On a stage with a dimmed light stood Monica Enriquez Enriquez as she presented the audience with clips of the constellations that she had already exhibited nationwide. After watching several of her clips and hearing Monica’s experiences as an asylee, she opened my eyes to the idea of “queer asylum.” I had heard about political asylum but that was about the extent of my knowledge in the “asylum” area. She talked about having to recount her story repeatedly for officials to believe that she was actually being persecuted and the severe damage this does to many asylees. She presented clips of people reliving their experiences with the asylum process. Numerous asylees expressed the way that their stories somehow seemed to lose value the more they had to be retold and how they even began to doubt their own stories the more they had to repeat them. This was something that I had not considered about the asylee process. The process by which people try to seek asylum is not friendly or conducive to safe environments for the people who are actually seeking asylum. Through Monica’s work she was able to explore and uncover the different problems that plague asylee communities.
This very much correlated with the storylines that were conveyed and explored through Unveiled. Unveiled followed the story of Fariba who moved from Tehran to Germany seeking asylum because of the persecution she feared in her home. Although she never explicitly self-identifies, she is a lesbian who was engaging in a queer relationship that was later discovered by her lover’s husband. In the initial interview in which she was trying to seek asylum, the German government does not grant it to her because they feel they can no longer trust any of what she says because she did not overtly disclose the reason she was seeking asylum. In some ways this challenged some of the things Monica talked about when recounting her own story and the reasons she felt she was given asylum. She said she was not particularly “butch” nor was she a heteronormative representation of queerness so she felt this worked to her advantage. She talked about her process being, in her opinion, much easier than maybe someone who looked “more queer” than she did.
While Fariba does not exactly exude the representation of “lesbian” her quick transformation between woman and man can be seen as an illustration of Monica’s idea. Fariba thinks that she did not receive asylum from the German government because she was queer and had not revealed her status. However, to follow in Monica’s ideas, it could also be said that she was “too queer” and too closely was able to move between both genders as demonstrated through the way that she was able to pretend to be Samiak for the rest of the film and this was a reason that she was not given asylum.
The way that lesbians are judged under Euro-American stereotypes is something that Rachel Lewis explores in her article “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum: Angelina Maccarone’s Unveiled (2005) and the Case of the Lesbian Asylum-Seeker.” Lewis mentions that under most governments the general rule is “straight until proven otherwise.” The general idea about lesbians is that “they are young, unmarried, childless, independent of their families and that they subvert gender norms, particularly with respect to physical self-presentation” (430). Fariba challenged this idea especially by not disclosing her sexual orientation from the beginning and by looking “too straight” by the standards of the German government. This is something that Fariba was not coached about, but more and more lesbian asylum-seekers are being “taught.” Legal activists are “‘teaching’ applicants how to reproduce dominant narratives predicated on visibility and an identity in the public sphere” (431). This causes women to believe that in order to gain asylum they have to represent these “in your face” ideas of queer that they may not personally feel comfortable conveying. This idea could also be used to make the argument about why Fariba was not given asylum. Fariba had no “proof” of being a lesbian. She reveals to her German lover, Anne, that she had no proof of her attraction for other women or her imprisonment and torture in Iran. While this is something that Lewis would agree with, Monica seems to think that in her specific case the fact that she did not characterize these overly queer ideas benefitted her in the end. It was interesting to see how Monica felt her self-presentation helped her and having contrasting ideas to Monica’s play out in literature and film.
Lewis, Rachel. “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum: Angelina Maccarone’s Unveiled (2005) and the Case of the Lesbian Asylum-Seeker.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 12.3-4 (2010): 424-43.