We sat down with writer, presenter, researcher and award winning intersex activist, Anick Soni, an attendee of our Who Am I? TQ+ leadership programme, to hear about their retreat experience and how they've used our teachings to drive change in their own life.
Who are you?
I am a lot of things – fundamentally, I am someone who likes to share knowledge, create content, and help others. I am a writer, researcher, and presenter. I am intersex, I am disabled, I am bisexual, I am queer, I am a Person of Colour, and a bunch of other labels I may not even know yet. I am lots of things – all at once.
How did you find yourself doing what you're doing?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken part in a variety of community groups and volunteered my time to various causes. Through this, I began to speak about the issues, share knowledge, and engage in conversations. What started as a way for me to learn and develop, or to find a community, became a wonderful way for me to feel a sense of belonging. From planning events, conducting research, delivering workshops, and creating content, to sitting on funding panels deciding how to distribute funding to projects – I’ve been involved in various forms of activism for a long time. But I was called an activist by other people, long before I even considered myself as one. It’s a label that I primarily found useful when I had something to say that was different, or rarely mentioned – but not one I comfortably used. It added a lot of pressure to be ‘the’ voice of my various identities – for outsiders, rather than giving me the freedom to exist within it for myself or within my communities.
What have you learnt throughout your journey?
Firstly, being a leader comes in lots of different ways. There are times in life where you decide to become one – and in other times, people see you as one without you making a specific choice. What I’ve learned in both of those times is to balance the desire to be of service and knowing how to look after yourself. One of the biggest issues I see often are people who constantly re-live their traumas publicly by sharing them, without doing the internal work that can help them to heal. What that means for the person is that they are quick to experience ‘burnout’. Moving forward does not mean that you forget the past. Some people spend a significant amount of their time sharing intimate details about what they’ve gone through, in an effort to help others and perhaps even to feel some solace. For me, I would speak out about hiding my intersex story, the kind of childhood I had and what I wished was different. However, there will be a point where you want to outgrow your past. I learn that moment during the ‘Who Am I?’ retreat. I learned that in my situation, whilst sharing my story was powerful – it was not contributing to the change that I wanted to achieve.
Why did you get involved in the "Who Am I?" programme?
I don’t entirely have an answer for this. It came at the right time. I don’t think I was ready for it before – I can’t say I knew what I wanted to achieve beforehand. I was very comfortable but deeply unhappy – yet I thought I was okay. I now describe that as survival mode – and post-retreat, I’m attempting to be in some form of ‘thriving mode’.
Have you used anything from our retreat in your life?
What was pivotal to me was listening to other people and their experiences. I found that not only was my situation not much different – but there were discernible patterns in ‘activism’ and ‘leadership’. Having check-ins with people I met through the retreat has been incredibly useful. Learning how to reflect on my experience has enabled me to facilitate my own growth and development.
What relationship do you have to the LGBTQ+ community?
A very complicated one to be honest. I describe myself as Queer online – but it’s not necessarily how I identify in person. I don’t tend to verbally share my sexuality the way I share my intersex story. That’s something I learned about myself during the retreat. I have a wonderful group of friends who are all queer – and so I rarely feel the need to describe myself as such. However, outside of specifically queer spaces, I don’t always like to bring it up my queerness because I have experienced situations where I am expected to be ‘the voice’ rather than myself. It’s a conflict within – I want to be able to be all of me and not just part of me. At the moment, I believe I can only do that in queer spaces. Over the lockdown, I felt so disconnected outside of my regular volunteering and access to queer spaces – that I no longer felt part of the community. Being LGBTQIA+ and being part of the community (or communities) are not the same thing for me. Oftentimes, I see people speaking ‘on behalf of the LGBTQ+’ community and I wonder what they think that means. I think it’s very important for me that I continue to meet people across the acronym and learn from them. Whilst I believe strongly in unity, I think we need to be better allies for each other within; and that means knowing when it’s not my place to ‘represent’ or ‘speak’ on a particular issue.
What's the biggest challenge you're currently working through?
“I have to constantly re-identify myself to myself, reactivate my own standards, my own convictions about what I’m doing and why” – Nina Simone. The biggest challenge I’m currently working through is trying to discover who I am outside of service. It’s actually ‘doing the work’ on myself – and thinking about me instead of just what I can do for others. Who am I, when I’m not living to please other people or to achieve a particular goal… At one of my lowest points, I decided that I would live for people who wanted to live, even if I didn’t want to myself. I told myself that it was being selfish was the issue. My real issue was a lack of purpose.
Have you learnt anything new about yourself since the retreat?
The retreat taught me that I do not need to have a back-up plan in place to make the next step. I felt very trapped before because of things like financial needs; it meant that I did not pursue particular avenues because I worried about survival. I carried on doing a job that I found unfulfilling all to pay bills. Meanwhile, I avoided finding a job that I would be able to feel more empowered. As silly as this may sound, it was more comfortable and easier for me to stay where I was than to try something new and fail. I was so scared of failure. During the retreat, I learned all those cliches are true, if I don’t try something then that’s a failure in itself. I learned that I surviving and thriving are very different beasts.
How do you continue to "Create Space"?
These are the ways I create space: 1. Therapy - SouthAsianTherapists, Kalda and Bloom – these are the spaces that I use to create time for myself to be able to reflect, understand, and explore feelings. 2. Books - reading and writing are big parts of my life and I like to create space for characters (fictional or living) to teach me about communities, experiences, and lives outside of my own. 3. Spaces – I use a variety of spaces to meet new people and expand my connections or harness them. I find that being part of a community is really helpful for me to have that sense of belonging and also to have fun.
Want to connect with Anik? Follow him on LinkedIn, Instagram
Are you interested in joining one of our retreats?
Our 'Who Am I?' retreats take place throughout the year. We have tailored iterations of the programme to suit the needs of differing identity groups. Each person can attend the group that feels right for them. To stay updated about upcoming workshop and retreat dates, please subscribe to our mailing list here.