Sunday, 6 December 2015

PGS Pride: Meeting The Muslim Drag Queen

by Tanya Thekkekkara

Yes, you have read the title correctly. Normally, Muslim and Drag Queen do not follow on from each other, but this is who Asifa Lahore inherently is. In August, Channel 4 released a documentary, Muslim Drag Queen, starring  Asif Quraishi; it mainly looked at Asif’s life and explored the hidden world of the gay Asian scene in Britain. I watched the documentary with awe and inspiration; as someone who understands the pressures that the Asian culture can present, seeing Asif defy society’s norms and stick to his authentic self, whilst remaining a devout Muslim, truly hit a nerve. I had to get in contact with him. 

After a couple of emails, Asif came to PGS on Friday, 4th December and gave an engaging talk about his life experiences to pupils. Before he presented his talk, I was lucky enough to get a chance to have lunch with him and discuss everything from his life to our favourite Bollywood movie (turns out we both love Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge ). Throughout the day, I couldn’t stop smiling. 

Of course, none of this would have even happened without the help and input of the founder of PGS Pride, Mrs Morgan. On behalf of the school, I would like to say thank you to Mrs Morgan, for allowing such a society to exist and for providing pupils with opportunities to make a difference, consequently broadening our horizons and achieving the ultimate goal of a tolerant and accepting society.

Interview with Asifa

How did you first come out to your parents?
I was 23. I realised I was gay as a young child but grew up in a traditional Muslim family and was fully aware of the conflict between my religion and my sexuality. Getting to the process of coming out took a decade. I actually came out to my sister when I was 16 after she read my diary and she was really supportive. I didn't have a word for it until I read the word 'homosexual' in the dictionary but I always knew I was different. Between 16 and 19 I studied at stage school and spent my time around  LGBT people for the first time - but no out-Muslims. I thought I was the only one. I was afraid of going into acting in case it exposed my sexuality to my parents so I dropped my Theatre Studies.I went to uni and studied Media and it's there that I met the man who is now my husband. He is Muslim and from Pakistan and was already out and proud when I met him. I came out to my parents because we wanted to get married. Qasim was already out to his parents (ministers in the Pakistani government) who came round to the idea very quickly. Mine, on the other hand reacted differently.

When I  finally told my parents that I was gay, their first response was to take me to the doctor. When the GP said there was nothing he could prescribe, I  was whisked off to the mosque, to speak to the Imam. I was told to choose between marrying a woman or living a life of religious devotion and celibacy.It was deemed that once I had a relationship with a girl everything would be fine and my heterosexual tendencies would suddenly be switched on. It was a very dark time in my life.I was pressured into an engagement with my first cousin in Pakistan. My studies suffered. My university lecturers noticed and put me in touch with an LGBT support group where I met Gaysians (LGBT Asians) for the first time. Many were in very unhappy fake marriages or marriages of convenience. I realised that I just couldn't go through with the marriage. After six months, during which time I sought out counselling and support from LGBT charities, I  ended the relationship. I just put my foot down and said, ‘no’. I can’t ruin a woman’s life like that. The truth is, if I want to marry, I want to marry a man.” I told my parents who took me back to the Imam. After much debate, he said that I could Qasim and still be a Muslim if I fulfilled the five pillars but that we must keep this secret from the rest of the community. We decided to have a secular rather than Islamic wedding so we wouldn’t have to keep it secret. Our marriage is legally legitimate and can be publicly recognised. 

How did you get into drag?

I became a support worker in the Gaysian community and decided I wanted to go back to performing. I won the bronze medal in Drag Idol where I became Britain’s first Muslim drag queen. I was approached by the BBC to do a televised debate on sexuality and Islam for BBC3. I felt a duty to be an advocate for other gay Muslims. I had no idea it would be such a huge deal. The debate was held at Birmingham Central Mosque but following protests outside the mosque, the debate was cancelled. I've been thrown into the public eye since. Becoming Asifa on stage has enabled me to express my need to perform but it is now more than that. I would describe myself as gender fluid. Asifa is part of me rather than just a performance.

How do you juggle Islam and  homosexuality?

I didn’t reject Islam as I embraced drag culture. I’m a practicing Muslim and get a great deal of fulfilment from the religion.I practice all five pillars of Islam, and it fits in perfectly with my daily life. I’m a huge supporter of gay marriage not because I’m gay, but because I’m Muslim. There are a lot of conservative elements to who I am and marriage is one of them.The Koran contains the Biblical story of Sodom & Gomorrah, but the homophobia prevalent in Muslim communities is due to culture rather than religious doctrine. I think it’s down to interpretation, and Islam is very vague in its condemnation of homosexuality. I think the reason I’m respected is because I can hold my own as a Muslim drag queen,I know who I am and I’m strong in my identity. I will never let that falter.”

Asif’s documentary is now available to watch on Channel 4’s website 4oD here.

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