Writing portraits of women who are not from the Paris region is a bit complicated for me because I live there and I always prefer seeing the person than interviewing them on the phone. But I don’t want to come across as if I thought only Parisian women are interesting, that’s not me. So, as soon as girls from the province come to Paris, I always try to set up a meeting. Today it’s a Real Girl from Lyon. We meet up at the Champ de Mars, and Soraya came with a friend. We sit on the floor, talking, enjoying the sun.
"I grew up 30 minutes from Lyon and I left my parents very young to live alone in Lyon. This city is my whole life: it’s where my family and my friends are, that’s where I have connections... Even if Marseille has been calling out to me, Lyon remains my city. Before leaving Lyon, I have to finish what I started here. " Soraya is 23 years old. She lives at the Guillotière AKA "Place Dup" AKA "the Lyon Barbès" (Barbès is a working-class Paris neighborhood), she tells me. Her life revolves around her family and partying because that’s what she loves and it’s her job. She is a big fan of French rap and the queer universe; her nights are spent between rap concerts and drag queen performances. "I plan cultural events in my city in the afternoon named APRÈM COOL in order to raise public awareness on social issues such as eco-responsibility, women’s place in the public space, queer culture, Maghreb and Middle Eastern culture..."
She created the aprèm cool (chill afternoon) on her own a year ago. "I was fed up with clubbing and people who do not talk to each other. I decided to create this association of events in the afternoon. Basically, it’s about bringing people together and raising awareness about societal issues: eco-responsibility, zero waste, women’s place in the public space or in music production... " Today, there are 5 girls working in L'aprèm Cool and the association counts about twenty volunteers, who are exclusively girls. “What’s funny is that we did not even do it on purpose! Sometimes we work with boys but the speakers are often women."
Soon, Soraya will organize Aprèm Habibi at Sucre, a large hall in Lyon. "We are going to involve Péroline Barbet, who knows everything about raï from the first waves of immigration. We will talk about the first tapes that were sold in Lyon by immigrants. The idea is really to bring people together and talk to each other.” She also got in touch with an association called L’Olivier des Sages, which is about bringing Chibanis out of the neighborhoods for events or bringing them on vacation. "I invited all the Chibanis from my neighborhood to Sucre on October 26th. We will do a tasting of traditional mint tea with open pricing and the money will be donated to the association to fund a holiday for these men, so it is a project that is really close to my heart."
We quickly understand that the themes that are closest to Soraya’s heart are those in favor of queer culture and the Maghreb. "I’ve felt a bit weird since I was very young because I do not fit in with the codes of the Arab girl descendant of immigrants. I’ve always been a tomboy time and even now, there are some "girl" stuff that I just don’t understand. It’s not really the question of sexual or affective orientation that interests me in the LGBT+ movement, but rather the questions of gender and how we relate to it, I find that the Queer community is an under-represented community, in France in general and even more so in Lyon, and for the Maghreb, of course it affects me because of my origins and the culture I grew up in. If you want to go out “arab style” it’s always live oriental mix party, big hookah... you know the drill? You can’t go out without leaving these codes that are far from the diversity that our community offers. That’s why I find it very important to plan events that promote the arts and cultures of the Maghreb and the Middle East, through different activities, but in a social mix, open to everyone, so that everybody can see and enjoy it."
She was especially touched recently by the event "Beurettocracy" organized by the déraciné.e.s. (uprooted) collective. "It was the first time I felt fully understood and represented. It was really wonderful because there were really a lot of girls who talked about their feelings, about what they think they are, in France as the daughters of immigrants who don’t fit into any code of the society. Combining the two is just as important! For example, recently, we had a round table discussion where speakers were discussing what it means to be LGBT and racialized in Lyon. Even within the LGBT community, we still see that white people and others do not mix... What I also liked in this round table is that these speakers came to talk to a neighborhood of downtown Lyon (old Lyon, the center of fascism) where if you are black/Arab/gay you will not be welcome."
When I ask Soraya if she considers herself an activist, she answers: "I consider myself an activist, but paradoxically, I do not politicize myself at all. Often when we talk about activism, we immediately think about political activism, which is not my case at all: I do not recognize myself in any political party, but I consider myself an activist in that I lead actions and create events, raising society issues that are important."
A Vraie Meuf (real girl) is caring and not judgmental, who knows herself enough to be able to give love to others, who sets goals and goes above and beyond to achieve them. Being a real girl is having balls.
Next event : L’aprem queer x Cacti (feminist/trans-feminist magazine)
With a round-table/performance-drag queen show/exhibitions/DJs... October the 20th @ la Commun