Interview with Jana Dalia
Jana Dalia is a 19 year old bi, Palestinian, trans woman living in Amman, Jordan. She is Muslim, and identifies ideologically as a communist. Interview was done via a correspondence by text over the internet. Her twitter is @janehere__ .
LAURA: What brought your family from Palestine to Jordan? Are you able to visit Palestine proper?
JANA: My grandfather had to immigrate to Jordan because of Israel’s imperialist ethnic replacement, we left half our family there in Palestine, specifically in the Sur Baher area he was able to visit Palestine with relative ease, but my father and family not so much. My dad has only managed to visit Palestine for 4 trips and meanwhile i haven’t even been able to visit it even once. Also my grandfather had to leave a ton of our land there also, like farming lands and old house there.
So that’s awful, and I have so many emotions about it that i could get into if you want.
LAURA: Oh no! I’m so sorry, that really sucks. If you’re not uncomfortable with it, I would like to hear more about what it feels like to be growing up under that shadow.
JANA: Thank you!
And also it’s really heavy, because it feels like the life you’re supposed to live have been stolen from you. I never really identified with being Jordanian because I hate it here, and also my family has raised me pretty traditionally to Palestinian traditions and media. I also had friend groups who also went through the same experience of having been forced to immigrate to Jordan.
So you have this cultural disconnect to what’s going on around you, and also there’s the double edged sword of having to assimilate because nationality is pretty big here. But if you do that you’re only letting Israel get what they want.
Once you forgo your Palestinian identity then they would have won, Zionists would have successfully erased you from Palestine completely.
So you must hold onto your identity so that one day you will return to your homeland if that makes sense.
Also one last quick ramble about this question, in response to the cultural disconnect: although the cultures in the Levant are similar, they’re not the same at all. I think the subtleties would become obvious to anyone who lives here. Like for example, Jordanians are typically more loud and assertive while Palestinians are typically kinder and more humble.
LAURA: How do Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories see Palestinians living in Jordan?
JANA: Hmmm, I can only speak from my personal experience, but all the Palestinians who live there who I’ve met and were friends with have been sympathetic to immigrant Palestinians. I’ve never even seen a Palestinian who dismissed or de-validated immigrant Palestinians even, and I think it’s this way because that’s the best way for all of us to achieve the right of return: Whether it’s people there who’ve lost their homes or land, or people here who want to return to Palestine in general.
LAURA: That’s kinda sweet though, there’s a lot of solidarity in the community.
JANA: It is! We all gotta stay together and be strong to free Palestine.
LAURA: How do you see Palestinian citizens of Israel? Is it assimilation to be a citizen of Israel itself?
JANA: I can only follow the general consensus of non-immigrant Palestinians, since they experience the most oppression by Israel, and they should be the ones to decide how to view people like that. And it’s currently that they are traitors.
LAURA: What about Palestinian folks who were born into Israeli citizenship, but had no choice of it themselves (since their parents chose it or whatnot)?
JANA: Then I suppose they’re fine, I should ask my dad about this tomorrow since he’s bound to give a more informed opinion on this.
LAURA: That’d be really interesting! For the purposes of the paper I’m mostly focusing on like, the viewpoints on you as a person though.
JANA: Oh, of course!
Then like, honestly going by my personal opinion, I think people should do what they can to survive in the world. As long as Israeli Palestinians aren’t really being Uncle Toms and selling all Arabs (not just Palestinians) as garbage in order to suck up to the Israelis, then they are fine in my book.
LAURA: Also this is unrelated to the interview but God, I think Google spellcheck has a political bias here, it wants to switch “Israeli Palestinians” to “Israeli Arabs”.
JANA: LMAO, welp some of them really disown being Palestinian so it’s accurate in that regard.
LAURA: This one will be a little less depressing: when did you first realize you were queer?
JANA: Before I realized that I am a woman, I thought I was gay, because I was attracted to guys. This was at 9 years old I think and I knew that I didn’t fit into male roles even before that: At 6 or 7 I think.
LAURA: Did you know what being trans was before you found out you were trans?
JANA: Nope, big ol’ NO IDEA. I remember my first exposure to what being trans is, being a video from a Buzzfeed about questions NOT to ask trans people. And this was at 2013/2014 if I recall correctly, and I was honestly so confused by it. I was like: trans people, what’s that? What genitals are they supposed to have and why shouldn’t you ask them about it?
I was an idiot child. Also the Buzzfeed thing didn’t explain the reason behind things if I remember correctly.
My first tangible knowledge of what being trans is, was in 2016, when anti-SJWs [Anti-SJWs are right-wingers online opposed to social justice] kicked it into a bad light in the public eye.
I identified as agender for a brief bit, before going back to cis then was like — oof this is wrong, then identified as non-binary, then I realized I was a woman.
LAURA: So the internet definitely helped you understand your identity
JANA: Oh yeah, definitely. I would even venture to say that I wouldn’t have realized things without it. I would have just continued living in vague despair and feeling of wrongness.
LAURA: How did you get connected to the English-speaking internet? It seems isolated from the internet communities of other languages.
JANA: Hmmm, I disagree with it being isolated, or at least it wasn’t this way in the past aside from Facebook, because that’s the only site that had a solid conglomerate of Arabic speaking people on there at the time. But otherwise if you wanted to use the internet or engage with things from the west you *had* to engage with English. And that’s what I did!
I learned English from RTS video games that came out in the 2000s, then I started playing online games and chatting with people there in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Not to mention all the media that I consumed in English, whether it was youtube, movies, fanfiction, etc
LAURA: How did you come to use Twitter specifically?
JANA: I didn’t really use social media AT ALL before 2016 (aside from Tumblr very sparingly), so I just wanted to see what the fuss was about, establish a presence for myself and have a quick way to pass time and keep up with my favorite youtubers who also used twitter. And boy oh boy, was it indeed a decision.
LAURA: I bet it helped you connect to the queer community a lot more though.
JANA: Yes, absolutely. Through politics i found the queer community and through the queer community I found home.
LAURA: Well, let’s talk about politics then! How did you first get into socialism?
JANA: I found LeftTube [Leftist youtube channels] through ContraPoints, who I found when I was just exiting my edgelord phase, from a Blaire White [A very right-wing trans youtube personality] video ironically. And through ContraPoints I found out about all the other BreadTube [Anarchist youtube channels] and LeftTube channels, and then I became a socialist. Of course I’m summarizing things a bit, but those are the most important details.
I started watching video essays on Marxism, and videos about capitalism and realized how bad capitalism is. I was really susceptible to being radicalized to the left after that.
LAURA: What did you identify as politically before you were a socialist?
JANA: Right wing/liberal I think.
LAURA: Within the Palestinian community, are there lots of folks who identify as socialist, or is mostly right wing?
JANA: I think a lot of Palestinians and Arabs are not educated ideology-wise but they lean towards wanting social democracy. And still hold a lot of neoliberal thought, like believing we are temporarily embarrassed millionaires etc etc. So not a monolith but the majority lean towards liberalism I guess.
LAURA: Does you feel being Muslim and Palestinian separates you from the rest of the online trans community?
JANA: Honestly yeah, in a lot of ways, I feel very alienated to the privileged and western way that most of the online trans community has. I don’t think any western person that I met had a grasp over how different my culture is to y’alls. Western cultures are not the only ones to exist in the world, (and even when others get acknowledged, they get acknowledged as exotic; which ew.)
LAURA: Have you experienced Islamophobia or racism in online leftist and queer spaces?
JANA: Racism, no. But Islamophobia? yes; many times. It’s usually along the lines of people wanting my people (Muslims and Arabs) to be genocided. Because of a few rotten eggs and wanting to cleanse the world of “backwardness and bigotry”. Honestly, now that I think about it, Islamophobia is really hard to separate from racism, because of how tied together they are. Leftists (and especially cis men) hold a lot of weird fetishes about getting rid of the evil of the world through violence. I usually don’t have a problem with that, except when it comes to people who don’t know any better. Yes, a lot of people here are bigoted and would even beat me up/severely injure me or worse if given the chance, but i still think it’s worth reaching out to them to try to educate them. Also I’ve seen a lot of Islamophobia along the lines of defaulting Islam to it’s worst possible sectors.
Luckily the times this has happened in my life in leftist circles can be counted on my hands, it’s still very worrying and bad though. Let’s just say I don’t trust cis leftist men easily now.
LAURA: That’s perfectly understandable, I don’t trust them either, lol.
And on the other end, we touched on this a bit earlier, how prevalent is queerphobia and transphobia among Palestinian folks?
JANA: Transphobia is still an underground issue here, luckily. Thank god, I think I’d lose all hope of not getting clocked (publicly recognized as being trans) if it became a thing people looked out for. People think trans people and cross dressers are the same thing.
And they’d harass you if they found out you were trans. God, I’ve seen too many videos of mobs hunting trans women down, it’s etched in my brain. And I’m so afraid that one day i’m gonna become one of those women when i get on estrogen — or even before then because of my long hair. I’ve been assaulted before- in all kinds of ways, and that’s when people thoughtI was simply a gender nonconfirming boy/ gay teen.
I have so many bad memories that I repressed about all of this, I’m surprised that I made it this far. Almost done with school, thank god, all I have to do is finish some exams and then i graduate.
LAURA: I’m so glad you’ve stuck around, Jana!
Do any of your family know about your identity?
JANA: Yes, actually! My mom, dad, one of my brothers and one of my sisters. They’re the ones I live with currently. I came out more than 2 months ago, and it’s been a huge battle ever since.
LAURA: Oh no! Are they not accepting?
JANA: Luckily, I’ve been able to convince my family it’s a medical thing, and not something that has to do with sin. The Quran doesn’t say anything about being trans being haram. If I recall correctly, the only hadith that people invoke to say being trans is haram (a sin) is one that says boys shouldn’t behave like girls and vice versa. But as I’ve drilled into my mom’s head time and time again, i’m not a boy, and never been a boy, I’m a woman.
My mom is the only person in the family that I’ve gotten anywhere with, I’ve cried so many times in front of her because she wouldn’t use the right pronouns or my real name. I’ve bugged her to watch as many trans videos that I can- so she can understand. I’ve even introduced non binary people to her last week and proved to her that she can’t tell a person’s gender by looking at them!
LAURA: Has she been coming around on stuff?
JANA: See here’s the thing, gender is so intertwined with Arabic; all adjectives are gendered and second person pronouns are also gendered. So speaking with my family is constant daggers, because they misgender me every other sentence but guess what!
Yesterday I was sleeping and my mom woke me up to tell me great news- I refused to listen at first because I was so done with her that evening, but then she used my pronouns for 5 sentences straight! Without me telling her to!
LAURA: Aww, I’m so happy for you! I hope the rest of your family comes around too.
JANA: Yeah, I hope my mom completely switches over too.
LAURA: What do you wish white leftists would understand about the situation in Palestine?
JANA: That palestine is not gonna be freed by just saying “Free Palestine!” over and over again, without putting any actual work behind it; like helping with charities, helping with aid to families who lost their homes, truly platforming Palestinian people and letting them tell their stories (like you’re doing now)!
So while I see that most white leftists are not doing the best financially, they shouldn’t be as comfortable as they are paying lip service to Palestine or any other indigenous people under colonization without putting any actual work behind it. (Leftists who don’t have any money can platform Palestinians as I mentioned before, or spread word of Israeli war crimes.)
LAURA: If you could change one thing about the queer community, what would it be?
JANA: If I had to change one thing about the queer community; it would definetely be making it more diverse, organizing fund pools for the most marginalized of us, and contuinely fighting for everyone’s rights. Plus being more radical!
LAURA: What would a more radical queer community look like?
JANA: Everyone doing more action/or learning more theory. I know queer people are not a monolith/actual community because of how huge it is, but we should all be united against fighting oppression in lines, side by side. And I think there’s a huge portion of queer people who are just being complicit, or only defending their rights only. (I of course think non-queer people should also be carrying a load, an even bigger one perhaps, but the question doesn’t revolve around that.)
Also, I want the online queer twitter to be less hierarchical. Like, not propping people up based on how cute they are or not, but on how kind they are first and foremost and THEN their other merits. But we keep propping up assholes cuz people gotta have their horniness or “hashtag transition goals”.
LAURA: I think that’s about it for the interview. Any other thoughts?
JANA: For any reader/listener who made it all the way through: Thank you for hearing my thoughts out, I appreciate it so much and remember to be kind in life!!
Jana can be reached at @janehere__ on Twitter.