Nish Gera is the writer and director of Scar Tissue, a short-film that explores the struggles of a young, gay Syrian refugee as he creates a new home in Amsterdam, while struggling to come to terms with the ghosts and scars of his past. We sat down with Gera to discuss his thoughts on past trauma, the experience of refugees, and what the LGBT community can do to foster greater acceptance and integration of queer refugees.
BM: In the scene where Sami and Johan are walking back to Johan’s home, they encounter Bashir, who also comes from Damascus. Each are homeless in their own ways— Sami,culturally and emotionally. Bashir, literally. In your opinion, what makes a home? How does one create it?
Nish Gera: When it comes to creating a home, it is a process and a matter of exploration. In the context of immigrants and particularly refugees, this is especially true. Even in countries where they are welcomed and accepted, this is not the sole criterium for feeling a sense of home and elonging. It truly is a matter of time. In the film, Sami feels this for a fleeting second while with Johan. The moment is punctuated, however, hen Johan discovers his scar. Over time, a person begins to collect these snippets and moments of belonging, eventually stringing them together to create a new home. I feel that to be queer, however, is to not belong. For queer refugees, this sense of not belonging and homelessness is two-fold.
I feel that to be queer, however, is to not belong. For queer refugees, this sense of not belonging and homelessness is two-fold.
BM: In the film, Johan is depicted as self-aware, confident, and comfortable in his sexuality. Sami is sometimes taken aback by this openness and directness. For those struggling with the adjustment as they attempt to create a new home in a foreign country while coming to terms with the loss of their home in their homeland, what advice would you offer?
Nish Gera: I don’t presume to have an answer for this and would be arrogant to think so. I personally believe that in order to feel accepted, you must first let down your emotional armour. Although I am not a refugee, I have lived as an immigrant for over sixteen years and feel that you must let yourself feel vulnerable in order to achieve belonging.
BM: When things start to heat up between Johan and Sami, Johan takes a brief pause upon discovering Sami’s scar. This pause highlights the pinnacle of Sami’s discomfort as others uncover the larger scars he carries with him. Do you personally feel that one can truly overcome their own scars? Are people resolved simply to live with their ghosts or is there a path to a greater acceptance?
Nish Gera: How we carry the past with us is a central question that the film asks. I think the notion of overcoming our scars is perhaps not the thing we should strive for. I feel it more helpful to think rather about dealing with the emotions attached to those scars. For Sami and for many people, those scars carry a sense of shame and regret. Growing up is a battle to confront those emotions.
BM: Your father was a Pakistani refugee in India. How have his ghosts and scars influenced you?
Nish Gera: First and foremost, I think the partition of India is one of the least talked-about genocides, killing hundereds of thousands and leaving over several million more as refugees. My father lived in a refugee camp for some time and lost several relatives. While obviously an incredibly sad story, what my father’s experience has taught me was a story of resilience. And in spite of his hardship, the ability to thrive. In particular though, my father’s experience as a refugee has driven my interest in human migration. The movement of people is an integral part of the history of mankind. Nowadays, however, we see this not only being restricted, but further criminalised.
LGBT refugees, with a foot both in Europe and in their home culture, can serve as bridges between Europeans and the refugee community.
BM: You have chosen to use a gay protagonist to highlight in particular the unique kind of exclusion LGBT refugees experience. What can the LGBT community do to better invite and integrate them?
Nish Gera: I feel that there is simply not enough being done. Much of the focus of the LGBT movement has been predicated on our entrance into institutions, such as marriage or the right to fight in the military. However, there are many other marginalised groups within the LGBT community. Refugees are among those most voiceless. What about the LGBT homeless? They’re internally displaced people in their own right. These marginalised members of the community simply don’t have a voice in the movement.
BM: Can you offer more concrete ideas on what can be done though? Your film seeks to give voice to the experience of LGBT refugees; is art perhaps a way to bring attention to this?!
Art is great, but lacks a very direct impact. Scar Tissue has been shown at over forty film festivals and has won several awards, but is seen largely by already sympathetic audiences. What must really change is the LGBT community’s agenda. We must as a community decide what it is that we want as a political agenda. In the US, the HRC often dictates the LGBT community’s agenda and has focused on integration into institutions. LGBT integration in Europe, however, offers some unique opportunities. In Western Europe, the LGBT community is rather widely accepted. LGBT refugees who come to Europe are seen as being more European than perhaps other refugees making the trek across the Mediterranean. LGBT refugees, with a foot both in Europe and in their home culture, can serve as bridges between Europeans and the refugee community.
See Scar Tissue at the following festivals this fall: