When the camera starts rolling on Birds of the Borderlands it is initially hard to work out if Australian genderqueer filmmaker /activist Jordan Bryon is foolhardy or brave or equally part of both. Bryon who prefers to use they, them, their pronouns on a whim took it upon themself to up and move to the country they had been named after. Their planned three month stay in Amman stretched to 18 months, and they actually spent the next 5 years flitting all over the Middle East getting immersed in the lives of several LGBTQ people who’s sexuality was creating them major problems.
Most of them couldn’t allow their faces to be shown on camera not just for concern for their own safety but also for the families they had left. In most of the Region a child’s homosexuality if discovered is considered a major dishonor on the entire family that can result in them being shunned by society or even worse, be attacked.
One of these was an Iraqi called Youssef who had to flee Baghdad in a hurry after witnessing the horrific murder of his boyfriend. Bryon took him in as their roommate and he is now in an interminable limbo waiting for refugee status which could (and does) takes years to process. Their apartment they share also becomes a safe haven for others such as a young teenage trans woman Hiba who has run away from home. She is the only one who is keen on showing her face on the screen as she says said, ‘I’m tired of being invisible, I want to stand up and be seen and be heard’,
However when HIba’s Bedouin family trick her into going back, the incident turns both dangerous and scary as Bryon also gets kidnapped in the process too.
Also in their small clique is the feminist lesbian Rasha who is braver than most and whom Bryon begins to date. It blurred their role in the film which fluctuated between friend and lover to the strident activist as besides now being part of the story whilst also actively hustling for support to establish a real safe house for all LBTQ folk.
One of their side trips was to Beirut to meet up with Khalaf, an articulate gay Imam turned activist who had to leave Iran to escape death, and is now hold up in a hotel room unable to go out and just waiting for asylum in Canada.
Life was often very scary for Bryon who seemed OK at pushing themself to the limits. There were threats from the Jordanian Secret Service who gave them orders to leave the country for good, which shook them up. Although not so much as the violent outburst that Youssuf had one day egged on by the sheer frustration on living a confined live on the edge of a society that only wished him harm.
The tales of these ‘birds of the borderlands’ trapped in environments and countries where they are not allowed to be themselves is a sharp reminder that there are still so many places in the world where being queer is still not an option that society will tolerate. It also makes us realise after all that Bryon is probably is brave in getting these stories out. Oh yes, and still more than a little foolhardy too.