A century of history unfolds in the story of a family across four generations. Where did the idea of describing the experience of gender fluidity as part of this story come from?
Salzmann: The contemporary philosopher Paul B. Preciado, says of his experience with testosterone: "The transformation of an entire century flows through my veins". I felt inspired by that. Migration between genders and countries is interlinked. With "Ausser Sich" I wanted to question things and try to understand. I am not cisgender myself and when I was in Istanbul, I lived in a community that consisted mainly of transgender women. My view of Istanbul came from the perspective of that community and I felt the need to include those women in my portrayal.
Iʹve thought a lot about why it is that people are so irritated by there being more than two genders. I accept that for some people the concept of binary gender identity is an engrained part of the way they view the world. Still, I think this is something we need to negotiate. When Simone de Beauvoir said, "one is not born, but rather becomes, woman", it revolutionised our thinking. Now we have arrived at the thought that it is not only the female, but gender itself that is a construct.
In my novel I was trying to explore this sense of flux on all levels – in language, gender and in nations. The familiar binary systems we grew up with are coming apart. There is much more communication now between so-called minorities, fostered by new technologies. But it brings out peopleʹs fear of the unknown and that leads to them to vote for fascists.
Some people have read my book as a response to this shift to the right in Europe, because the book is full of the kind of things the Right loves to rant against. But I have not written anything against the Right. Iʹve not written against anything or anyone. I wrote for us, that is for all those who have not fallen in behind the Right, and for all those in whom I believe and who have a right to existence and acceptance.
Migration does not kill, but exile may… In the novel, the mother Valja says migration kills. That she should say this is understandable, but is it also something you would agree with?
Salzmann: I am of a different opinion, but it is true that it can kill. For me, emigration is the attempt to survive. I believe that people must change and develop to survive and such movement is part of that development. I believe that exile kills because it is forced and that you need a lot of luck and help so that the process does not kill you internally. When it is a voluntary act, migration can be something wonderful – but you know, that is something quite rare.
Interview conducted by Noha Abdelrassoul
© Qantara.de 2019
Translated from the German by Ronald Walker