Having lived in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Canada, Robbie Ahmed has lived in and experienced many cultures. A favorite childhood experience of his while growing up in Bangladesh is re-enacting Titanic scenes with family members whenever they would visit his grandparents in Barisal by boat. Currently working part-time as a youth group and workshop facilitator with Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention in Toronto, the 25-year-old is trying to find a balance between all of his passions. Starting his creative journey at open mics performing spoken word, Ahmed has since branched into music, poetry, and writing. In fact, his story Trans*mutation is a transformed version of one of his spoken word pieces.
Whenever Ahmed would perform his spoken word piece that was inspired by his experiences as a trans man, audience members would approach him and ask what happened next. Rooted in his memories of facing family in Bangladesh after sharing that he is trans, Ahmed found that the piece needed expanding. “It started with the thoughts and feelings of being in the moment of that scene, and coming to the conclusion that being trans is okay. It was basically a written stream of consciousness,” says Ahmed. “So, I thought maybe I need to write it as a story instead of just a moment.”
In addition to addressing post-performance queries, Ahmed wanted to write a story that empowered trans people. When he was younger, Ahmed was obsessed with the X-Men, and some of the themes within the series arise in his story. “It’s the whole idea that they’re different, but there’s advantages that come with that,” Ahmed says. “I played on the idea that there’s some kind of advantage to being trans.”
One of the advantages Ahmed speaks about in his story is how being trans can help a person be resilient to cultural norms and expectations. “Being trans and cultural at the same time is very complicated. In the story, I’m trying to say that a lot of the times being trans feels more like a curse in your own cultural identity; it doesn’t give you an advantage,” says Ahmed. “But then, it comes to a point where it allows you to survive your own cultural expectations at the same time, and get the best of all worlds. It’s kind of like shifting through those worlds, so you’re passing through these identities and cultures.”
Although Ahmed has lived in many cultures, he finds that he struggles with “capturing culture” in his English writing. “How do you paint these environments, which are like different worlds?” Ahmed asks. A lot of his writing is inspired by Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake, who writes about the immigrant experience. He admires how Lahiri captures cultural elements through objects and words. Ahmed says, “In Trans*mutation, I talk about the abaya and chai; I try to portray these elements and the restrictions around them. And by keeping the words in their own language with some of the objects, it keeps the cultural nuances.” Ahmed also admits that because there are many writers who share and write about the immigrant experience, it’s hard to study how each portrays it. But that only means that there is more learning to be done.
Whether it be cultural or gender-related, coming to terms with or realizing an identity is a feat. Regarding trans identities and Trans*mutation, Ahmed believes that gender is something that can be questioned, and that “underneath it all, you’ll still be the same.” Ahmed says, “You can always explore until something feels like it’s right for you.”
Learn more about Robbie Ahmed here.