The Mind/Body Dualism
A perspective on body boundaries and cultural narratives
An interview with Rzouga Selmi on the topic of Body Territory - January 11, 2023
In the third interview on Body Territory, Rzouga Selmi, aka Shayama AlQueer, a Tunesian Queer Refugee, Activist, Dragqueen, and DJ, reveals their perspective on body boundaries and their cultural narrative, reveals their perspective on body boundaries and their cultural narrative bringing into question if it is possible to separate bodies and spaces?
What comes to your mind when you hear the words Body and Territory?
I can hear them together, body territory in the sense that the first thing that will ring my bells would be personal space. That is the "me" time and how close I let people near, whether emotionally or physically.
I'm a person who church the aura of everyone and my aura. In a sense, like every energy that radiates out of me, I also consider it within its physical aspect. So for you to invade my space, and my body doesn't always have what to do, necessarily, with touching or hugging me when I was not expecting it, or things like this. It also gets to visualize people's, let's say, spiritual or virtual presence as well. It is so strong in my mind that the idea I visualize is also material.
That is the first thing it says my body for granted. Of course, I would feel it when you touch me. I would feel it when you do something to my body. And I will also feel it when you plot or think of like doing something nice to my body or not; and the personal space, like don't, don't get in my space and get in my energy; don't get in my zone; you can name it a lot of things. But that's one of the first things that cross my mind that I can develop from there as a thought. And then, of course, there is the idea of territory on its own that can also relate to feeling home, a home feeling we. But then also can discuss, or I can say that home is not necessarily physical and what's like territories borders. Land could also be the place that you can call home if you're comfortable at or got used to or told your brain to consider this, for now, or lifetime or lifespan home.
You are approaching concepts of boundaries and personal space. You even describe the spiritual presence of other bodies and your ability to materialise this presence. How does the materialisation of this presence affect your body?
It's also when people plot bad things for me or people are being toxic around me that sometimes I can feel bad. It's also my energy, my spirituality, and then also my nerves. So if you are wrecking my nerves, it means you are doing something to my body. If it's not in the good direction, it'll piss me off, and it feels like it's crossing my body.
How did your understanding of personal space evolve through the years you lived abroad, considering aspects of temporality and geographical perception?
It brought a different understanding, like being from a crossing or changing cultures, travelling from one country to another, or being based in other spaces gives you a different understanding of personal space; growing up, people understood physical space only when it's bothering. But it's from their perspective.
Grow up in a family where you too can hug to show love, even if the person is not upset or something, but the person wants their personal space. We still think it's okay to allow us to go and hug the person to comfort them. But they have an understanding of it that it could be invasive or something like this. Then there is the same way, but just people respect personal space and the person's privacy. Some people do ́t, also here in Europe.
There are places where people have more accessibility to awareness concepts and everything, but people still turn it back to their perspective. So you find a lot of people here where they can feel it's okay to touch your face, or it's okay to touch a person's hair saying, – yeah, yeah, I know it's not harmful, or I know that it's harmful, but it's not that harmful.–I know that you tolerate.
So they start assuming their understanding of privacy is what applies to me and my body and my space. It happens when we skip thinking of what the other person thinks because we have other aspects of boundaries where people are trying to exceed that.
It's a matter of not needing to step and being in the other shoes but also saying, okay, let me think how maybe the shoes would feel in the sense that people should step back before the first hug and ask or think if it's okay to hug or if it's even okay to ask. That's like a dreadful and thoughtful idea of setting boundaries, borders, and differences between where I was and where I'm today.
In your answers, elements of presence and energy play a crucial role as agents in territory-making. How would you perceive these elements constituting your territory?
It'd be required more or less for you too—energy and presence, for people to understand that there is a space and boundaries to be respected. Is that with energy, I start to radiate the feeling of not wanting to be approached.
So there's energy that you produce inside, a determination: I would say you projected outside of your body and that delivery of the energy is the presence you need. It comes and goes. People should train a lot for this because you cannot sit down and say, I have my boundaries.
I have my physical space. I have my limits to myself and others, but then not being, working on respecting them myself and trying to educate or push people, if we may say, to respect your boundaries. There is some degrading feeling to it. There it'll be considered as if the person is not present. And it's not about being an extrovert; it's not about communicating, it's not about talking, it's not delivering the message that you don't want to be.
So it doesn't need, it doesn't require for you or, it doesn't require anyone to be outspoken and loud or something. Because I also have this false conclusion about people who are introverts or people who don't communicate well or don't deliver messages well, whether they are weak people, and that's why their boundaries are not accepted.
But there is also the bare minimum that people could do to have others understanding about their personal space. Limits are also a considerable element of personal space and boundaries, self-boundaries and self-respect, and respect. Suppose people keep pushing you to exceed your limits and to exceed to step out of your boundaries. Sometimes it's challenging and adventurous, but sometimes it pushes people not to be who they are or something like this. That's also not the most respectful thing to do.
You are confident that people are unaware of exceeding individual boundaries. How do you reflect on that aspects when you personalise two characters? Who needs to negotiate more its presence in space, you or your drag Shayma?
Shayma requires way more space, but don't ask for so much space. It's given. I knew my personal, private, and boundaries would be like a Zhouga because Shama is more social; it's her job. It's very open and more smiley than Zhouga. But there is this diva element to my drag character that people understand more boundaries than I expected. Because with Shayma, there is a vast presence of energy and attitude, and confidence.
I play on female or illusion. So my drag is a drag. There is, you can, you can spot part of the drag. Meaning that I'm there to be a drag queen; I'm there to be an actor. I'm there to be a character. I'm there to serve an image. The image of something that inspires a lot from women inspires a lot from sex workers and minorities.
All of the things that if I'm not as Zhouga, I used to be and have done. For people to be intimidated by my presence or something is not invasive. It's just fierce, and I'm flattered. I'm flatter. Thank you for understanding that or offering all of this space for the Diva I'm presenting in front of you, but I do not require it. It'll be there, nevertheless.
Rzouga's interview reflects on the duality of characters, a drag personalized as a woman and a queer body living in Southwest Germany in Baden-Württemberg. This drag-body and refugee-body transit into space and time; expands its notion of how body and spaces are socially constructed and are not separable (Longhurst, 2001). In addition, Zhrouga brings valuable ideas and concepts about how to live in a society together. Bringing to visibility what is first not seen by the eyes –the body boundaries denominated by the state of mind. The interview demonstrates how system conditions such as nervosity, cultural assumption of space permission, and aspects of intimacy play a crucial role in understanding personal space.
Longhurst, Toby. Bodies exploring fluid boundaries, Routledge, London, 2001.
Echeverri, J. A. Territory as body and territory as nature: Intercultural dialogue? In A. Surrallés & P. García-Hierro (Eds.), The Land Within: Indigenous territory and the perception of environment, Copenhagen: IWGIA, 2005.
Sara Smith, Nathan W Swanson and Banu Gökarıksel. Territory, bodies and borders. Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3220, USA, 2015.