We recently caught up with Anna Hossnieh and Shereen Younes, the powerful creative forces behind the podcast Ethnically Ambiguous. Ethnically Ambiguous gives an impactful insight into the treatment of women of color and offers a nuanced perspective on the Middle Eastern world. Anna and Shereen are easy to listen to, funny, and express their opinions in a truly raw and honest way. We suggest listening to the episode ‘We are Syria’ to start out.
Anna & Shereen
How did your podcast get started?
We started the podcast originally as a web show – we both wanted to create a space for Middle-Easterners and people of color that we hadn’t seen before. The lack of representation in the media can make you feel like a bit of an alien. We wanted to let people like us know they aren’t alone while also shedding light on our experiences as minorities and children of immigrants, so the viewers who maybe couldn’t relate to us could at least understand a little better.
So we pitched “Ethnically Ambiguous” to a Youtube channel (Snarled) that was looking for female-created content and produced our pilot episode on our own as a part of that pitch. They liked it enough to help us produce five more episodes, and the series ran for six episodes total. We knew we wanted to keep the show going somehow, and one of the producers at Snarled suggested we reformat it into a podcast. It made a lot of sense – we’d cut down immensely on production time and get episodes out there far quicker, especially if we wanted to cover topical issues. And Ethnically Ambiguous was born!
How did you two meet?
We went to college together at UC Davis, but we just were acquaintances. We didn’t start becoming close friends until we both found ourselves in living in Los Angeles after we graduated. Anna was booking comedy shows and Shereen started taking photos for the shows, so we ended up seeing each other at least once a week. As the weeks went by, we became closer and our friendship blossomed into a strong and loving support system.
What’s the main goal of your podcast? What are you hoping the listeners take from it?
Having this podcast is very humbling in a lot of ways. It’s pretty crazy to us that we have international listeners and individuals from a variety of ethnic backgrounds the show resonates with. It’s truly amazing. We’ve reached people we couldn’t have otherwise and we’re so grateful. We want the aliens of the world to feel less alone and know that at the very least, these two weirdos have their back and can relate to their struggle.
We noticed you also direct short films. Tell us more about any upcoming film projects you’re producing (including any links to your older films).
Yes! Being an artist and filmmaker is my lifeblood – I don’t know who I’d be without art. I got my start in photography, basically living in the darkroom at my high school, and then fell in love with filmmaking as an extension of that same lens. Filmmaking was a marriage of photography and poetry for me, and I realized I had been “directing” the visuals of my photography and art for years.
So directing film came naturally, in a way, because I already had so many visual images floating around in my head that I wanted to capture and create. My second short film FALL premiered on NoBudge this year, which I wrote, directed, produced, and acted in (http://nobudge.com/main/fall). It’s a personal film about mental illness and the often absurd, surreal ways it can manifest. It’ll be screening at the MoMA in NYC on July 29th, which I’m so fucking excited about. I’m currently trying to direct more music videos, because I love that medium as way to utilize both auditory and visual elements. In addition to directing them, I’ve also shot and edited the few music videos I’ve done, which is really fun for me. I’ve released a few shorter comedy films recently, like this one, titled GETTING OLD: (https://vimeo.com/258933218). I want to eventually write and direct my own feature film, and I’m working my way up to that.
My website: shereenlani.com
NoBudge write-up for FALL: nobudge.com/main/fall
Getting Old: http://shereenlani.com/getting-old
Music videos I’ve done: shereenlani.com/music-videos
We heard you talking about your poetry book Dime Piece on the podcast. Where can our readers find it and what were your main inspirations when you were writing it?
You can find my poetry book DIME PIECE on Amazon! And yes, the price of $16.66 is intentional. Hehehe.
I’ve always written poetry since I was younger as a way to deal with my emotions. The collection is a decades’ worth of poems and other weird writings, in chronological order, starting at age 16 and ending at 26. So it reads a bit like a diary because of the format. I write a lot about a search for identity and a need to be free – of myself, mostly. Poetry is such a catharsis for me and over the years I tended to write during really dismal and depressing times in my life, purely because I was at a loss at how else to express or translate darker elements of my personality to others. Writing is something I always come back to. While I write and gather new poems for a second collection, grab a copy of DIME PIECE to occupy you and see an inside glimpse of my weird brain.
Tell us something unique about your experience as a Queer Syrian American woman.
I feel like I lived a double life as a teenager. My parents and whole family are Muslim; my dad was pretty strict on my sisters and I growing up. But I was a rebellious kid (middle child syndrome is VERY REAL, y’all). For example, we weren’t allowed to wear certain things or show our skin, but once I was able to drive to high school I would change clothes in my car. I got in trouble and in arguments with my parents constantly. But I didn’t like rules or being told what to do (I still don’t) so I got used to hiding certain parts of my life from my family.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my parents more than anything in this world. They are the two most kind, generous people I have ever known. They raised me with immense love, but I just didn’t feel like I could share my true self with them. I remember when I was 12 I admitted to my mom I didn’t believe in God, and she started crying. So after that, I decided to keep my real feelings, about religion, sexuality, anything, to myself.
When I was a pre-teen I started realizing I was attracted to both boys and girls but I tried not to think about it. I was very uncomfortable with my sexuality; I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself, not wanting my female friends to think differently of me. I internalized feelings of worthlessness, as if my real self was even more of a disappointment to my parents.
I didn’t know or see any queer Arabs in my life, whether in the media or otherwise, especially those who were raised Muslim. I didn’t embrace my queerness until I left home and went to college, when I realized the lack of representation for a queer Syrian woman, that was reason enough for me to start being vocal about who I am. I came to terms with my feelings of guilt about somehow betraying my family’s religion and culture; it was liberating to realize I could be Syrian, queer, and proud. Although it was a rough road at times, my parents have become so incredibly supportive of my creative pursuits and I know they accept me for who I am. I want to be the person the younger version of myself needed.
You manage and produce a few separate podcasts, how did you get into podcast production in the first place?
I got into podcasting because I loved listening to comedy podcasts so much. It made my LA-commute life so much more entertaining. I was already producing live comedy so the transition wasn’t too hard. Also, it had allowed me to make the connections I needed to start my career in podcasting.
My first gig was being an intern for the Earwolf podcast Professor Blastoff with Tig Notato, David Huntsberger, and Kyle Dunnigan. Interning with them gave me the confidence to start producing a podcast about The Bachelor with Arden Myrin called Will You Accept This Rose? and that lead to me producing the Cracked Podcast on Earwolf with Jack O’Brien. I truly did not know it would lead to my current producer position at How Stuff Works.
Jack took me with him as his first employee when he left Cracked to start the new How Stuff Works comedy vertical and that was really wild to me. I didn’t realize he even liked me that much! It’s kind of surreal when I think back on it cause I really didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. Los Angeles can feel so big and helpless sometimes if you don’t have the right connections. The hustle is so real, though. You just have to keep your head down, do the work, and not let the pressure of trying to survive in this industry get to you. Also being a nice person really helps. People love to reward nice people. So just be nice to everyone.
Tell us more about some of the other podcasts you produce.
I am always dead exhausted. On that note, I produce a daily podcast about news and pop culture called The Daily Zeitgeist with Jack O’Brien (he’s chill) and Miles Gray (he’s chiller).
It’s a show we record Monday through Friday that takes a lot of research and booking of guests. It takes up a lot of my mental energy but it’s very rewarding when people really engage with and enjoy the show. I also produce a podcast called Nerdificent with Dani Fernandez and Ify Nwadiwe about nerd culture. I am currently developing a show based on the live show Couples Therapy with Naomi Ekperigin and Andy Beckerman. And I produce this independent podcast called Will You Accept This Rose? with Arden Myrin and Erin Foley about the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. I love it! That one is more a passion project cause we get to travel with it and meet contestants and really break down a show that we all love and hate at the same time. It’s the joy of my week!
Links to shows:
The Daily Zeitgeist: https://www.dailyzeitgeist.com
Will You Accept This Rose?: https://www.rosepodcast.vodka/
Ethnically Ambiguous: http://www.ethnicallyambiguouspod.com/
Couples Therapy – coming out this July
You’re constantly dragging man-children on Twitter. What are your tips for dealing with the alt-right on twitter?
Oh man, Twitter is such a wild world. People, men especially, think they have the right to comment and correct every detail of your opinions and thoughts, especially as a woman. It’s crazy to me. As I got more followers for my podcast presences, I started to realize how triggering a lot of my thoughts as a cranky brown woman, to men and more conservative people, could be. Sometimes it feels as if people are like ‘how dare you have the nerve to have opinions as a brown woman and talk about your culture so openly!’
Some people really hate it and that is so fascinating to me – like why are you so triggered? We can easily not listen to or watch things that upset us. That’s why I never understand when someone attacks me online or on a review – just don’t take the information in, live in your own bias, I’m not bothered by one less fan. If we’re not for you, then we’re not for you. I don’t follow alt-right folk on the internet cause I’m not interested in their discourse. It’s the same for our show and my opinions. If you’re not interested in our dialogue, then peace out. That’s your right!
I think what annoys some people is that I have no problem talking some shit. People have told me that my mouth would get me in trouble, and honestly, good. I’m glad I am able to speak out freely and not feel like I need to censor myself. Especially as a minority woman trying to stand out in a mostly white-male dominated podcast industry.
I will tweet that a public person is a cunt if they’re being a cunt. There are so many bad people currently running this world I feel it’s our right to be like fuck it, so and so can suck it. There is a catharsis in that. Also, my main tip would be to, instead of blocking people, to mute them. I say this because someone will never know when you muted them. So they can continue tweeting their anger and nonsense at you but you’ll never see it. I think if they see you’ve blocked them, they think they’ve won cause they’ve ‘gotten to you.’ Just mute them and let them tweet their crap into the ether. So, like, don’t let the twitter patriarchy get you down. It’s some real trash out there these days!
Photographer: Lloyd Galbraith
Hair and Makeup: Calvin Chen and Taylor Kim
Styling and Clothes: James Dii
Jewellery: Betsy Flores
Set Design: Talon McKee
Ethnically Ambiguous Podcast
Shereen Lani Younes