Meet the Tunisian drag queen defying the odds

Khoukha. All rights reserved.It is 1 PM and Khoukha is one hour late. The doorbell rings, she is
here. Something electrifies the air; she is the center of attention. Khoukha
starts her performance, a true artist, she brings the stage and her creative
aesthetic with her.

Khoukha did not come to disappoint. And like her performances, the perfection
was real. She takes off her glasses and starts greeting us. Her eyebrows are totally

The word ‘drag queen’ brings the stereotypical image of someone with a lot of
make-up, extravagant fashion and a personality larger than life to mind. Even
though this is true, being a drag queen is not all fun and games.

To create
this persona, this alter ego, drag queens usually carry a story that is often
ignored by society and mainstream media.

With her unique style of a glamorous model, her hyper effeminate manner and open
body language, Khoukha starts telling her story: “I grew up in conservative
family that tried its best to maintain a perfect image to the outside world, even
though we were far from perfection. My eldest brother was very abusive and this
affected us all. To survive, I created my own world in my small room.”

It did not get easier for Khoukha as she got older. She takes a deep breath to gather her
thoughts before continuing, “I first came out as a gay man. This was in my
first year of college. But the more I got in touch with fellow gay activists, the
more I felt excluded from my own community. This was especially hard for me. I
thought that I would never belong.”

Burdened by her own demons and faced with rejection, Khoukha suffered
from major depression for almost a year. She was unable to leave her bed and
had limited interaction with the outside world.

“Even in my darkest moments, I never stopped writing. I used social media to
reveal parts of my life with reservations.” She never thought that her fight
against depression is what would help her find herself.

“I am a feminist”, she states with a sense of pride, “When I first started
my activism, which was focused on gay men’s rights, I was invited for an
interview with an academic who identifies herself as a feminist.”

Khoukha stops for a few seconds and with a more enthusiastic tone she
continues, “Little did I know that this would be the moment I would start
discovering my real identity. It all began with a simple question about
feminism. Sadly I had limited knowledge at the time, but the interviewer was
more than willing to share feminist literature with me. She guided me and I am
really grateful to her for that.”

There was no coming back. Khoukha drowned herself in reading, discovering all the
different aspects of feminism. This coincided with the birth of “Khoukha” and
“Noun”, a moment she documented on her left hand with an Aramaic tattoo.

Khoukha is an artist who wears her art. She showed her tattoo with excitement.
Like ancient text on a pyramid, her tattoo graces her hand and immortalizes a
defining moment in her life.

“Khoukha and Noun are two alter egos that I identify with. During my depression,
they would fight and make out, disagree and agree. Noun represents my “Sufi”
side, a yearning for the afterlife with a full commitment to abstinence and
praying; while Khoukha cherishes life and pleasure, she is rebellious.”

Two years ago, Khoukha finally came out with a name she picked herself, giving
homage to her given name, both names share the first letter “Kh”/”خ”. The
choice of this name is a statement in and of itself against “a deep-rooted
sexism even in languages.” Khoukha is singular and feminine and means peach. The
noun and plural in Arabic are masculine. Her use of these words shows an
intellectual side that people may dismiss.

The excitement builds up in her delicate voice "With the birth of Khoukha,
I have finally made peace with myself; I have finally accepted who I was born
to be.” She continues with some unease, “at that moment, I knew that much of my
existence would revolve around activism.”

Khoukha’s voice is soft and effeminate but her words are loud and clear. “The first time I socialised after coming out, an activist at an LGBT meeting was
urging us to become more heteronormative and less effeminate. I was really
frustrated and called him out, somehow in an improvised but emotional speech. People
were clapping and others shouting. It was a life-changing moment.”

Khoukha, who had never asked to be crowned as the queen of the LGBTQIA
community, is loved and appreciated by her counterparts. Even
though she does not know if it is out of fear or respect, she is well-aware of
the responsibility given to her.

“I am honored to be in such a position, but it can sometimes be exhausting. I am being used
as a reference and asked about what’s right and wrong; what’s appropriate and inappropriate,
and that’s a heavy responsibility. I am afraid that I may disappoint people. I
am not always strong. I break and full of imperfections.”

As for the future, Khoukha said “I live in the moment, I always try to
learn from the past. I don’t like overthinking the future.”

When she is not doing drag, Khoukha works as a freelance graphic
designer. But she has been unemployed for some time. An unfortunate reality
that 30 year-old Khoukha has to face, but she is not the only one and she is
aware of that. Her community is disproportionally affected by unemployment.
Even though Tunisia's unemployment rate did reach 15.3 percent in 2017, there
are still no laws to protect sexual minorities in the workplace.

Khoukha believes there have been some changes with regards to LGBT perceptions,
but more still needs to be done: “In addition to homophobia, there are
other issues that affect us such as hierarchies. Masculine upper middle class
gay men are at the top of this hierarchy, while the transgender community and
the non-binary are at the bottom, and often forgotten.”

This may explain why she doesn’t trim her beard. Khoukha makes sure that
her identity is visible, “My art is all about crossing gender lines,
questioning the system.”

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