The Identity Series
SEASON 1, EPISODE 3: TAIMOUR FAZLANI
In our third episode, Inaya Hussain is joined by Taimour Fazlani - a mental health advocate who started off as a young writer at Media Diversified. He is now the founder of Expert By Experience (EBE) - a volunteer-led multimedia platform dedicated to looking at mental health in South Asian communities from an intersectional and critical lens. Taimour shares how his experiences as a working-class immigrant have shaped the ways in which he engages with activism and mental health within South Asian spaces.
ON MENTAL HEALTH
Taimour shares that his early experiences of mental health were very isolating, and how he would often experience depressive episodes in isolation, never speaking to anyone about how he was feeling.
“I would have so many symptoms related to anxiety, but no one to provide me guidance or to help me. It was a thing where we didn’t really discuss it at home either. That anxiety and depression took away a long time. It took about two years for me to feel ‘normal’ again.”
Things got particularly bad in 2014, when Taimour left university and began working. The drastic change in environment left Taimour feeling rather alien, as he went from living a young, university lifestyle, to being constrained by office hours with little freedom. He recalls being told to become “cleaner for the office,” which entailed cutting his beard - a central part of his identity.
“I made myself so palatable to the point that I forgot who I was - it created an identity crisis.”
This, paired with a stressful period at home, drove Taimour into a mental health spiral.
From his experiences, Taimour identified a gap in the mental health space for South Asian men, especially given the fact that most current mental health resources are catered towards Punjabi folks.
“I redefined my trauma - I had to go through those things to be able to come up with Expert by Experience. I don’t think EBE would’ve existed had it not been for the mental health illnesses I had for a long time.”
Taimour shares how his opinion on activism has changed in the past decade - from viewing activism as a physical presence, to understanding that activism comes in all forms, and that the ‘invisible’ activism is just as important as its hyper-visible depictions.
“There are people holding people accountable, but then are people who are cooking food, picking up litter, making posters for the protests. This is also a critique of myself, of how I tend to focus on hyper masculine figures. Growing up…I read about people like Malcom X…vocal figures holding politicians accountable. I never learnt about people behind the scenes, who’s labour was invisible.”
“It’s important for men to do labour that is invisible. Typically women do invisible labour at a protest or movement and never get recognition for it. History will tell us that men were at the front lines. Its important for me as someone who identifies as a cis man to take a step back.”
Taimour also shares how his working class background has become central to the work he does with EBE, from financial literacy workshops to accessible language.
“If people from ends can’t understand what you’re saying, I’m not too keen to publish it. I don't want it to sound exclusive…what I want is that the content that goes out there in terms of mental health for South Asian communities is not so middle-class-centric.”
Something that he was previously ashamed of, Taimour now embraces his background as part and parcel of his identity, and integral components of the work he does through EBE.
“As brown folks, we make ourselves palatable to white folks all the time, and it kind of erodes a sense of self. If I’m having to do that in brown circles because I’m not from a middle/upper class background…that double erosion is hard to navigate."
“I was very much willing to learn. I don’t want to portray that I’ve always been this ‘woke' man who understands gender, because I was socialised as a cis man. I was told all the worst things you can be told, I've seen domestic violence in my own family, I grew up in Pakistan, I've seen so much domestic violence.”
Taimour shares how his experiences with gendered violence, as well as female influences like his mother and partner, motivated him to interrogate and deconstruct his own ideas of gender.
“I do 100% of the cooking in the house so that my partner can do her illustration work. I will clean…and I do these things on a daily basis, but we also have conversations about what that means…typically women are so burdened by household labour that they cannot actively focus on things that make them happy or their careers.”
On holding other men accountable, Taimour describes the interactions he has with other men about the work that he does. He recalls how a South Asian man on twitter told him to be less stern -
“Me being stern doesn’t come from me wanting to be mean, it comes from me wanting to be urgent. I’ve done so much research, and some will tell you how many people are killed as a result of men. That’s where my urgency comes from and why I am a bit stern, because we need to move fast on this.”
Though he knows that he has a certain privilege entering these conversations due to his knowledge, he understands the importance of making mistakes in the unlearning process.
“We are having to navigate something quite new to us, and within that, we will make mistakes. I will make lots of mistakes, thats just part of unlearning. Its about being honest when you make a mistake, and learn from it.”
“I have a little nephew…I love him so dearly…I want him to grow up being comfortable with who [he is]…and being able to challenge all the toxic cultural practices we have…I want him to feel like he can do that. I just want him to grow up in a better world, really.”
“I want more people to come to the publication, and I never want them to feel like they answer to me. I founded it, but it’s not mine. You come in, you build your own thing, and you run with it. I’m just going to help and guide you.”
Thank you to the Podcast team who worked on this series, including Inaya Hussain, Tasha Mathur, Nishma Jethwa and Chandrima Ganguly.
Music produced by Substeppers
Substeppers are British Asian bass music duo combining the precision of Sunny Banger, with the mastery of Vxks. After a long hiatus, they are back to capitalize on their early success and send ripples of their new sounds all around the world. With consistent support from the likes of BBC, MTV & Mixmag, their newest EP entitled Bollywood Trap led them to become the BBC Introducing's first British Asian production duo. The Substeppers project aims to take people to another world with their latest single & explore eastern themes combined with progressive ideas, through the lens of electronic world music.
Artwork produced by KakiKasi
KakiKasi is currently based in the Bay Area, California with roots in the American Midwest and Punjab. They are an artist, writer and overall community-centred creature. You can find some of their artwork @KakiKasi and some of the work they’ve curated of South Asian queer and feminist art @popadumart.