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This interview has been made in 2021. Full version will be available only on The Queer Talks book. To be updated about its release click here

Loredane - TheQueerTalks

This interview has been made in 2021. Full version will be available only on The Queer Talks book. To be updated about its release click here

Loredane Tshilombo speaks with the impetus of someone who has waited too long to open up and speak out, eagerly waiting for others to raise the issues that need to be addressed, and who now, having taken her space on the stage, is no longer willing to sit on the fence. She has spent part of her life dealing with frustration by turning the volume up of Slipknot’s songs in her earbuds, in an attempt to try to deal with the anger raised in response to the systemic harassment of an inherently racist and heteropatriarchal system. Considering that we are talking about a racialised queer woman, navigating the Italian society of the first two decades of the 00s must have been quite a challenge.
Moreover, this interview took place in the week of the ditching of Zan bill on the 27th of October, confirming how far behind Italy is in 2021 when it comes to LGBTIQ+ rights. Loredane spoke about her frustration at the continued failure to live up to the hopes placed in an unrepresentative political class, of her idea of true inclusivity, and of the inflation of the word intersectionality, as, despite the supposed good intentions, those who live truly intersectional lives are silenced by those who support the concept of intersectionality. The end of the interview, however, is a message of hope for a future that could be both better and calmer, where spontaneity and the famous saying 'live and let live' can be combined.

How are you? How have you reacted to the sinking of the Zan bill?

Well, in general, life is going well and, above all, I'm healthy. Of course, the ditching of the Zan bill has not helped me with feeling well. My first reaction was anger at the system, and a tremendous desire to fuck it all up. Because, for the umpteenth time, the door was shut in front of our faces. But then came the anger at myself. Especially the next day, after having spent a whole evening watching our senators cheering in the Senate for having nipped in the bud a law that would have protected people. Because the state has been telling us forever that it is not there for people. We see it through the fact that the Bossi-Fini law has not been changed yet, for example. This tells anyone who is not Italian that you can stay here but you can't actually live. The same thing happened with the Zan bill as with the citizenship law, which I had been waiting for since high school. Because of it, in the fifth year of high school, I was already experiencing the fear of not being able to go on a school trip because it coincided with the renewal of my residence permit, despite the fact that I was born here. I have been waiting for changes since I was 15 years old. And I waited so long for this law and for the PD [Italian socialist party, nd] to support it, that in the end eventually the years that are now required to get the citizenship passe and I got it that way, instead of being recognized an Italian citizen for being born here through the creation of a new law. So I was angry with myself because how was I expecting anything different with the Zan bill? We live in a country that keeps reminding me that it's not really the place for me, a black, queer woman, who wants to live in peace with all the rights and duties of other people. Italy keeps telling us that if you are not a cis-het white man – and possibly a fervent Catholic – this is not the place for you.

Do you believe in the differences between 'real country' and 'politics'?

Yes and no. Surely there is a distance, as in any situation where the political class does not include people from the minorities it is supposed to represent. Because it goes without saying that if you don't have members representing all areas of the population, you can't say that you are one with the population when you carry out your duties. But then the truth is that the worst comments that we heard in the Senate and then read in the newspapers are the same comments that you hear at the bar in front of your house. And it's terrible, of course, but it's proof that the disconnection isn't that big. Maybe, the political extremism is more pronounced, but I don't see that much of a difference. The country still thinks of itself as constituted by cis-het white men.

Since we mentioned it: let's talk about representation.

While I find it hard to feel represented in this country, I am seeing a little bit of a change. Especially from the communities I belong to: the Black community and the Black queer community. And the people within are striving to not only be seen but also to find each other, to create spaces where they can share similar experiences and feel less isolated. And for me that's huge, coming from a small town of 3000 people where the only black people in the whole town were the members of my family. To walk into a room and see black and queer people talking and being happy, that's so precious to me. Before going through the media, for me representation means walking into the room and seeing someone similar to me. As far as media representation is concerned, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

Do you find a difference between foreign and Italian representation?

They are further ahead, but not even that far ahead. I find France, England, Belgium more advanced than the USA – because in the end we talk about them when we talk about the media – especially France and England where they are in the third, fourth, fifth generation of racialised people so you look around, turn on the TV and you really feel represented. I remember a trip to London where I was swooning in Camden as I saw a black man with the longest dreadlocks and double-breasted suits. That’s not the same in the US. They live in this continuous balance of acceptance of the Other, but ready to kick your ass at the slightest mistake. Unforgettable to me is the experience on the New York underground, where as you get closer to Harlem the white people leave. And that's something that never happened to me in Milan, where I live. The division in America is so clear that it is disturbing. Media representation is important, but if I'm still ghettoised when I turn off the TV, it means something isn't working.

Is American representation victim of tokenism?

To some extent yes, especially in big productions in recent years you feel pressured to look inclusive, even if you're not really. If inclusivity meant something to you, you would simply open your eyes and brain to the different options when casting, and have a wide range to choose from. If, on the other hand, you always have to use the same people or the categories that you think are the most profitable, you are not talking about inclusivity but tokenism.

Do you feel part of this dynamic?

When I have to do an interview, participate in an editorial, etc., I'm always forced to ask myself the question of whether I'm a token or not, and I don't like that. And I had to think about it especially during pride month. Some projects were easy to accept because I trusted the person proposing them. In other cases I refused proposals for collaborations or conferences, because they invited me even though I had no expertise. If I have no expertise in the field, why are you asking me to participate? Simply because I am queer, because I am black? So I realised that I always have to ask myself if I'm being used. 

Qual è la parte bella della tua intersezionalità?

La ricchezza. Tutto ciò che sono mi permette di guardare la realtà da punti di vista differenti, di empatizzare con gli altrз con maggior facilità e di condividere tutte le parti me che mi rendono più serena e più consapevole. 

Loredane - TheQueerTalks

This interview has been made in 2021. Full version will be available only on The Queer Talks book. To be updated about its release click here

"The invisibilisation of the black queer person happens because you can't think about it. And if you do think about it, it is always the stereotype that gets replicated,"

And it tears me up because I want to be able to accept everything that is proposed to me that I like and that intrigues me, but I have to think twice about it, to protect both myself, as I don’t want to be used, and the communities that I'm a part of. 

What does intersectionality mean to you and how do you live it?

Now that I understand it, I live it well. Before, when I had no idea what the word meant but felt it on me, I experienced it in a more complicated way. In retrospect, I realized that I only gave space to some parts of my identity while others that needed to express themselves I stifled. I grew up in a family with a very macho culture. In relationships, I was made sure that my being a woman didn't mean I was less in the eyes of others. And then my identity as a black woman is vital, because being a black woman in the public space always has some consequences, even when you're little. You have to be careful how you present yourself, what braids you have, how you dress and so on. Because you are a sexual object – as a woman – but you are a sexual object that can be said to be one, because you’re black. And so it's OK to say that if I want to, I'll pay for you.
As far as being queer. I accepted my queerness quickly: I lived my relationships, my crushes, everything, quietly. And I was lucky in that. It's not always like that. Sometimes the external pressures of society force us to leave parts of our identity behind, while we fight for other parts. It is difficult to live peacefully when you have to worry about class, race, religion, orientation and ability. And for some people, certain intersections weigh more than others.

Is the sexualisation of the black female body linked to the concept of 'adultisation'?

Certainly, for anthropological and cultural reasons, there is a perception that the black girl is not a child, but becomes an adult much earlier than the others. And this is how she is perceived by the black community itself. As a consequence it happens that she is sexualised prematurely. For example, my mother made me feel like a little adult the moment a man came into the house who was not of the family, and I had to change from shorts to long overalls. The idea that a changing body as it is at 13 or 14 is already a body that leads to sexual temptation is wrong. Because the body can be developed, but whoever is inside is a child. And you should be protected by your family. Instead your family tells you that the world does not consider you like that, and therefore you have to cover yourself to protect yourself. The world is also your family, and in protecting you, your family is feeding you these ideas.

How do the black queer community and the white queer community mix?

Well. The black queer community wants to be heard a lot more, and maybe the people from the white queer community should ask themselves about the real concept of intersectionality. And understand that just because the majority is white, the majority should not have the power over certain decisions or certain events. We should all move forward together. Leave room for smaller communities. I think that listening is key for dialogue between black and white communities, but a serious listening, not something like "I'll hand you the microphone while I go and get a coffee". Because that doesn't help anyone. If you hand me the microphone you have to listen to learn things that you can then go and tell someone else like you, because I already know those things. And I can help you to understand them, but there should not always be an expectation that I explain them to you every time. There should be sessions, moments of real dialogue where people really listen to each other. 
For Black communities, besides all the victimization, it would be great if they recognised that there is certainly a lot of pain but also a lot of richness. Which you can't do if you have to justify your presence in the world every time. 

Is BIPOC community made invisible?

The racialised person does not have many roles to play in the collective mindset. The invisibilisation of the black queer person happens because you can't think about it. And if you do think about it, it is always the stereotype that gets replicated, the gay black dancer or the white girl's friend. Invisibilisation then also happens because there is a white queer community that doesn't give enough space to other communities and other voices. Then there is also this process where people feel the need to say "ok, we are somehow getting some changes for a community, we can't move forward also on the rights of other communities at the same time" and then these other communities are left behind. But let us climb this ladder together. Or even better: let's knock down this ladder. I may be redundant, but if we listened to each other, we could avoid these problems. It would be wonderful if our shared passion for a cause automatically brought us to the same level, or at least to a level of real listening. 

Why do you think society (in Italy) is slowly legitimizing certain behaviours that would not have been acceptable a short while ago, such as using the n-word?

I think that there is an addiction to being able to say and do whatever you want without consequences. To being able to use all the letters of the alphabet and all the words in the world. And it's a strange fervor. I used to explain it as simply wanting to be offended.  You tell me that you do it for other reasons, that I'm too sensitive and that I should laugh about it. But in my opinion you just want to be offensive, you like that deep down you know that you are hurting me and could be bothering me. Now I've resolved myself to think that it's not really like that. I think that some people are simply so used to having everything, to being able to do everything, to being able to take all the space, that the very idea that someone tells them not to do something, and that someone is part of a minority, is inconceivable to them. Because that person has had everything, so it's not going to be someone who is part of a minority to tell them what I can or cannot do. It doesn't matter that to you that word is an offense: that person must be able to do everything because they have always been allowed to do everything. An inferior person can’t tell them what they can or cannot do. It is a matter of principle. And I don't accept the excuse of ignorance. Some things are a choice, not the result of ignorance. And above all, ignorance does not imply lack of empathy. If I am telling you certain things and I am talking to you about emotions, pains, wounds, I am not giving you an academic treatise on the word. They are matters of the gut, you have felt and experienced those emotions too. So you lack empathy and humanity. When you refuse to meet my needs here, it is a matter of principle: you don't want people telling you what you can and cannot do in your own backyard. Or it is total indifference, which a lot of people are imbued with. 

Interview & translation by Enea Venegoni
Photography and project by Clotilde Petrosino

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