Anne Philippi meets Jina Khayyer

jina khayyer cover

Jina Khayyer would like to “start a conversation” with her book, “Older than Jesus or My Life as a Woman,” rather than just merely have it on a shelf in the store. This won’t be so hard for Jina, because the words “older” and “Jesus” alone are sufficient to blow up an entire dinner. In her book, there’s even more going on. Jina Khayyer writes about herself, meaning a lesbian woman from Iran who, now that she’s older than Jesus, wants to have a child. Without a man. With an anonymous donor. It’s a bit of a thematic double whopper, a triple whopper even. I know of no book discussing topics such as gender, age, origin, financial crisis, religion, glamour and the fashion world in such a casual, international manner. And yes, it works.

That’s why I wanted to meet Jina. We ordered lunchtime espressos and after just five minutes I understood how Khayyer was able to write this kind of book. Let’s begin with the Saint Laurent bag hanging from her shoulder. A select piece. And then there were the celestial alignments that came up: Libra, two days before Scorpion, moon in Taurus. This means: stubbornness meets sex and a powerful desire for freedom. “I bathe in the moonlight when the moon is full,” said Jina. The topic of the moon would cost us too much time, so we’ll skip topics and jump right to her uncontrollable hair and her Persian eyes. Through them, Jina said, she sees different things than others.

Khayyer has never lived in her home country, grew up in Germany and still holds a so-called alien’s passport from the 1980s. “It was particularly embarrassing in the rural school residence of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, because the others all had sweet green children’s passports. A grey alien passport says that you belong to no nation.” That said, this stupid alien’s passport couldn’t stop Khayyer. In Munich she began living like a man – just as a Chinese palm reader who read her hand at age 21 had predicted. That is to say: she was self-financed and self-determined.

At first she had no choice but to orient herself to a male journalist because there were no women writing about Tehran. There was only Peter Scholl-Latour. Her life in Munich sounds like that of Gunter Sachs. “I had a different lover every weekend and always had new cars. I flew everywhere and earned a lot of money, I was, at the time, younger than Jesus.””Soon after she moved to Paris and was a part of the international fashion writers crew, but the French thought she was too austere for a Persian: “So, too German,” says Jina. Khayyer is building a new existence: that of a disciplined Parisian combined with the Persian taste for eccentricity. “This is something I’m very interested in.” In 2008 Khayyer experienced what everyone in the media experienced: The years of plenty were on the way out.

A whole world of glamour disintegrated. “I had plans I had to completely rethink. And then came existence pinball, where you don’t know how it will go.” Khayyer would immediately begin to write about these times, when everyone has to circumnavigate this existence pinball, where the words “man” and “woman” have changed their meanings. That’s not so easy. But, apparently, Persians can explain everything. Therefore, the final important question to Jina: “What type of person understands Persians especially well?” Answer: “They are the people who never had a home, have never lived in it. Like most Persians.”

Anne Philippi & Jina Khayyer
Anne Philippi & Jina Khayyer
Translation: Alicia Reuter
Portrait Anne Philippi

Anne Philippi contributed to the Berlin pages of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Vogue and the German issue of Vanity Fair until 2009. She moved to Los Angeles, with a focus on interviewing Hollywood personalities. Today she partly lives in Berlin and published a book called “Giraffen”, a story that deals with the consequences of a so called existence of glamour.