Multilingual wordsmith Bo Hanna writes critical, thought provoking and confronting pieces—born out of his own struggles with identity, ethnicity, sexuality and the pressure to conform. Concerned about the prevailing hegemonic discourse, this writer believes that language has the power to shape and re-shape a different way of thinking, offering a new narrative that encourages us to love whomever we want to love. We spoke to Bo for the Modern Love issue of Glamcult.
What’s your conception of Modern Love? And how does it seep into your work?
My work mediates on the politics of Modern Love, because I write about topics that are linked to people that struggle to love who they want to love. My perception of Modern Love in Western society is that love nowadays is like a paradox. On one hand our societies tend to become more and more individualistic and less heteronormative. Traditional values like marriage become less important and same-sex couples can live their lives more easily, for example. On the other hand, I have the idea that a lot of young people don’t invest in long-term relationships anymore. As soon as it gets difficult, it’s easy to run away from your relationship. A relationship can be quite confronting, but you learn a lot about yourself. Modern Love is quite honest, we’re not forced to marry somebody because of social standards. I guess that modern relationships, in that way, are quite pure.
Would you consider your work as romantic?
My work contains a lot of identity issues, which are quite emotionally-influenced. I also follow my intuition a lot, sometimes I have the feeling that I have to write about a certain topic, and I can’t really explain why. In that way I do consider my work as quite romantic.
What sparked your desire write? Is there any author in particular who has shaped you and your work?
I’ve been raised with three languages; Arabic, Dutch and Swedish. Since I was young I’ve always been interested in languages. My passion for language was not the only reason that I started writing though. I faced a lot of problems while growing up in the Dutch countryside. I got discriminated against because of my sexuality and ethnicity. Five years ago I left to Amsterdam to study French and Arabic language and culture. French literature shaped me as a person and as a writer—philosophers like Sartre and Bourdieu in particular. It gave me some frameworks to understand the complex world somehow.
In the name of love, how is your work meaningful—on a wider scale and on a more personal, intimate level?
I write about gender and LGBTQ+ issues because I know from my personal experience that it’s hard if you can’t love who you want to love, or be who you want be. I grew up in an orthodox Christian family and because I was gay, I left home when I was 15 to build up my own life. I’m happy I met some people after that experience that helped me, out of love. I hope my work inspires people to be themselves, or makes people aware of certain topics so they don’t hurt others.
What power resides in language and knowledge?
Language defines your perception and knowledge opens you up to different kind of people and situations. Language is not only a communication tool but also an important aspect of a culture. Sometimes you can’t translate a word to another language, because it doesn’t exist. It’s fascinating how language offers you a new way of thinking. I wouldn’t have been thinking the way I’m thinking today if I didn’t speak six languages. Knowledge of different cultures and the human psyche will make you able to relativize and understand others.
Do you tend to go off somewhere in your mind while writing?
In daily life I’m really dreamy and quickly distracted by things around me. I observe a lot. When I write I can hyper focus for hours. Sometimes after I finish I’m really surprised by the result, as if it was rooted really deeply in my mind.
Are there any topics and struggles that particularly characterize your work?
As a writer I focus on the themes of sexuality, ethnicity and gender, seen from an intersectional perspective. At the moment I struggle a lot with the media in the Netherlands that are mostly white. I try to discuss topics that are controversial or somehow niche problems. I want to bring a perspective next to the dominant Western one, in the hope that people would be able to understand rather than judge each other. We tend to have a way of thinking that’s not allowing a different perspective than the Western one. We portrait the Middle East, for example, as oppressive or backwards, and claim women and LGBTQ+ rights as ultimately Western. It would be better if we try to think in an intersectional way. Why are we surprised if a feminist wears a hijab? My ambition is to work as a Middle East-correspondent and live in Beirut one day to bring stories from the areas that aren’t seen at the moment. I guess my work is characterized by niche topics; I wrote about the Georgian queer techno scene, queer Muslims, and people that have a fetish to intentionally get HIV—for example. I’m very fascinated by people and their choices.