Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Coming Out Muslim

NYU's LGBT student organization recently held an event titled 'Coming Out Muslim' exploring the intersection between queerness and Islam. In the form of a live-show performance, two queer Muslims, Wazina Zondon and Terna Tilley-Gyado (the latter a convert or revert in Islamic parlance), engaged mostly individually but at times collectively in a verse, sketch and dance interplay seeking to convey their identity as queer and Muslim. The event was not only amusing in its own right but politically significant in presenting an image of the diversity of Muslim "life as lived", to quote the anthropologist Charles Hirschkind, far removed from the silly and prejudicial images on mainstream television.

Wazina, a young Queens native of Afghan heritage, launched the show with a humorous take on 'what made me queer'. Of course, as Wazina related to the audience, being queer is as natural for her as a straight person being straight. As she succinctly put it: Never gave much thought to what made me queer...just found whatever I found attractive...like who you like and move on. But here are the theories:

1) Boy George. Yup, this gay pop artist is at 'fault'.

2) Boys and Hellfire. Her parents' admonition that 'eight minutes of pleasure are not worth an entirety in hell...so stay away from the boys.'

3) Never got the Birds and the Bees talk (ironically now a sex educator at a New York public school). Where did babies come from? You prayed for them. Fear of the immaculate conception made her queer.

4) Never had any girl friends in high school. This is her father's preferred theory. According to her (somewhat disapproving father), because she never got any attention from girls in high school when the first girl (her girlfriend) gave her the time of day, his girl-attention starved daughter became queer.

But, as Wazina concluded, nothing really made her gay…"Allah made me gay." 

Terna, an American of Christian Nigerian heritage, had an amusing anecdote about the Homo-Monster. "Don't go running after people's daughters! Africans don't do that kind of 'thing'!" her mother shouted as she was packing for a trip to Nigeria. Terna assured her mother that she will not, but how absurd the command was. Are all queers lascivious individuals who run around after people's sons or daughters? Queer, Terna noted, has traditionally meant strange and odd, but does it also mean monster. "Am I a monster because I am queer?" she pondered. The "Homo-Monster"?

And what is meant by Africans not doing that kind of 'thing'? Not natural for Africans? Was the continent homo-free until White people started colonizing?

One interesting point of the show was during an intermission when an audio montage was played of stereotypical questions or statements put forth to Muslims in America (or the West in general): 

You don't look muslim...do you wear black because of your religion?...does your mother wear a buuuurrrrkkkkaaaaa?...do you pray five times a day?...what does your family think about the war?...when are you going to do your pilgrimage?...since Afghanistan is in Asia how come you don't look Chinese?…can you actually be gay and Muslim? 

Some innocuous, some ignorant, and some silly. 

Trying to recap the rest of the show may be difficult since it quickly moved from one scene to the next as if streams of thought. So I'll just relate it as such: 

Why my parents don't approve? Is is because of their interpretation of the Qur'an? Or Afghan cultural and norms? Or family's sense of respectability? ... 

I stay in Islam because there is no racism in Umma (Islamic community) and I know there is room for me... Islam has never turned its back on me as opposed to the people who interpret it ...

I don't do Islam correctly, but you don't actually know that...lines between Islam and Afghan culture are blurred. 

I will end where the evening ending: with one of the very poignent aspects of the show when Wazina read from a letter to all her lovers and girlfriends who have sought to offer advice on how she should  address her family's fraught feelings toward her queerness: 

My family is not your struggle...support me without judgement...they won't fall in love with you if you demonstrate 'cultural sensitivity'...they are not for you to rationalize or quantify...my success is unlike the ways you're used to. 

My success is listening to their stories even after they kicked me out of the house...they are so many ways I don't know them...they walked miles across their homeland...living in a world where people only see you by your beard or your suspicious accent …I don't know them. 

Why am I not mad at them? Success is them knowing I am not how they wanted me to turn out and I'm still invited home…sharing space…moving one step further with father…working-class revolutionary spirit…how will (or when) families come together?…love them for all they are and are not just as you love me. 

A performative rebuke to all the essentialist nonsense hurled at Islam...however Muslims make sense of their faith.


jasmin wayne said...

Well no offense to the people that are gay, but it is a sin for a mam to sleep with a man and a woman to sleep with a woman. There is a hadith to the nearest meaning that speaks of one of the signs that the end is near, is that people will be with people of the same sex. I think Allah didn't make you gay but obviously its something that's hard to neglect, I mean you can't just not be gay, right? But if you look at it as a test from Allah, and you suppress your desires to be gay for fear and love of Him. Just think of how big the reward you'll receive will be. Huge! Now I'm not here to say this is wrong and this is right but I am saying think of what Allah wants from you. Please live this life for him and sacrifice for Him, and he will do so much for you.

Anonymous said...

Shame on u wazina shame on ur dad nimat