We interviewed YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf about his experiences with bullying, his new TV series and what it was like coming out to his parents

DtL: Hi Riyadh! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Riyadh: Hey, I’m Riyadh. I’m an Irish guy who moved to London earlier this year to focus on my career and personal growth. I’m a YouTube content creator and Documentary filmmaker with BBC.

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying?
Riyadh: As a kid, I experienced a lot of bullying, both on and offline. The first experiences of this were on the school playground where I was called a whole list of cruel names and it made feel like an outcast.

The trolling online began when I decided to set up my YouTube channel at the age of 16. I was making videos for about nine months when I began receiving daily death threats and multiple abusive comments about my mannerisms, voice and appearance. I went to the police to make a statement but they just told me to stop making videos and the comments would stop. I went offline for seven years and then decided about 18 months ago to make a return to the site that I loved so much.

“I began receiving daily death threats and multiple abusive comments”

 

Since my return, I have seen an unbelievable wave of love and support that overshadows any trolling I get. The reason I came back to YouTube is because with age and wisdom through my teenage years I grew a tough skin and the ability to not care anymore. The most important thing to me is my happiness and if I am not creating content then I am not happy. I began to flip the negative comments into a positive by using them for funny ‘Reading Mean Comments’ videos which my viewers love. I take the cruel and uncalled for hate and make fun of it, I troll the troll or make frivolous remarks about the comment which in turn takes the power and sting away from the hateful words. I do it for fun but also to empower others to see that these words can be dangerous and incredibly hurtful but if you have the right believe in yourself and self-loving attitude, then you can tackle them.

“I take the cruel and uncalled for hate and make fun of it”

 

In school, I just battled through my bullying on my own. I had little or no support from friends or teachers when it was at its worst. I didn’t realise just how anxious, sad and lost I was at the time because those feelings just became my new normal. I found happiness and a safe space in my own home with my parents who became my best friends.

DtL: What advice would you give to those that are being bullied?
Riyadh: Speak up if you’re being harassed or bullied. Ask the person why they are doing it, tell them the effect it is having on you and if they still don’t stop then seek help from a person in power – A teacher, parent, someone who you trust. Suffering in silence and just ‘putting up’ with it as I did is never a good thing. It will eventually make you afraid of the world and worried about every person you speak to.

What you need to realise is that there are millions of people in this country and all over the world who are silently supporting you and on your side. You are never alone. It’s just about reaching out and finding one of those people who can help you take some steps to stopping the bullying.

Sometimes all it takes is a dose of reality for those that bully to understand the impact of their actions and therefore stop. Some cannot be spoken to and that’s just a reality of life but once again, this is not a battle you have to fight alone or should feel embarrassed asking for help in. Teachers and elders are there to assist you but they can’t help unless they know what is going on.

DtL: Do you have a coming out story? If so can you share it with us?
Riyadh: My coming out story began with me coming out to myself and being comfortable with my sexuality.

It took me about four years to build up the courage to begin telling friends and family. My mother was great about it and supported me. She was mainly upset that I had been holding it in for so long.

I came out to my dad nine months after my mother and initially he was fine but the following days he broke down and was incredibly upset. He is Iraqi and although not a practicing Muslim he had a lot of worries about what other people would think. He was having a lot of difficulties coming to terms with it. My dad recently admitted that he was considering suicide the night after I came out. It was heartbreaking to hear as you can imagine.

“My dad recently admitted that he was considering suicide the night after I came out. It was heartbreaking to hear as you can imagine”

 

In the months following this household drama my father began to relax and take time to learn what being gay means. We worked hard as a family to repair the broken relationships and learn to love again. My dad came with me to Pride and I can vividly remember seeing him have an ‘ah ha!’ moment. He saw how beautiful, open and loving our community was and he felt proud that his son was part of it. He embraced me and told me he loved me. Since then both my parents have been to multiple Pride events, have marched in marriage equality rallies and have appeared in multiple TV documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community. I am incredibly lucky to have them!

DtL: What are the best and worst things about being a YouTube sensation?
Riyadh: Hahaha I would use the term sensation lightly!

I love being my own boss and having 100% creative freedom in all that I do. I don’t have to run any ideas or concepts past anyone – I can just make it! I get the joy of travelling the world for work and making friends in every new location I land. I really couldn’t ask for a better job.

On the downside, it can have an impact on your mental health and anxiety as you worry about the performance of your channel and videos wondering if it is dying and if you need to change things constantly. This is why I make sure to step away from the computer and phone a lot and give myself some digital breathing space.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Riyadh: “Riyadh, it’s all going to be ok in the end” or “Work hard, love hard, surround yourself with great people and never let anyone tell you something is impossible”.

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Riyadh: My proudest moment was getting the chance to publicly campaign for equal marriage in Ireland. I was one of the faces of young Ireland and the ‘Yes’ vote. I worked for months campaigning on national and international media including BBC, CNN and MSNBC then standing with thousands of Irish LGBT’s at Dublin Castle as the result was read out. It was the most amazing experience of my life.

Riyadh on sexuality: “You are not sick, you are not shameful, you are just human”

 

DtL: What does the future hold for Riyadh?
Riyadh: I’m working on a BBC Three documentary series about LGBTQ culture and issues in the UK including homelessness, racism, body image, femme shaming, porn and more. It’s a dream come true to be making documentaries with BBC and something I’ve wanted to do for countless years.

Beyond this I hope to continue growing my channel, begin working more in entertainment TV and eventually, one day have my own talk show! I have hope! 🙂

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
Riyadh: Look into yourself and take away all of the societal, media and family ‘norms’ and expectations. When you have removed all of those external pressures, what do you feel? Who are you drawn to? What is your heart saying?

You are not sick, you are not shameful, you are just human. Go online and find others like you. Speak to like-minded people and begin to truly love yourself and your identity. Then and only then should you consider telling the people around you in my opinion. Your future is bright but it is brighter when you are free!

We interviewed Alayna Cole, founder of ‘Queerly Represent Me’ about the representation of the LGBT+ community in gaming

DtL: Hi Alayna! Could you tell us a bit about Queerly Represent Me? 

Alayna: Queerly Represent Me is primarily a database of games that feature queer content. It is also a home for resources about queer representation in games, including data collected and articles written by me, and work provided by other researchers and writers. The database started as a private collection, designed to help me keep track of games I was researching in my academic and journalistic work about queer representation; during that process, I decided to make the resources public so that anyone interested in queer representation could make use of the research I was doing. We are currently in the middle of a major update that will introduce a number of useful new features, which will be released before the end of the year.

DtL: Why do you think something like QRM is important?

Alayna: QRM is important because representation is important. By collating and talking about the representation that does exist, as well as how it positively and negatively impacts the audiences who engage with it, we can help promote change. The easiest way to see more games with queer content is to clearly and rationally show developers what works well, what doesn’t work, and why. I think it also helps that the suggestions on QRM are curated by someone who is also a developer, game design lecturer, and journalist; it helps me to ensure the dreams of our audience are presented in a realistic way that is influenced by a range of perspectives.

“QRM is important because representation is important”

 

DtL: When you built the database, did you notice any reoccurring trends?

Alayna: I’ve found plenty of trends, and I actually spoke about them at the Digital Games Research Association Australia conference a couple of weeks ago. A summary of my conference presentation and a related paper should be available on QRM’s ‘resources’ page soon. Some of the key trends are a lack of asexual representation, diverse genders (transgender and non-binary genders), and diverse relationship structures (such as polyamory). Of the queer representation that does exist, a lot of it is focused on same-gender relationships, particularly between women. It is often presented to audiences in a way that is very focused on sexual behaviour, stereotypes, and what can be seen as attractive from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’. There aren’t many explicitly bisexual characters, with developers tending to instead focus on creating playersexual characters (who are attracted to the player no matter their gender).

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/about-qrm2-1.png”]

 

DtL: Is the landscape of gaming changing? Has there been been an improvement in LGBT+ representation?

Alayna: There have definitely been more games with queer content released in recent years than there has been in the past. There are a couple of key reasons for this, I think: firstly, more easy-to-use game engines are allowing independent developers to produce games that reflect their own diverse experiences; and secondly, our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers. The games industry itself is slowly becoming more diverse too in terms of who is working at these larger companies, and that’s making it harder for developers to simply lean on ‘default’ characters. It’s a slow process, but we’re moving forward.

“Our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers”

 

DtL: Do you think a lack of representation/visibility in the media we consume has broader effects on society?

Alayna: A lack of diverse representation in media definitely has broader effects on society, just as increased representation does. Increasing representation has two key benefits: it helps those within minority groups establish a greater sense of identity and belonging; and it exposes those outside the represented groups to diverse perspectives, which can help them develop more empathy and understanding. Without the positive impacts that representation brings, we have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem, and we have less empathy in the world. Empathy is what we need if we are going to address issues such as prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and hate crime, which are harming individuals and communities.

“We have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem”

 

DtL: What is next for QRM?

Alayna: QRM just received a major update, adding a spreadsheet view to the database, as well as new information to help users, researchers, and press. This update took hundreds of (unpaid) hours to implement, so I’m taking a short break on adding new features for now. Next on the list is better integration of social media so that entries can be shared and discussed more easily. I also want to add more categories, so that games can be searched through and sorted by the identities that are being represented. I’m still adding new entries to the database all the time thanks to tips from the community, and am working on feature articles and academic papers that help spread this research further.

 

www.queerlyrepresent.me

Follow Queerly Represent Me on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Categories
Gender

Gender As a Spectrum

“Gender is not sane. It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white” –  Kate Bornstein (American author and gender theorist)

Gender As a Spectrum is a book that challenges the notion of gender binaries and explores the lives of trans and genderqueer people in an intimate series of photographs and interviews. We spoke to photographer Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert and co-author Kaey to find out more about the inspiration behind the book and what it means to be trans and genderqueer in 2016.

 DtL: How did the idea for the book come about?
Joseph: A mutual friend introduced us. That was also the evening I photographed Kaey for the first time.
Kaey: I already knew who Joseph was and what he did, though. Back then I was working for a fashion magazine in Hamburg, I was already aware of him and his work. I‘d basically followed him from the beginning. That was about three or four years ago. I‘d wanted for a while to make a book about transgender people and wrote to Joseph about it. He already had a similar idea, and had already started on a project.
Joseph: I was sick of just model boys and model photography and wanted to start something a little more personal. During my time at high school I elected to take an art course with the name ‘Man, Woman and Individuality’, and I wanted to pick up on that again. I was out on the scene a lot and wanted to do something for the community, something which I felt was missing, something that I could make comprehensible in my pictures. When Kaey wrote to me, I was in the middle of my preparations for my final paper at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin. I’d already been dealing with gender for that, and our ideas fitted together well.

“There are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’”

 

Kaey: Three years ago, not long before I started taking hormones, I had a phase in which I had a very strong urge to read some literature about it. I noticed there was nothing available, or just nonsense. It was absurd that there was nothing which reflected my reality, and that of many of my transgender friends. I felt that something was missing and I imagined what I would like to find. I wanted to portray people in their differences, their own identities, their personal pathways and their own words. Not written by some author conveying a story. Not from reporters or non-trans people who had written a book, but transgender people writing about transgender people. I think it‘s nicer to speak up for yourself.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_1.jpg”]

 

DtL: The theme of gender identity is a sensitive and intimate issue for many; how did you approach the subjects and the interviews?
Kaey: From the get-go it was clear that the book and the topics should take the personal perspective. In practice, I decided because of that to conduct the interviews via email, so as to give people the time and personal space that they each needed. Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people and it was important to show that there are all kinds of genders, and that they also have all sorts of sexualities. That gender in and of itself doesn’t explain sexuality, but raises the question ‘how do I define myself and what I am into?’

“Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people”

 

Joseph: We wanted to have questions that were pretty intimate, but it was up to each person how they wanted to present themselves and which questions they wanted to answer. Some do it with humour and eloquence, without having to reveal their innermost selves. It was supposed to be a framework, so that people had the opportunity to say what was important to them.
Kaey: Ultimately, that opened up many dimensions for us; some portraits are very detailed, while others are very playful. Some respond succinctly, others put a lot of reflection into it. Although they are always the same questions, the variations in the answers made it very exciting.

DtL: Joseph – as a cis man, how did you arrive at the issue of gender, what relationship do you have to it?
Joseph: In Berlin you’re confronted with the fact that there are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’, especially in the scene. Questions such as ‘who am I, and what makes me different from other people?’ arise. They’re thoughts which are fundamental to my understanding of human beings and how I deal with others. I always start with myself, with looking at myself objectively. The inequities between male/female, gay/straight, trans/cis – where are the boundaries, where do I locate myself in it and how can I disrupt it? I realised that there’s no fixed aspect of my gender and my sexuality that I could define as ‘me’, but that it is fluid. You can drift. You’re not trapped at any one point even if you, as I do, define yourself for example as a ‘man’. The book is therefore for me an analogy through which to understand life. Gender is a theme for everybody, and is part of every identity.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_21.jpg”]

 

DtL: The book doesn’t limit itself to one side of gender identity, but it contains portraits of people from transgender to drag, binary to non-binary, it also includes performed, playful aspects of gender roles. What was particularly important when selecting the subjects?
Kaey: In the beginning it was my idea to make a book about transgender people, but Joseph was very connected to the community around the drag scene, having taken a lot of pictures at parties. That is what captivated him. We wanted to then open the issue up and not confine ourselves to transgender themes. It also made sense for the title of the book, and the question of how people define their gender. The hook was to present people who do that differently to the norm.
Joseph: Maintaining a balance was difficult. A lot of the work was in persuasion. These are the real lives of the people whose portraits are presented here, and that’s sometimes a very profound thing. Suddenly people show up who want to show that to the world; something that intimate. This isn’t a scientific study for which we sought and collected, but a documentary collection of portraits of personal encounters. It was primarily always about the person and not necessarily about having to have a particular facet of gender represented. I didn’t want the work to take a back seat in order to keep everybody happy. The book was important to me, but it was also a lot of fun. I would like the people to feel the same joy when they look at the pictures that I felt when I took the images, and not to think about what could still be missing.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_18.jpg”]

 

DtL: For a while now, transgender issues have received the attention of the mainstream media. What is of particular personal importance to you about this new attention? Do you think your book could make a contribution to it?
Kaey: As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important. When I was 18, there was no Internet, and what is possible today is worlds apart from that. Fortunately, there is now a limitless well of information if you‘re young and don’t know where you can, or want to position yourself. That well must continue to be filled, though. Transgender people and people who do not fit into standard categories still go too much ignored. It takes many voices, and it’s good that in the book there’s no Conchita Wurst or Caitlyn Jenner represented, people who get their press anyway. The average person, unfortunately, always hears more of the ‘shock stories’. It‘s great to have a book that just shows people as people, and I think that is still relatively rare for transgender people. When we give transgender people the opportunity to speak about themselves, it lends a whole new colour to the discussion. I know from personal experience that when cis people write about you, you’re always one of the very special butterflies behind glass – something to be admired before moving on to the next exhibit. When we speak for ourselves, I find it much more authentic.

“As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important”

 

Joseph: Transgender has always been there, it’s not a new thing or a trend. Three or four years ago, when I started with this theme, there was no Caitlyn or Conchita in public
life. The increased attention was good for the work, though, and it has further convinced me that other people are interested in and being confronted by it. Due to the greater media attention, more people dare to stand up for themselves, and our work seeks to inspire people – that they can be who they are.
Kaey: I also find it important that it’s a book and not an exhibition. A book is something wonderful, something immortal! I would like to leave something for all those who come after me. Who do you have in Germany that talks about it? The book may be international, but in Germany we have far fewer icons like Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox. Of course there are already conversations taking place about this topic in art contexts. The fact that we offered people the chance to tell their own stories themselves creates a great framework for discussion. Through Joseph’s eye an aesthetic is proposed which has nothing to do with bird-of-paradise readings, or representing people as sad freaks. Joseph has a flair for capturing people in their emotional presence. Not with a suffering gaze, but honestly. Sometimes melancholic…
Joseph: … and proud.
Kaey: Yes, proud too – it‘s a talent to capture emotions, whichever they may be.
Joseph: You can’t make a book on talent alone. Without Kaey this project would never have become what it is now. I am very glad that we found each other, with such a basic trust, and that something this valuable could come of it. We‘ve both grown through it. My photography has also evolved a lot over these two years. When you photograph someone, it is always a kind of convergence. It’s my desire to hold onto that – that interpersonal interaction of commitment that is created. As an artist, it is often as if that encounter would never have happened if I hadn’t taken a photo.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_4.jpg”]

Gender As a Spectrum is available from [email protected] 

 

Hannah lists 10 stereotypical things people say to bisexuals

1. Are you still, erm you know..? 

Yes I am! And guess what? That’s never going to change. This is who I am and it’s not a phase. And if you can’t even bring yourself to utter the b word when you question my sexuality (again) I’m going to feign ignorance until you actually say bisexual out loud. Then I’ll ask if you’re still gay/straight to show you how ridiculous and offensive your question was.

2. Make your mind up. Pick a side! 

Why don’t people understand that sexuality isn’t binary? Or a choice between two sports teams? Or something that you even choose in the first place!? I was born this way. Bisexuality is the ‘side’ I’ve ‘picked’ thank you. Choosing an option on the menu when all the food looks great, now that’s when I’m indecisive.

3. Why won’t you just admit you’re gay?

Because, and I know you won’t believe this, I’m not! Being bisexual is not a rest stop on the way to destination gay. It’s a sexuality in its own right.

4. You’re just doing this for attention.

Nope. I’m really not. Because on the rare occasion my sexuality brings me any attention it means I have to deal with something negative.
Just want to go one day without any biphobia please.

5. You’re greedy.

You know being attracted to more than one gender doesn’t mean I want anyone and everyone all at once, right? It just means my partner could be any gender, not that I think everyone is hot.(But if there’s one chocolate left in the box I will eat it. Because, chocolate.)

6. Bisexuals are dirty cheaters.

I’ve never cheated on anyone in my life, but sadly people hurt other people in this way no matter what their sexuality is. Being bisexual doesn’t make you more likely to be unfaithful.

7. Wanna threesome?

Not with you!

It’s awful to assume people want this just because of their sexuality. I’m not a super sexed up person to be used to entertain you and your partner before being thrown away, never to be spoken to again.

Strangers, what makes you think it’s ok to ask me for sex before knowing anything about me?

Friends, you would have never asked this before you found out I was bi. Show some respect.

8. You’re not looking for anything serious.

Again some people are, some people aren’t – but that isn’t dependant on anyone’s sexuality.
If you’d give me time to explain before running for the hills, you’d find out I’m after a long term, committed relationship. So come back!

9.  Should I use my superpower of invisibility for good or evil?

The kind of jokes bi people make to other bis when “LGBT+” events and organisations completely ignore us. Hello, we exist!

10. You’re welcome here.

I don’t fit into gay or straight spaces. I’m usually not wanted in either. So when someone reassures me it’s ok to be there and that any biphobia will be dealt with accordingly, I feel like crying and hugging them in relief. This is one of the best things people say to me.

Written by @secrethannahbee