One of the toughest times to have conversations is when we are facing our fears and, if we can get to the other side, I’m optimistic that there is much joy waiting for us.

I’m in conversation with Hazbi, a Swiss-Albanian queer artist and curator of festivals. This is a very personal conversation because they are sharing their own journey of becoming non-binary and the important role that conversations have had for them since they were a teenager, not just about sexuality but about identity and belonging, about the queer festivals they organise, the challenge (or gift) of being mildly autistic, and about finding humanity and spiritual connections, …and, it seems, to always be emerging themselves and to be promoting inclusion, diversity and rights for social minorities at the same time as challenging social conventions.

When Hazbi talks about being body positive they talk about creativity with the body, diversity of looks, the spaces that create safety and allow others to immediately open up and talk about very intimate aspects of their sexuality. Being non-binary, they are very flexible in how they dress, they are flamboyant and rich in imagery, and sometimes it has taken them a great deal of courage and strong will to dress how they feel because often people do stare at them, or can be aggressive or violent towards them because they represent difference or because their difference is perceived as dangerous.

They said something very poignant to me about how much self-alienation we put ourselves through in order to be accepted and they describe the morning rush in Zurich of bankers heading to their offices as an example. But also how people can surprise us, like when they told their boss that a professorship at the University of St Gallen wasn’t for them.

Jump Spots

3:09 – What a good conversation feels like; equitable, avoiding power plays

5:30 – Audiences, people exploring their sexuality

7:59 – Safety, no judgement, intimacy

11:20 – What makes talking about sexuality so difficult

14:58 – Conversations at festivals

17:13 – Self-expression at festivals, freedom of expression

19:18 – Breaking social conventions of how they dress, how it happens

22:24 – Diversity of people at the festivals

24:46 – Conformity and social conventions (bankers in suits) vs humanity; work with institutions

31:06 – Setting the tone of conversations, truthful expression, spiritual connections, intimacy

40:19 – Diagnosis of mild autism and gifted as a child; difficulty reading people’s emotions

47:35 – Self-expression: courage or deep desire? Giving up their professorship

57:01 – Advocating for others — why we do it or not do it

1:02:01 – Initial hesitation and fear to attend the festivals; what we’re scared of and fascinated with reveals our interest

1:07:58 – Overcoming conformity; willingness to accept and embrace diversity; political debates

1:18:30 – Gay marriage; what gives people the power to decide on topics that don’t affect them?

1:24:16 – People responding to diversity, novelty or how they look; what makes it a violent or positive reaction? Cooperation vs aggression

1:27:15 – 1968 protests by women in France, feminism

1:30:26 – Identity politics, reaching critical mass of voice for diversity; why institutions are hard to change

1:33:16 – Creating festivals and collaborating with others to represent and advocate for diversity; better politics; care to not misrepresent others

1:38:30 – Adopting the persona of a flamboyant, stereotypical gay queen when needing to lead a conversation

1:42:10 – Being human in our interactions; creating distance from social conventions and roles we’re expected to play, stigmas and judgements; genuine conversations and spiritual connections

To connect with Hazbi, check him out on LinkedIn, Instagram and SoundCloud.

Better Conversations with Sehaam Cyrene

In this Podcast series, I’m wanting to capture and explore what makes for a great conversation, who has inspired our conversation style, and what bad habits we all suffer from. I do that by talking to people. There’s no judgement here – it’s just an interlude of reflection about the finer aspects of conversations as it stands for each of us.

Image credit: Nora Smith