and smooth. Personal journeys can differ from work-related processes or be tangled and hard to separate from one another.

What’s your take on process, and how would you determine one?

 

BHENJI RA: A process for me is determined by the framework, the space, the time, and the tools, and all of the ingredients that I need. I keep talking about seeds, which create this thing that I’m birthing. My process is being in constant labour. I look at most of my work in the sense of motherhood that runs throughout my life. It’s what I do and who I am as a trans woman—being supported continuously and holding space for others. I look at it as a space of labour, holding that process and allowing it to shape what I’m giving birth to.

 

It’s hard to label what a process is, or what it takes to birth a great work. It’s slowly being revealed to me that it will work with a lot of intuition, intention and listening––and I need to trust that process. I need to just go with it and maybe look at other people’s processes.

Getting to know how Western and heteronormative processes work made me realise that it doesn’t work for me. I’m talking about shaping time and space and reclaiming the language of it all. I’ve been saying a lot these days that I’m on trans time and that the process is transness. It intersects with a lot of my Filipino heritage as well as the indigeneity that comes with being Filipino.

 

We talk about our time and our practices as “rubber time” that falls and spends and shrinks. Trusting and going with it has been a long process in itself. I’ve learned that much of the process now is being in a relationship with the world, picking at the globe, dissecting the world and taking what I can as instruments to create the work.

CHARM MONE: I feel very connected to this. For me, it was very revealing when I was sitting down and reading about trans time. I think that helped me a lot to understand the reasons why I’ve such a weird connection to processes. It was quite recently that I realised that I was too focused on a sort of process that never worked for me. When it comes to personal processes, it’s okay. I got the message, I’m taking my time for a long time. I’ve understood the difference between creating isolation instead of taking your time.

 

I have a strong need for connecting and engaging with different stories, scenarios, and processes. I thought my process was never valid because of white cis-heteronormative spaces. But there’s also space for us. There’s a time zone for transness and that’s what should matter, at least for myself.

It was very important for me what Bhenji said as I got to see another side of what we are all doing. I was not really paying attention to it, not finding the reasons why I was so uncomfortable with the idea of process—especially when it comes to expressing and connecting. I also never know when a process really starts and when it really ends. For me, it’s adding a different perspective, a different turn, a different curve. You’re letting go as you need to pay attention to what’s coming next.

 

LEA T: I think that creative process is being connected with the reality of life, mind and what’s going on in the world. Everything is connected. The way we develop our processes isn’t often understood correctly. We aren’t included in natural systems because our processes are seen as unnatural. It’s strategic: We see these socio political movements that exclude us from reality. When we’re processing our lives, it’s made unnatural and kept outside of what’s seen as organic.

 

The processes that we share as humans are similar to the ones of animals—in the end, we are all animals. It’s unfortunate how people fail to recognize that our process is [in tune with] the Earth and that it’s very much organic. All our processes are organic, we’re all just different creatures. If we don’t oppose arguments that exclude us, we’re letting them think we’re not human anymore. What’s considered as natural is of course influenced by society and everything that surrounds us. But we need to find what feels the most natural for us. If we oppose it, we’ll end up hurting ourselves. And this is often what society wants us to.


“WE AREN’T INCLUDED IN NATURAL SYSTEMS BECAUSE OUR PROCESSES ARE SEEN AS UNNATURAL”— LEA T


 

N: I see how you are all referring to the need of being in a relationship with the world, in balance, while reclaiming your space. Listening and intuition, do these play a role in your processes?

 

B: Intuition is a tool that has been corrupted for so long—by the world and by heteronormative white capitalist patriarchy. You fall into this non-intuition space where we’re just being led or driven by capitalism and asked to produce at a dangerous pace and to create work that’s not nourishing.

When talking about what you want to put in the world, there’s a certain time it takes. It’s the same when you’re planting seeds. What we need continuously is medicine such as art, music, writing and all of that material. Medicine has to be put into the soil, intentionally. It has to be watered and taken care of before it’s ready.

 

It’s similar to how I think about my work. You would not rush labour just to get the baby out to go for the next one. When you give birth to a child, you’re going to take care of it, hold the space for it, and look after it. When I think about my work, I was just birthing material, leaving it behind and going on to the next one for so many years. Not thinking about the relationships that work had, and who was involved in it. Today, I’m like ‘this is my baby’. I’m going to look after her, I want to grow her and be with her.

 

In Australia, we have a process called permaculture, which means permanent agriculture. It’s a system of cycles, cycling and circles. Nothing is disposable, and everything is up to use. When you leave a [permaculture] land, the land is better than what it was before. I’m obsessed with this idea that goes against the traditional ways of farming, where we farm just to produce and finish. Permaculture is about cycles and I’m thinking whether we need to think spiritually in the same sense. Do I still have value when I’m finished? Or do I just finish as a transwoman at 30 or 35, at that age where you’re [seen as] done? Like, how do I keep cycling?

 

I love that Lea [talked about] organic—how her work is always connected to the Earth. It reminds me that we’re not this artificial material, trans folk aren’t artificial [even though] we’ve had surgery. We have all these processes, but at the end of the day, we’re deeply spiritual. I’m interested in this conflict of the trans body being like a self-grown body, which is incredibly organic. For me, that’s a beautiful contradiction.

C: Transness as permaculture. Period. [laughs]. We’re also understanding more and more that we can’t be signed to this life the way we are. We do need to establish the cycles more and more…

L: I’ve seen so many times that [people] don’t like the concept of body modification—they see it as unnatural but it’s not. If we’d take a look at all the cultures before the colonial ones, they’ve always used to have body modifications. Even though that’s not the point [when we talk about] changing the perspective of the body, it’s part of nature. The white, heteronormative society is the one that keeps telling you that if you change your body or do body modifications, it’s unnatural.

 

That’s what happened before these communities were erased by the [white patriarchal powers]. What we’re doing is bringing back the [different] realities of native people. We have had [transness all along]. We have two-spirits in the Native American people, rae-raes in Polynesia, hijras in India. We have had a lot of transgender communities that used to live in societies, which had a more profound and stronger connection to the earth.

 

Being a transgender with body modification isn’t something that’s out of the natural system of the human being—that’s something we’ve to remember. Too often, we’re not included. What Bhenji said about permaculture is really important. It’s as essential as I’m talking about yoga and self-care to understand how precious and important our bodies and the connection with nature are. We have to [practice] self-care without feeling that, we as transgender, are not part of the system.

 

In permaculture or agroforestry, you bring back the connection with nature. It’s nice to hear a transgender person speaking about permaculture. When I studied it, I was always the only transgender person in that space. People often develop these beautiful philosophies using all these studies and concepts from native people and make it something that’s just for them—they never speak about us.

 

I was living in Brazil for 4 years, in a place with a lot of nature. Most of the people were doing permaculture and still, I was seeing so much transphobia. Even with such a beautiful concept, there are a lot of problems. [I believe that] spirituality is one of the most essential things we need to bring back to the community in Brazil. I’ve started to notice transgender people talking about spirituality, which is something that wasn’t much spoken about.

For instance, 11 years ago, when I was being interviewed and tried to talk about my spirit, my essence, I was told that I don’t have one. They were only interested in my transition, it was painful. They want to keep us on a low level intellectually and spiritually. When we discuss gender, sometimes we’re focusing on the [factuality of our experience] that we [are backing up] with science. We’re wasting time talking about all these meaningless things. We don’t get to talk about our essence—instead, we’re put into a fixed position that’s predetermined.

 

It must be uncomfortable for them to hear a transgender person speak of permaculture or spirituality and not talking about her body or plastic surgeries. And I don’t have any problem speaking about those, what I’ve done to my body is a modification. And that’s the way I see my body, my persona and my soul. They’re all connected, and I don’t want to separate those and focus on only one thing. We also need to go beyond the thought that body modifications are unnatural. We have always used to do it, why can’t we continue doing it?

N: Absolutely! We’re all multifaceted human beings.

Creative or work-related processes often overlap with personal journeys and experiences and simply can’t be left out. These experiences and influences are shaping and constructing everything.

 

It would be interesting to hear more about the different stages of process.

 

Are there any expectations? And how do you deal with influences from outside?

 

C: I try to have no expectations at all. Especially if we have a strong connection to the way ahead of us. I really try to focus on the work that needs to be done instead. The most powerful thing to me with Bhenji’s analogy of giving birth is the nurturing after you give birth and keeping that connection. Therefore you’re never empty. I can see that in my work, too— there are many different things I gave birth to and did not take care of. I ended up just reproducing what they expected me to do.

 

Perhaps they want us to keep focusing on the body and on these [specific] discourses because they don’t want to revisit our own powers. When you start nurturing [your work] and everything you touch and connect with, that’s when you can access your power and your nature as a trans individual. [That’s also why] I wouldn’t create any expectations and instead focus on the work itself, on the material I’m putting out and in the processes I’m deciding for myself. I think there’s a lot of power in decision-making, consciousness and awareness. In the strength that [leads you] to find out what you’re looking for.

“I’VE BEEN SAYING A LOT THESE DAYS THAT I’M ON TRANS TIME AND THAT THE
PROCESS IS TRANSNESS” — BHENJI RA


 

B: I feel like I have to go through all of these different triggers when I’m asked to make work or asked to do anything. It’s this constant self-doubt of checking myself before I even begin to think about what the work is going to be. I hate that I have to go through that. I feel the more I check myself and my processes it actually pushes back expectations around what I should be doing. I’m coming back to this idea of intuition. My intuition [tells me] to do the exact opposite of what I’m expected to do. If I’m sometimes expected to create a work, such as a choreography, having all these dancers in the space, I’ll rather ask them to come in the garden and watch the tomatoes grow. Like, let’s watch time fall and slow down [laughs].

 

C: Expectation numbs us for connecting to our intuition. Intuition should be guiding the experience, at least for me. Especially when you’re creating. I feel quite stuck if I start thinking about all that’s expected from me. I recently released a body of work that took two years to make, which I’d forgotten—I’m someone who focuses on the results. I suddenly started realising that I need to create my own time zone and pace. The connection with my community is also very different, it’s a world that belongs only to us.

 

B: I feel like it has a lot to do with the idea of failure, like queer failure. Accepting that no matter what we’re going to do in this colonial patriarchal capitalism, we’re going to fail.

 

C: Exactly!

 

B: Let’s just lean into failure and hold it as a weapon. When I was talking about getting triggered, it’s [connected] to the expectation of having to be exceptional. I have this expectation of myself to live in the space of scarcity. I may never have an opportunity where people are listening to me again. [I’m pushed into] fight or flight mode—you don’t want to give birth in that mode. You have to breathe, right? Once I can get past that, I can dig into my intuition. It comes down to cycling and creating this world that has continuous cycles.

 

C: I feel that my only tool is to manifest, it became a powerful part of me. But I’m also significantly reduced to manifesting. It’s something as strong as anything else that’s considered powerful. I also love the idea of weaponizing, using it as a tool that empowers us.

 

Like, I know that I’m being signed to fail, and I know I’m looked at as a body, being in transition. The global community fails in looking at us as what we really are. I feel that a big part of our work right now is to remind you about that. There’s a point when we have to understand who we are. We have to empower and create roots and cycles. We have this extreme power of being channels for those who aren’t here anymore and for those who are trying to keep a message of existence. It becomes really important to create these processes of reconnection.

 

I also feel that I’m having an extreme need to find my own assignments, my own timing so that I can be of service. You have to define those things while you’re trying to thrive and to understand the individuality of it. That’s when self-care and all of that comes into play. I’m honestly exhausted from representativity.

 

I’m also understanding how people see me in a way that I never saw myself before—in this very particular way, of me being great and having something to say, that I don’t see myself. I was neither educated nor encouraged to see how great I can be, how great and how hard-working we are as trans individuals. I was taught to fail and to give up because the system in which I was raised is colonised and missing out. But it’s important for me to be tired to finally understand my need to reconnect and give space to a different narrative of my own life. While I’m creating all these processes I can yet understand all the girls beside me, and just be in awe of everything we’re saying.

 

N: There are numerous influences from us and others that affect our historical presence, existence and processes. I feel that it’s significant to deeply understand the frameworks that surround us and shape our thoughts of ourselves. Are there some particular processes you would like to share or reflect on?

 

B: I recently made a film for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The film was about highlighting our community in Australia of trans folk. In terms of diversity, we have indigenous trans folk that identify as Sistergirls and Brotherboys in Sydney. We also have a really large diaspora of South East Asian people as well, which is my heritage. The film reflected on those voices within the diaspora living in Australia.

 

The process was really rushed, and [we were working around the clock]. We just had to get it done, it was really difficult. There were times when my intuition was telling me to check on the people we were filming—not just filming them but asking if there’s anything they need. But because I was so tired, I didn’t have that headspace and the film backfired because of cultural protocols that weren’t done correctly. What I learned from that process was to be in a relationship [with the project] and make sure everyone feels heard and seen. Letting people know who you are and continuously introducing yourself and being with the indigenous communities. They don’t care about the product, they care about who you are: Who are your people and why are you doing this? If you come into the community and extract these voices and create a film, then it’s just a process of extraction.

 

L: One of the current processes I’ve had during COVID-19 was when I had to stay by myself––and as Charm said––to go through a process of decolonisation is so complex. As we’ve been colonised, it becomes difficult to arrive at a state that’s enough. During the pandemic, I thought a lot about the effect that colonisation had on us as transgender or nonbinary people. I’m so grateful for even having a home. The process of quarantining and being alone for nine months without seeing anyone was vital for me to really go through some hard questions and understanding myself as a whole being.

“I WAS TAUGHT TO FAIL AND TO GIVE UP BECAUSE THE SYSTEM IN WHICH I WAS RAISED IS COLONISED AND MISSING OUT”
— CHARM MONE


 

C: For me, not being able to work this year gave me space to realize that I needed to take care of a very precious part of myself—myself as a whole. This process in itself has been something that is showing me what I really need right now. It’s hard to express those things when it comes to such a personal level. When I’m suddenly reflecting on myself, I feel very lost and very out of everything. I think that’s because I was never really connected to what I really wanted to do. I was always flying around, never giving myself the necessary space to share my ideas and invest in my transition. I don’t know why it took so long to take time for it.

This process in itself has been very revealing and empowering for me moving forward. Listening to [different] perspectives and having a moment like this, where we can listen to each other also made me realise many things. There is a difference between distancing and actually taking the time. I feel like all these processes are necessary.

I started the year with strong energy, I just released my EP and was very motivated. And then, everything was cancelled. I hit a depression and it was horrible to revisit suicidal thoughts and to be in that environment. But after a few months, I saw how I kept investing in myself. It felt so surreal because I was not expecting that putting myself first would solve my problems. Giving myself the opportunity to change, to believe, to take a risk and to be present.

I went through a very violent decolonising process and transition of space. Having to run away from Brazil, needing re-establishing my life, all of that was already me giving myself a chance. I think the most significant gift of it all was that I was still being protected, guided into meeting so many people. I believe there’s a reason why I met Bhenji in Berlin or ended up having lunch with Lea. I think the process that’s still with me is one of giving myself a chance to change and to make space.

 

@leat

 

@charmmone

 

@newgenderwhodis