Camille Pier: 'I am not alone in feeling alone'

© Koen Van Buggenhout
| Camille Pier.

Every three weeks, another Brussels-based creative shares their view of the world. CAMILLE PIER is a slam-poet moving between poetic cabaret and cabaretesque poetry, which he performs on glittery stages as well as in libraries. Instagram: @camille_nestor_josie

The city is a web of streets. That web is a vast electric circuit of memories. I trigger those memories by stepping on them as if on switches. Some switches turn on the light and others electrocute me. To avoid short circuits, I avoid certain places and certain routes.

A few months ago, I left a job for which I had to travel across Brussels, from one side of the canal to the other, both sides of the ring road, and all over the Pentagon. I left some brain cells behind along the way. When I left my office chair, my brain, body, and heart were fried. I received my diagnosis of burn-out in autumn 2020 and became officially unemployed in spring 2021. I also left my sickness insurance scheme, though I have still not recovered. I can tell by the way my brain, my body, and my heart still jump when I step on certain switches in Brussels.

There's the statue of a dog pissing, there is Vossenstraat/rue des Renards, there is Bruegel's little square, the footbridge over waste waters in the Heyvaert district, the endless loops around Sint-Guidoplein/place Saint-Guidon, Fortstraat/rue du Fort, Fonsnylaan/avenue Fonsny as it fades into Vorst/Forest, the little terrasse behind Muntplein/place de la Monnaie, the fountain at the end of Brandhoutkaai/quai au Bois à Brûler, and Masuiplein/place Masui next to a large vacant plot of land.

So many meeting points and Google Maps stops to go to meetings around tables in which I was driven to exhaustion. I was a hamster in a wheel in an Excel cage, watching the world go by vicariously, piling up the overtime, fit to burst, and accumulating time in lieu like unsold vegetables.
In those meetings, the city visible through the windows, we talked about community life, about meeting people, about the real face of Brussels. A social project, a way of living in society, in which the hamster is bored stiff and up to his elbows in activity reports.

He has to justify the money that will trickle down from on high, to satisfy our desire to create masks which we have invented for others. He churns through files full of funding applications, to hand out resources as if feeding crumbs to sparrows in suits. Those birds that survive and whose credentials we check, we grasp hold of to justify our hours.

The “us” that I was part of, the hamster wheel, uses “diversity” the same way as many sociocultural projects, by putting it on display during public events in town. For a long time, activists have spoken about the need to redistribute powers to people from marginalised communities rather than maintaining diversity quotas in teams that adhere to normative standards, in which nothing fundamentally changes.

I stopped rushing around, abruptly, when I realised that I too was the diversity hire on a team in which I bore the brunt of everyday homophobia, emerging transphobia, and unconscious sexism. I slammed on the breaks. I am not alone in feeling alone, in a place where I am made to believe that I am responsible for the discrimination that I face, on the basis that I am who I am and that I am visible.

But if my identity is put on view to give that hypocrisy a “cool” image, it's like there is a short circuit... It's a bit like the statue of the pissing dog biting its own tail!

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