slumped over in bed, i telephoned a close friend of mine- kiki, for an interview- asking for her thoughts, feelings and understandings developed throughout her first semester of her second year as a theatre school dropout majoring in gender studies, as a girl and as a student. she- in a bathtub with an arm and an ear attached to a wired housephone. i- in bed, writing frantically her words as she scatters them. thoughts manifesting, i depicted my first question being,
kiki : i think the biggest thing a semester has taught me is the-
aiman and kiki (at the same time) : the inadvertence of dysphoria
aiman : the inadvertence of dysphoria! right! like it just never ends; it’s like pulling on the end of a ribbon and finding out the string never detaches from where it’s supposed to end. and so now, all you have is this tongue of pink satin.
kiki : you read my mind … and it’s almost cruel how much zoom demands of studenthood
aiman : there’s a weight with having your camera turned off in class
kiki : yeah! and it’s like you feel terrible having it off, sure- but having it on… it’s like this playpen of students who are willing to almost be vulnerable and surveilled for an hour of class. ur backdrop being your room, and every minute, small shifting motion of your face and your hands- just forever, there on a recording of tiled landscapes. it’s strange and it’s sick, and it’s funny and not.
aiman : well, how do you feel about the idea of ipts opening up campuses again? for classes?
kiki : well, it would be great? i think. it’s gonna be foreign as all hell, for sure. dude! i remember a phase i had during the semester, where i wouldn’t know how to smile for zoom. like i couldn’t place out when to smile, and when not to smile and how you should start smiling over camera and when you need to drop the smile off your face. there was a politic over this small signalling of expression for me! can u imagine!
aiman : i literally can
kiki : -to translate the idea of that, onto an irl college experience. you know the comic strip, i think it’s a meme somewhere. the sketch goes “this is gonna be weird, im gonna make this weird…”
aiman : i think i do
kiki : it’s that. and it’s gonna be that, for months on end. until we get our bearings, our cognitive bearings right again. from having to scrape and start things fresh from the pandemic.
aiman : if you ultimately-
kiki : had to choose?
kiki : offline school, for sure. let it be awkward. like, let’s stumble through figuring and reorienting ourselves to campus spaces and making friends again.
aiman : absolutely. before the tangent of, you mentioned ‘dysphoria’. what is that for you?
kiki : mmm…! for me? i don’t know, being seen as a boy, i guess? you know, i opted for wearing a long wig during the first few classes i had. and then i just hated it, so i took it off and all i had was this short hair and adam’s apple, and this five o clock shadow staring right back at me on zoom. i say ‘inadvertence’ because it made me sad that i couldn’t escape dysphoria even through online school which, i would believe to make more manageable. here is the internet: this ecosystem where everyone gets to carve an image for themselves, you get to share what you need to, in reflecting your true identity from person to screen … and then zoom happens, and it’s this unfiltered internet and teachers need you to speak up to get the ball rolling in classes. and that was dysphoric. i don’t want to be a boy.
aiman : and you’re not!
kiki : yeah, i got that part down. it’s that nobody sees me as a girl, really, that’s the problem. it’s this simulacrum, haha. learned that word in my contemporary fictions unit. but honestly, it’s this image based loop, and it’s gender-based and it sustains itself on an aesthetic for each accompanying version of a boy and a girl and what they’re meant to look like. ugh. it was weird. am i making sense?
aiman : we’ll figure it out.
kiki : we always do. anyway, gender aesthetics are a bell curve, and not a binary, even if things do seem to be floating only insularly through one. jesus.
aiman : how have you coped through that during the semester?
kiki : my best friend, nik aina sofia. so, she and i went through this ritualistic process, and there’s fire and snakes and blood. and we sacrifice ourselves to this fire, and it envelops us and we’re witches. but anyway, what that does- is that it allows for us to share our bodies with each other. this way, our spirits travel through the other, in what is almost a vessel. the details are murky, but nik and kiki possess each other? i want to say. she sees what i see, then feels what i feel and eats what i eat. we defecate and shower and go through the same haircuts, and it’s this dimensional experience of a shared something. it helps because i get to breathe in the body of a cisgendered woman, and she lives through a queer idea. she recognises ‘i love dick’ by chris kraus in writing, because i had to read ‘i love dick’ by chris kraus for contemporary fictions, and i’m technically chambering in a law institute while i major in gender studies. down to us both understanding what simulacrum means, ha ha.
aiman : that reminds me of suspiria. the luca guadagnino cover.
kiki : absolutely where we retained the idea from. the bodying of women with other women, like the coven, or dance company, sharing an eye and overseeing everything: the ins and outs of the tanz.
aiman : that scene where the dance teacher stops to stare at olga.
kiki : and the other teachers, you could feel, almost collectively understood. yeah. that.
aiman : you girls are witches, then?
kiki : haha, sure. we breathe through the other, and our bodies are just … physical, really. it’s taking body neutrality to this whole other level. it sounds convoluting, but then again, womanhood is convoluting.
aiman : what are your plans post-semester?
kiki : well, i have films that i am part of. so shooting approximately will encompass a span of three months, almost? i am very strict on making sure work never touches school schedule. i can’t wait to watch films and read and write, and then totally hate that i never get started on these things because, girls get lazy. i plan to weave tapestries, that’s something i’d like to totally get my hands into.
aiman : wow, what kind? what images do u plan on weaving?
kiki : hmmm, maybe texts? jenny holzers’ inflammatory essay collection has always inspired me and my voice, so i’m imagining a something like that but on yarn exclusively. or just illustrations i’ve planned for pen on paper, but totally applying that to tapestry art.
aiman : there’s that queer artist,…
kiki : huh? who
aiman : she makes dolls. transgender. new york city.
kiki : greer lankton?
aiman : yeah!
kiki : oh, i love her work! the bedroom installation she had, it was so fragmenting of the decay of womanhood. which resonates soundly to chris kraus’ i love dick- again. it’s so funny to me, that kraus is like IM A WOMAN AND IM OLD. and i read through it, and she speaks almost as if her positionality is the Only positionality of a woman in the world. her voice is so… primarily speaking of. i read that, and i’m only a year old girl- can’t even call myself a woman even.
aiman : you could totally move from being purely illustrative to what greer lankton does in her work! dolls on beds! and yeah, kraus is… this privileged understanding of woman, really.
kiki : i was so opinionated going into the reading of that book. there were lapses where i would read it and had to put it down almost, like shut up! you’re annoying – and whiny! ha ha
aiman : you seem to have really enjoyed the task of reading that. what other assessments did you enjoy?
kiki : gosh. assessments i enjoyed? well, there was the reflective essay for gender, culture and sexualities in southeast asia, which was scary, but i remember the conclusion of the work being encouraging for us to Actually reflect and write something transparent on the way we felt about the things we learned- i remember my lecturer being absolutely open in that we write in our voice. i chose media text pertaining to indonesian cinema and the queer identities within that topic being suppressed and it was almost painful having to write about something that resembled closely my
living area. essays that push you to be reflexively writing are always fun to me! the other one i had to do was for cities and citizens, and that was like a heavy dissection on my end because i worked on taman tun dr ismail, and that being the area i grew up in versus the displacement of indian long-house settlers within that area. how malay-muslimhood was accommodated for, over the expense of the livelihood of a minority group. crazy. film essays were funny to work on too- i always manage to reroute the essays into this gender discussion, and it kept happening for every film histories writing. the films were good too! close-up by abbas kiarostami had this … dialogue on the mirroring (or impostering) of masculinities, and it made iran look so warm like a rothko painting. i was weirdly blessed into the really good work groups for projects too- so that made everything ‘enjoyable’. i made friends i think. i hope. i talked a lot in classes because, well i had ideas on things and theories.
aiman : what wasn’t enjoyable?
kiki : gosh, i can’t think. maybe just don’t call me a boy.
aiman : duly noted.
kiki : duly noted. warm regards?
aiman : warm regards. dude, student emails are another thing to have to write. woah sorry i called u dude.
kiki : i’m fine with being called dude. but yeah, student emails are like … this fun practice of reflexive writing for me. i like doing it i’m not sure they like reading it ha ha
aiman : are you going to keep writing ‘reflexively’ outside of the semester now?
kiki : well i like doing it.
aiman : you have to keep doing it. Yeah.
kiki : dude, something people neeeed to talk about is how your music taste gets thrown into disarray when you go through a semester. i don’t know what it is? maybe it’s that we need music to concentrate and then another soundtrack to accompany the celebration of an assignment submitted? gosh i have to read out my on repeat for you on spotify! it goes :
- volk by thom yorke
- sticker by nct 127 (music video came out a day before cities and citizens essay submission) (crazy)
- agrim agadez by etran de l’air (discover weekly is a blessing)
- big star by lorde (i had to lie down on my bed for an evening straight with this in my ear, after i thought i
made myself look like an idiot for a workshop session)
- lola by the raincoats (i don’t care what anybody says, me listening to this is reclaiming queer culture)
- she came in through the bathroom window by the beatles (beatles=bad)
- focus by nct 127 (iiiii can’t wait no moreeee)
- superhuman by nct 127 (this is an alarm clock of a song PLEASE listen for 10am classes)
- a message from the aching sky by cindy lee
- has ended by thom yorke (suspiria soundtrack ftw)
- dreamer and road trip by 127
aiman : that is a lot of 127…
kiki : shut up
aiman : bias?
kiki : i am 22 years old.
kiki : but johnny.
aiman : the semester really supplemented your … audio sensory, if you will.
kiki: it absolutely has. and the films and the books it handed over to me. like i get to add these things like a checklist over onto goodreads and letterboxd. makes me feel like im a serious person. im gonna get a blazer for when school starts so i can look it too.
aiman : you do that. this … has been a conversation, kiki! thank you! i feel so well endowed with your ideas on things and your thing about the ideas you have, really.
kiki : thanks for having me ‘dude’
aiman : ‘dude’ thanks for having me ‘simulacrum’
kiki : warm regards warm regards
aiman : warm regards ✧
Written by Aiman & Kiki