Safir Boukhalfa

MYSTORY with …

31 Years, Berlin

“I forgot that I could afford flexibility,
experimentations and imperfections in my path;
that I could be living in intersections, in multitudes. …”

Published: December 2022

Identity Updates.

Quite recently, a friend of mine asked me over text: “Are you non-binary?”.

I laughed in front of my phone at first because to me, it was just the most obvious thing. My pronouns were displayed everywhere, from Instagram to Linked In, I would occasionally post the non-binary meme on Instagram, have my cute “they/them” in my work signature even; overally I live a pretty open life.

I also knew that this person didn’t mean any harm, the question came from a genuine place of interest and care. Yet, it remained hilarious to me because I realised one thing: I simply forgot to come out to her and despite all the signs, she actually wasn’t sure, because to her, I appeared to be a man.
I presented like a man, therefore I was one, right? I forgot that it was important to notify people of any “updates” on your gender, sexuality, religion, etc.

I got so used to displaying my identity that I eventually obliviated the fact that it needed updates once in a while and that it wasn’t in fact, so obvious. People had known me for years as Safir, Algerian, queer, gay, ex-Muslim, cisgender, able-bodied, immigrant, low-income, etc. Because it took me so many years to come to terms with how different I was going to be from everyone else in the world, I unconsciously “fixed” my identity the way some get fixed-term contracts.

I forgot that I could afford flexibility, experimentations and imperfections in my path; that I could be living in intersections, in multitudes.

There was no prerequisite for me to reduce who I was to fit any pre-created boxes.

As a result, my answer to the text was “Yes, I am. Let’s talk about it this weekend :)”. Following this exchange, I had to think about where I was at, as a person. Was I actually Algerian? Well, of course I was, but I had also figured out by now that I identified much better with my Amazigh and African roots overall than the regular national one.

Was I queer? This was pretty certain as well. Gay? Well this needed a bit of an update actually. I first came out as bisexual when I was 18 but people back then always told me I was gay so I accepted it as my fate without questioning it. Over 10 years later, I have to be clear about it: I am not gay. I am indeed closer to omnisexuality than to anything else but also accept to be called pansexual.

What about ex-Muslim? Tough one. I negated this part of me for such a long time because it felt like the part of me society hated the most (even more than my queerness, can you believe?). I can admit now that it was part of a very needed survival strategy to distance myself from how we were perceived worldwide. I was hoping it could offer me the chance to be treated better globally. In all honesty, years have taught me that no matter how far I stood from Muslim culture (from my culture) I would always and forever suffer from islamophobia so I could as well just embrace not only said heritage but also my faith. I also now try to approach Islam from an adult, non-judgmental perspective and I have to make a confession: there is some much beauty and peace in it.

Cisgender Safir? Well, this was a blatant lie. I always knew I didn’t fall under the binary-spectrum but lied to myself and to everyone else as it was too difficult to admit that I was going to “transgress” the common idea of what gender is, that most people wouldn’t ever understand it. It was such a liberating and joyful experience to talk to one of my best friends about it the first time. Their eyes opened and broadened with an incredible warmth. I told them gender to me was a construct I struggled to understand, that I neither felt like a man, nor like a woman; that I neither felt masculine, nor feminine; that I wasn’t feeling like a 50/50 but rather like none at all. While I understand how important gender is for some and respect it; I do not want gender to define me, I feel far from it, like it is of no importance to me. Today, I would call myself agender: a person who does actually not feel like they have a gender. My best friend received the news with a smile, a hug and a simple question: “Will you go by any specific pronoun from now on?”.

What about my non-disabled body? Up to now, I still agree with that statement but who knows what is going to happen in the future? I could write further about all the other sides of my identity, but I believe that by now, you get the image. Updates to me are necessary. Not only for others but mostly for yourself. As I regularly check myself up on how I feel within, I get to have a deeper understanding of who I am as an individual and as a part of my communities. There is so much power in knowledge.

Coming out for me was never (and won’t ever be) linear.

It still happens everyday: on Mondays about gender, on Wednesdays about sexuality. Most importantly, within me it changes every morning. Ever so slightly but with fluidity. Is my experience unique? Probably not. Is my experience universal, absolutely not! So should we expect anybody to live their experiences the same way we do? According to the Western ideology, it appears that everyone should come out.

Trust me, our sole experiences should never be made rules. Coming out is not obligatory. You can also live a beautiful, healthy and positive life without having to go through such intense momenta. Some of us won’t ever come out, and we shouldn’t police them. The way we embrace and empower ourselves, we should embrace and empower them in their own experiences as well.

DEAR Safir, Thank you very much for YourStory!