Aqdas Aftab

Contributor interview

Aqdas is a reader, writer, educator, and dreamer from Islamabad, currently living in Washington DC, where they are working towards their PhD in decolonial trans studies at the University of Maryland. These days, Aqdas is thinking about spirituality, love and prayer through the framework of prison abolition and queer liberation.

Aqdas wrote “Nuclear Disassociations” in issue 3 of Vulture Bones. Below is an interview about their story.

 

One thing that resonated with me in your story, “Nuclear Disassociations,” was the main character’s reluctance to embrace additional metamorphoses. As a transgender person who experiences dysphoria, the rituals by which I have come to make peace with my body as it exists are so precise that (oh my word) the world in which this character is living would be a lot for me to take. Can you speak to what you were exploring with this?

I have recently been interested in narratives about trans-animality, and other kinds of transing that are about moving beyond the human. However, I feel like many frameworks that try to think about moving beyond the human don’t take into account the lived experiences of trans/nonbinary/genderqueer people, especially trans people of color. So I wanted to create a world where everyone is always transing, but I also wanted to examine how this world is difficult for the protagonist in a way it isn’t for others because the protagonist has a history of living with dysphoria in the normative pre-attack world. Similar to what you said, I also imagined this protagonist as someone who already had complex rituals around their body, so a world where a form of transness is almost forced upon them feels violating, especially because they deeply desire familiarity in their body. Here, I was also trying to complicate the idea that fluidity is always liberating, because even though the world in the story has a lot of liberatory potential (because of the interconnectedness and interdependence amongst survivors in it), the protagonist feels like they are forced to change their body, which can bring up past trauma around being coerced to stay fixed in a gendered body. I was also exploring how a seemingly utopian world following a dystopian attack can disrupt our survival strategies, because sometimes we get so attached to our rituals of survival in this world that an alternative world feels scary. In a way, this story is as much about the protagonist’s attachment to their ghosts as it is about them being haunted by their ghosts.

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This character is also dealing with recovery from trauma. This was such a powerful element of the story, because that is such a massive part of so many of our stories—so many of us are survivors of trauma, and every new violence dredges up old traumas to be reprocessed. What drew you to exploring these themes in a speculative setting?

Yes, I was also thinking about how new traumas are sometimes used as a way to collectively forget historical traumas, or how people often like to categorize different traumas without recognizing that our experiences are always interacting and intersecting in complicated and often contradictory ways. For me as a survivor and a nonbinary person of color, my work around my healing has often been frustratingly solitary. The speculative setting of this story allowed me to explore nonsolitary and community-based ways of approaching our bodies, and to think through the personal histories of a body that is always interconnected with other bodies elsewhere; how do we heal when our bodies become connected with other humans and animals and plants? What does this intense bodily connection with other living beings do to the ways we have thought about our own bodies? I wanted to see how a constant exchange/sharing of bodies and an interdependence on others would shift our frameworks around survivorship.

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Where can people find more of your work? What’s coming next?

I have published nonfiction in Bitch Media, and I have some poetry forthcoming in The Rumpus. These days, I am writing a speculative story about silence and borders. Otherwise, I am working on connecting my academic work with fiction/poetry by blending theory into fiction/poetry and vice versa.