A Conversation on Queerness With Mind Bath & Fariha Roisin
While we’re in the midst of celebrating Pride 2K18, it’s important to remember where we came from, and how we got here: i.e., we’ve still got a long way to go. Everyone’s experience is entirely unique (whether you identify as queer or not), and thus, everyone’s story is of infinite value. Enter two members of the Milk fam who’ve got something to say re: being queer in 2018: musician Mind Bath and writer (and #MilkLoves alumn) Fariha Roisin. On the note of celebration this Pride season, Mind Bath said it best: “Pay your respects to people who paved the way and to the people who still don’t have access the way some of us do.” So let’s dive in to this discussion between the pair of artists with just that in mind: we’re all in this together.
Mind Bath: Hi baby, how are you today?
Fariha Róisín: I’m so good. How are you?
MB: Suntanning and eating pasta, heyo.
FR: How is pride looking for you this year?
MB: I haven’t taken part in proper pride festivities in like a couple years. Pride events are something I approach with a bit of a questioning eye. Every year pride is exciting and beautiful and like a good gay old time but also…
FR: What’s your advice on celebrating pride?
MB: I guess I would say avoiding the corporate pride circus. I mean sure if they’re paying you big $$ to be there or perform, we’ve gotta make cash, but avoid it where you can. At the end of the day pride should still be a protest to some extent. It started as a protest, and now the parties you might be going to and paying cover, buying drinks, all this shit, like that money could be going to politicians or the cops, or like Drake or something. Pride was started by trans women of colour and perhaps we could all donate some money to a TWOC for her gender affirming surgery and recovery, or just like her rent, or so she can take a summer vacay. That would make me fuckin’ proud to see.
FR: I keep thinking about pride in Toronto in 2016 and how hard that was. You know with so much police presence opposing Black Lives Matter made it totally uncomfortable for a lot of black folks to attend. It felt dangerous. I think we have to be cognizant that these spaces aren’t always made for non white people, and that so many types of marginalized folks can’t feel good there. So maybe take your money and your peeps and do your own shit because the corporations don’t care about us. They care about money… but also HAPPY PRIDE!
MB: HAPPY PRIDE! Love you! But, you’re right: Pay your respects to people who paved the way and to the people who still don’t have access the way some of us do. And then sure, you go girl, get fucked up, do what you want. Coming intro pride season which right now is June of 2018, where are you at? Emotionally, as a writer, what are you in love with, where are you living, what is up??
FR: I am in Brooklyn, NYC. I’m currently writing a queer astrology column for them. It’s astrology but also self care for queer folks. It’s been really nice to be able to just write something that’s for anybody that has access to it, and write something that is cute and sweet every month. Something about how to be better and heal. Those are things I’m wanting to talk about right now.
MB: I love it so much by the way. You’re doing an amazing job.
FR: Thanks baby, that means a lot. I mean I think one of the reasons we’re close friends is because we both have the same vision, and we both believe that art can save us. And it can! And that’s where I’m at these days, and I am in love which is amazing and also challenging. We’re both in love right now. How bout that? Tell me how you’re navigating that. How are you doing? Where you at these days?
MB: Ok, so I’m living in Montréal, which is where I met you and you’re missed very much. I have a finished album, my first LP, and I just released the first single! I’m feeling pretty lit up and full of life, very ready, and a bit impatient tbh. Antsy to get on stage and get my shit out there. I’m hoping this summer is some kinda calm before the storm, so I’m going to try and take vacations and enjoy myself outside. And yes I’m also in looveee..
FR: Tell me.
MB: I’m in love with a musician for the first time and he’s gorgeous and inspires me. I don’t know how I ever dated people who aren’t artists. Hopefully I continue to feel that way, because it comes with it’s own shit.
FR: We both date artists. Why do you like it? Do you feel stimulated?
MB: Definitely, and supported. I mean there are moments for me where comparing myself to him can be an issue I need to face, but comparison is a demon all artists face so it’s more of just an ongoing in-your-face lesson that I’m willing to learn. For me it’s just having someone who speaks the language and ultimately understands your drive and passion. My experience with non-artist lovers was just this mutual frustration about their lack of understanding as to what makes me tick.
FR: It gets lonely, making art, and doing the work to be an artist. It’s hard for other people when they recognize that they’re always gonna have to share you. Which brings me to a question I wanted to ask you: Do you feel pressure to succeed because of the fact that we are queer and historically some of the best art is queer, but as a result, because of that marginalization, there’s a pressure to succeed?
MB: I try so hard not to put pressure on myself in terms of success because it’s somewhat out of my control. Also I don’t fully know yet what success means to me, and because of that I can end up measuring my success in these capitalist ways that I definitely don’t want to define myself by. I feel like my queerness is a fucking gift and a pressure I feel, is to like sell it. Like when I started performing, back when I wasn’t making music and was working as an actor it was very much like “the casting directors shouldn’t know you’re gay for the leading roles” and “we need to send you to a dialect coach for that gay lisp” and now in 2018 people are like “yasss you hot queen bitch sell your gay ass to TD Bank.”
FR: QUEEN YAS BITCH
MB: Because any type of ‘otherness’ is a currency to all the people tokenizing the art world. I’m just trying to plow ahead truthfully. In terms of queerness I’m definitely not doing anything revolutionary with my music right now. Props to the radicals who have done that and are doing that. My truth right now is just different. You know, I’m a man who is sensitive and empathic and has emotional depth and feminine energies, and maybe that can be special to some people out there who need to see that kind of man can exist.
FR: Your album is called Wild Mother. I’ve listened to it many times and it’s just spectacular. It really is a work of brilliant art, and it’s really just this beautiful offering.
Something that I really love about you as a person and about your music is that your maternal instincts are so on. We do obviously live in a time where trans visibility, or being non-binary or genderqueer are terms that people know and are aware of, but also people are being really frank about. For the longest time I’ve been thinking about my own gender, and I don’t believe in gender, and I very much believe that I am non-binary and gender non-conforming. It’s interesting how people will perceive you and look at you as a musician though. It’s nice to hear you say “yes, I am cis. And my qualities are maybe qualities that you wouldn’t expect from somebody, but that’s who I am.” Would you say that’s really how you identify?
MB: Oh dude I’m different every day. Spectrum is all over the place and I’m wide open. I do try to avoid identity politics though, and find it simplest to say man: I’m ok with that and I don’t like to take up much space in that conversation. But I guess that circles back to the queer pressures you were asking about before. Like the pressure to identify some way, and then be a perfect example for that identity. That type of policing makes me angry.
MB: There’s also this expectation for queer people to suffer. To turn pain and hostility into our art. To have a sad story for the media to feed people with. Like this record is very vulnerable, and yes it is an emotional offering. and when it was done I was like, I don’t need to make music from a sad place anymore. That’s the storyline that people love for a queer person, a trans person, a person of colour. But we’re not all struggling all the time.
FR: That’s what I liked about “Call Me By Your Name,” when it came out people were rightfully saying “this is really bougey and this is really white” and all of those things are true, but it’s also one of the happiest incantations of queer love I’ve ever seen. At no point are they having to explain themselves to anybody, even their parents, and you don’t really see that ever in art made about queer folks (by queer folks, because Luca Guadagnino, the director, is a gay man… as is James Ivory, the screenwriter) so that validity of love was really exceptional.
For the longest time I was writing about my pain and sorrow, too, and after a while I just didn’t want to do it anymore. People are capitalizing off this and I’m getting paid the bare minimum to excoriate myself. And people did connect to it, and I’m so moved by the people who reach out about that work that I’ve done, specifically about being a queer, muslim femme. But I also just wanna live. You know it’s actually really powerful to write and make things about just fun stuff, like pop culture. Only white people get to do that shit (for the majority) like look at any masthead, or writer’s room… and I wanna do that shit, too!
MB: Ya I think my next record is gonna be an EP that’s like club music. It’s gonna be all about having fun with my girlfriends, getting high on acid, and drinking champagne and taking ubers to the beach.
FR: I really can’t wait for that.
MB: And yes, thanks for pointing that out about that movie. Because I didn’t like it, but I can respect now that there was no moment where like someone gets outed and it’s the end of their world and the family kicks them out or someone beats them up. There wasn’t like thriller tension around their survival. The family was supportive and progressive from what I remember.
FR: Yes and people want that drama, that pain for the headlines.
MB: Ugh like shitty journalists wanting your coming out story.
FR: Right? I remember writing a piece about my parents and it wasn’t supposed to be a derogatory or inflammatory piece. I wasn’t trying to shit on them. But the headline was so bad. I can’t fully remember but something like: “see how this writer is so mad at her south asian parents.” which is not what I was saying. I was complaining a bit yes, but also showing that I understand how complex we all are. And once you’re known as queer people don’t want that complexity. Like I’m dating a straight cis man. That’s what my queerness looks like right now. And I’ve been having this conversation a lot with people in hetero partnerships at the moment but have previously dated primarily queer or trans folks. It’s interesting how you then get pigeonholed.
MB: We’ve brought up your astrology column, why do you think that so many of us, especially online, have made this shift toward sharing talk of astrology, the universe, the power of love, spirituality? Artists like Kehlani and Sza—that’s their online voice. I like it.
FR: Well astrology is so old, but I think why it’s coming up again is because of the times. Like, trump is president. In the last couple years it feels harder to survive and I think people are looking for coping mechanisms. For a lot of us, in the fringes, marginalized folk, we need it more than other people. We need emotional survival and it’s a way to self protect and self preserve in times where it feels like the world is collapsing. What do you think?
MB: Totally agree. There’s been a lot of shit online and in our faces to swallow, and unpack, and unlearn. This for me is a welcome aesthetic shift from the sad boy/girl self deprecating material shit before. Like remember that account @sosadtoday? I feel in a way we’ve gone from retweeting that a million times to retweeting truly uplifting messages, because we’re all tired and this is a part of our fight. We can teach each other how to stay strong, and give back to the universe, and notice the magic around us. We’re keeping each others eyes open to these beautiful observations of the universe because it’s so easy to let all the trauma and bad news blind you from it. Anyone you’d want to shout out that does it for you this way online?
FR: I mean I love Chani Nicholas and also AstroBarry (who stopped writing his weekly column this year, but there’s a lot of past treasures) and also my column, shoutout to me! I think it’s really important to remain sincere. And I do worry sometimes that it’s becoming a little too trendy, you know back to capitalism my favourite topic, where now urban outfitters is selling tarot decks like what? But at the same time these things are really important for us because it’s for us and by us. This is a way we’ve figured out how to self preserve.
Self preservation is so important, not just under a dumbass president. I was fucked up after I heard about Bourdain. I cried the whole day. Money and fame, or even accessibility, doesn’t release you from the struggles of depression or suicidal ideations. We’re realizing money won’t save us, followers on instagram won’t either. We’re realizing that we need foundational ways to care for ourselves, and these things like tarot, breathwork, meditation, these ancient things weren’t made by millennials. They come from people of colour. These are indigenous ways of essentially connecting to your core and unburdening yourself.
MB: Yup! Foundational care brings me back around to our community, as queer people. Our community is the strongest survival method after learning to take care of yourself. You know, it’s still pushed on us that marriage and kids and career are the backbone of life. Like, ok, but for me it’s all about building and sustaining my chosen family. I have these people that I care for unconditionally and vice versa, and within that we have so much. We have intimacy, and inspiration, and protection, and support, and somebody’s got food, and somebody’s got money. Whether career or relationships flail, this is always here for me.
FR: I’m super invested in that. Partners are important and beautiful and viable in their own ways but they’re not the be all end all. Prioritizing people that you love that will stay with you, aka your chosen family, is a really good investment.
MB: I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
FR: We’re lucky that we have each other.
MB: Sisters! Lastly I just want everyone to know that Fariha is actually on my record. She’s on the album art, she’s on a song called ‘Girl (You are everything)’, and she’s in a video. We wanted to mix her words and my music and we did it. Was this your first musical experience?
FR: Well I was in an experimental folk band when i was 18 SO, NO. But, music is something that I don’t have the stamina to do. It takes a different kind of personality but it was so healing and this album is perfection, and being able to collaborate with you is always what we wanted.
You just released the first single “Siempre,” how’s that feel?
MB: It feels really good. It’s gonna feel good to share any little piece of this album because it took so so much time…
FR: Yup, you’re making really good work that is so true to yourself and i’m really proud of you.
MB: I’m proud of you too. You’re fucking doing it.
FR: You too. You fucking too.
Images courtesy of Mind Bath & Fariha Roisin
Stay tuned to Milk for more Pride convos.