Social Media Stages Are Killing Radical Love

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There is a way in which queer social media connects so many of us queers of color across the world. Those of us hiding under covers, running place to place on subways, hoping on to rickshaws, minimizing screens when the co-worker walks in, find some respite in the connections we form in the virtual world. There is a gratitude that so many of us feel towards the internet, towards these ways of connecting and finding each other to assuage our pangs of isolation, of guilt, of externalized and internalized loathing.

But queer social media toxicity creates another form of isolation. Another form of exclusion, of guilt, of externalized and internalized loathing. Another rupture in human connection. Another emptiness in queer conversation. I am not talking of echo chambers. I very willfully create echo chambers (the only debates I allow on my newsfeed are the ones between super-radical-thought and superduper-radical-thought). This is not about listening to the bland liberals who just want to work in the system. This is not about the bullshit of free speech. This is about how social media performance, how curated self-museums rob us of our humanness. Of our human pain. Of our human ways to engaging and relating to each other.

How do I post a broken thought or feeling about Junot Diaz without triggering an onslaught of assumptions about my politics about survivors? How do I practice radical honesty about my hatred for cis women without being labeled and shunned for my 1) internalized sexism or 2) queer toxic masculinity (pick one)? How do I tell you that you saying “all men are trash” is racist because dehumanizing men of color makes you trash, when I too fear all men? How do we hold the contradictions between our feelings and our politics, how do we struggle to improve ourselves, how do we practice honest accountability in this social media culture where people are reduced to the politics showcased on their profiles, where our self-worth is measured by how how daring, how networked, how well-connected we are with other celebrity-radicals? How do we have disagreements (not with liberals and conservatives), but with each other about our pain, about the silences we safe-keep out of fear of saying something that may allow someone to align us with our own oppressors? How do we honor nuance and complexity that is often lost in facebook statuses, in comments, in succinct tweets?

My friends often call me an old soul, a buddhi rooh, an old sad uncle in the body of an awkward queer, an old withering aunty who wears bowties– simply because I value real conversation over public social media threads. I just have seen more complexity in people than their carefully curated online profiles could ever capture. And I have seen more white supremacy in people than their anti-racist profiles could ever show. What is more important, our perfectly radical language on twitter or our real-life practice of respect and care?

So come have tea with me and talk to me about how to deal with our trauma, and its relationship with the many manifestations of Diaz’s abuse. Come take a walk with me and talk to me about the tension between feminism (yes, even feminism of color) and trans justice. Call your friends. Think about all the love you lose out on if you stick only to social media profiles. Think about that one friend who may be too complex for social media, who may be too scared of social media. Go over and make food with them. Listen to them. Talk slowly. Breathe. Listen. Listen slowly, patiently. Articulate your trigger. State your boundary. But listen if you can: to feelings that may be messy, that may not be free of “problematic politics,” that may be unethical. To thoughts that may be struggling with an understanding of power, because power never worked in linear ways. To thoughts that are nowhere on social media but heaving inside people’s hearts. To hearts that can only be opened through slow, deep talk, and not through public performances on social media. Listen to those thoughts in person or through letter-writing or over private chats. Struggle with those thoughts. Learn to see that the oppressed can also hurt others, that the oppressed can also uphold power, that sometimes the most world-changing and world-making thoughts cannot be articulated on the public stages of social media. Learn to see that like our lives, our messy ideas and feelings too, are not disposable.

I am not discarding the value of social media. I recognize that discarding social media completely is ableist and anti-queer. But even with the friendships I have found on the internet, I want a deeper kind of growth. I want to be in relationships that are based on more than just reposting each other’s tweets. I want to be in radical friendships that can hold space for deep and reflective nuance, even when it is uncomfortable, even when it may sound like the rhetoric of our oppressors. I want to be in social spaces that recognize that many political movements that we hold close to our hearts may be inherently in conflict. I want to hold that tension. And I want to build love from there.

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how white women abuse

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the women in your feed tremble rage

feministboyaziz has triggered them. they too have

been through               what whitegirlgrace went through.

they too. have been assaulted. coerced. fucked. abused.

like whitegirlgrace. and even worse.

 

you too have seen your share of feministboys like aziz.

why then. does your body tighten. smile. yes, ma’am.

 

handsoutofpockets. at the wail of whitegirlgrace, even more

than it does. at the entitlement of feministboyaziz. why do white

 

women. and their helplessness. passivity. docility. innocence.

trigger you more. even when they are the ones being abused.

 

you read about whitegirlgrace. wanting red wine. and you think of

the whiteishgirl with her pure pompom plot. to get into your bed. and

touch you here and. there. and cry. tell you about all the times she

was violated by men. tell you. you were her fantasy. tell you. she had

a white girlfriend. tell you. she wanted you. assume. you must want her

too. run her white soft fingers. through you. call herself flower. make you

feel dirty. touched. no-consent. while making sure you. were taking care of

her. even now. she is helpless. pretty. passive. docile. spotless innocence.

 

you read about whitegirlgrace. she is weeping. and you think of the very

whitestraightgirl who cried when you. wouldn’t touch her. when you just

wouldn’t hold her hand. when you wouldn’t play along with the bartender’s

idea that. you were the brownbutch to her whitefemme. how dare you say no.

reject. the generous coercion of weepywhitegirl. how dare you jilt. and not take.

care of her. she too         is still helpless. pretty. passive. docile. spotless innocence.

she is still weeping. out of the trauma of being

whitestraightgirl. 

jihad over my ribcage

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Once upon a time I was called a girl carrying two lemons, and she who said this the most, the one whose lips and deep voice I sensed regularly in my sour soft dreams, would compare my chest to tiny lemons or tangerines or tennis balls. And once she, whose lips and deep voice tickled my daydreams and nightmares and wet dreams, grabbed and squeezed and laughed and mocked, size zero she called me, and the presence of her hands felt so good, and years later, the memory of her hands felt so bad

 

Once upon a time I stuffed my baby bra with tissues so that her whose lips and voice shook my belly would stop comparing my body to lemons and tiny tangerines/  once upon a time I wished my lemons away after his hands touched me in my sleep and I felt my spirit step out of my body and leave, unable to handle the violence of the thing that the internet told me was “child sexual abuse” and when I got my spirit back the next morning she was broken but silent, and I prayed and prayed and prayed surah falak forever because every night my spirit would get up and leave and it felt so bad every time my body and spirit were torn apart and each shredded into powerless little pieces that pretended to be all-put-together, and years later, when the pieces did reunite again, it felt jarring/    because there are things my body remembers that my spirit has forgotten /   amnesia is necessary for survival, she says   / no, amnesia is a privilege, my body responds  / my spirit is still shook /

 

Once upon a time a man who I call father and abbu and babajan and king and hero and monster told me it was time to wear a dupatta when I wore a tight kameez because you know I was old now and you know, he was just saying it to protect me from the boys, because you know, his mother had given him special instructions on how to be a good father, and of course his mother meant everything to him because you know, he respected women, because you know it was her womb that birthed his agency, because you know she is my dadi after all, because you know we need to respect our elders, because you know feminism begins at home with respecting our elder women whose faces are etched with cracks of family labor, and you know he was a feminist because he had dedicated his life to being a puppet to an old woman who had seen so much violence, and you know its just a dupatta, just a piece of cloth, just an accessory, stop making it a big deal

 

Once upon a time there was a boy who kept looking at the lemon-like burdens I carried and I felt myself wanting a dupatta, wanting a chaadar, wanting to be naked, wanting a bandook, wanting a grenade, wanting an atomic bomb planted deeply under my ribcage that would blow up in his face as he looked and looked and looked and looked and — ha ha ha my bomb-breasts would explode into sharp shreds implanted in his destroyed face-rubble ha ha ha

 

Once upon a time my spirit felt like she owed too much to my broken body so I bought myself a low-cut shirt and a pushup bra in unprocessed efforts to reattach my body to my self to my spirit to my life. Once upon a time I thought that I needed to show the world that I could carry two sexy breasts and that the things over my ribs were my own to own, my own to fuck with, my own way to take away the violence embedded deep in the pores of my bulging skin, and so to honor my body, my spirit started to love the word breasts so much I would say it over and over again breasts breasts breasts breastsbreastsbreasts and let the stss sound hiss through my mouth through my vagina through my armpits through my ribcage through my utterances of surah falak

 

Now that child who giggled with thoughts of bombing boys straddles labels of gender clinging to my hips, undoes feminism handcuffed to my ankles, unravels the violence hanging heavily from my chest. but I still have wet dreams of her lips and deep voice mocking my size zero breasts, and I still have nightmares of his hands tearing apart spirit from body. Wa min sharri ghasikin iza wakab

 

Now my spirit is learning, is in awe of the spirits around me who also trans-ed out of rage, whispering surah falak, and binding my chest and gelling my hair back. Dupatta-hands-fingers-mockery-violence- – have culminated into – – Binder. I wonder if sexual violence turned me queer, and brush away the thought. I wonder if healing from sexual violence turned me trans, and brush away the thought. I run my fingers over my chest feeling the flatness, feeling the fantasies and dreams and nightmares living underneath my ribcage, and brush away my need to connect cause with effect, and step into this life feeling a little more attuned, a little less panicked, a little more weaponed, a little less armored

 

/Once upon a time I ran away from my gender because boy meant violence/

/But now I am becoming boy to avenge all the boys who made me run away from my gender/

 

ramzan ruckus

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i)

remembering. ramzan nine years ago. getting ready for an iftar party where the palao served was too salty, even for me. ma, pinning my duppata on my left shoulder with the brooch nani ami gave her. baba, teaching his thirteen year old son how to tie a tie, no creases, no bumps, yes it must be straight. like most of my memories, i hate this one too, and not because i wanted to swap places with my brother, but because i wanted ma to tear apart the duppata and instead teach me how to sew it into a big fat bow tie so i could wear nani ami’s brooch in the middle of it, rest it below my throat under the absent shadow of an adam’s apple that never grew

remembering. how nine years ago i refused to pray maghrib after that bad iftari and the aunties shook their heads in silent disapproval. it was my first public anti-prayer rebellion. i secretly prayed qazah that night. fully naked. to practice vulnerability with allah, to mark difference from the communal prayer. eyes closed, so that when i went into rukuh, i wouldn’t peek at my stretch marks, at the alien hair growing out of unshavable places. i went into a long sajda that night remembering how my islamiat teacher had told me that we are closest to god when we are in sajda. i stayed that way until i slept, with my back to the dirty sky. i was vulnerable in love

ii)

now. i am alone. i hated praying with others but there are none to stand alongside me tonight. no aunty to give me a lecture, no mother to pin a brooch, no suffocating ittar smell to give me headache, no ramzan palao gone too salty

now, my prayer mat looks just like me: dusty, sad, unmoved since last ramzan. today i unfold it as i unfold myself. i am scared to pray again. i fear i may have forgotten the sequence, forgotten the movement, forgotten the words i have memorized in a language i secretly despise (yes, it’s that mixture of internalized islamophobia and saudi imperialism) i fear i may re-learn too much of a faith i need to not know much about. to survive. i fear i may hate it too much once i learn it too much

yesterday, someone who seemed so much more muslim than me told me that sex is a form of ibadat. sex, like worship, can be beautiful, vulnerable, frightening, violent. god too can feel like a nurturing lover one night and an abusive narcissist at others. faith comes with the risk of heartbreak. i have risked heartbreak. i have gone into sajda many times, sometimes on a sad prayer mat that looks too much like me, sometimes on her soft bush, my face embraced by her thighs, my fatihah laced with her moans. i have made myself vulnerable in love

iii)

tonight. is chaand raat. i will go into sajda as the moon tries to peek through the dense clouds of smog. teasing. tantalizing. licking the lids of apprehension on eyes that gaze their dirty skies for a glimmer of Her, a glimmer of something to break the monotony of this loveless capitalism

tonight i will recite fatihah and i will mean it. tonight i will even recite darood and i will mean it. and i will lower my head in sajda, bow down with my back to the teasing moon, rest my forehead on her stubble, put my faith in Her rubble, and stay like that for a long long time. on these lonely nights, i like feeling close to allah as She weeps the earth blurry. on these lonely nights, i like holding her close as she sleeps in restless worry. so i will stay that way until the crack of fajr, with her bush under the absent shadow of an adam’s apple that never really grew

My Queer Alone (or how other queers shame me)

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Every time I enter a queer of color space with my clicks and my bowtie, I hear the words “community” and “family.” The two words that hold so much pain for folks like us. The two words that capture all the times our blood families alienated us, all the times our cultures rejected us. The two words that are supposed to shove this alienation and rejection back into the face of this white cishet world, and finally allow us some healing. With others.

But you know, when I hear “community” and “family,” the two words that are supposed to heal and refresh and decolonize me, I feel even more alienated. That is why I make up imaginary friends when I’m talking to the queer folks I meet at woke events. That is why I pretend to be all comfortable in my bowtie, even when my skin is crawling into my lungs. When I hear these two words, I feel a new kind of queer shame, one that is not caused by cis hetero culture but by the queer folks who assume that I too, must have a chosen family.

But I don’t. Most days, I feel utterly alone. No, I do not have twenty queer muslim friends living close to me who can come over anytime. No, I do not even have ten queer friends far away from me who I can have a heart-to-heart skype session with. And this is not just because I am a terribly anxious person. This is because I do not know how to find a new queer of color family. Because I do not have the energy to create new community ties when it’s trying so fucking hard to maintain the ones that were forced upon me.

And mostly, this is because I am out of balance: I am full of a painful love for a family that suffocates me with their normativity, and full of a painful emptiness for other queers who revel with their chosen families in their non-normativity.

My dear fellow queers who have found a queer of color family, this is not an attack. This is a confession. This is a confession that when I see another person like myself—so queer, so muslim, so brown—lean so comfortably on so many folks, I feel jealous. I feel jealous because I don’t have what you have. I feel jealous because I can’t have what you have. But mostly, I feel jealous because I am supposed to have what you have. I am supposed to have a chosen family, I am supposed to have queer of color friends, I am supposed to have a community that sustains me, I am supposed to have folks who pull me out of this depressive shell. I am supposed to survive it all, collectively.

Sure, I have some online queer muslim and PoC friends. Sure, I know some queer folks in different parts of the world. Sure, I sometimes have someone I can “connect” with to talk about politics, and perhaps even go to a protest with. But this is not family. These connections don’t heal when I feel like the world is thinning me. These connections don’t comfort when I’m crying over her departure. These connections don’t validate when I feel guilty for lying to my mother. These connections don’t laugh, or hang out, or weep, or listen. They are mere connections after all. Not “family” or “community.”

So my queer fellows with chosen families, stop shoving these two words down my throat. I am already living within the ever-enclosing ball of queer loneliness, but your assumptions and your prescriptions fill me with a different kind of alone, one that is terrified of your pity, and ashamed of existing in this queer loneliness.

Queer Shuttling (first published on Tanqeed)

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Read my full article here: http://www.tanqeed.org/2016/07/queer-shuttling-tq-salon/

Excerpt:

“I shuttle not only because I am always anxious of others appropriating my narrative, but also because I don’t really know how to process and narrate my queerness, how to come out politically through a narrative that is mine, that refuses to be globalized. Part of the reason for our collective shuttling is our lack of a queer narrative that is local, that is written in our indigenous languages such as Pashto, Balochi, Saraiki, and Balti, that moves beyond mining sufi poetry for (exclusively male) homosexual instances, whose plot line is not given to us by the global allyship of mullah-ism and neocolonialism.

The only way to find a comfortable spot on the bridge, to stop our anxious and at times traumatic shuttling, is to create a different narrative, a narrative outside of LGBT and pride parades, a narrative that fits with our local histories and cultures even as it seeks to challenge them. In a previous Tanqeed article on queerness in Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto astutely points out the need for a language that is specific to Pakistan and one which can do political work without always plummeting into western academic jargon. In addition to finding our own language, we also need to discover and create our own queer stories that defy, or at least lie outside of the, “Born this way” “I don’t have a choice” and “Love is Love” rainbow-washed narratives fed to us by mainstream LGBT America. We need to publicize those stories and write those histories that do not necessarily fit the romance and performance available to us through western cultural productions. Otherwise, we will keep shuttling as the West continues to box us into a development narrative, informing us that we are only 50 years behind, that we will eventually get to their rainbows with the benign help of IMF loans and liberal drones.

We need a narrative that includes our local smells, our local colors, that has the ability to embrace our dupattas, our qawwalis, our jaaman-colored purpled fingertips; one that our aunties can relate to, that does not let our western-educated generation use our privilege against our own communities. So even as I shuttle between dominant American and dominant Pakistani spaces, I dream of the day we won’t have to get our bodies torturously inscribed by the mainstream LGBT machine simply to justify our humanness to others. I dream of the day when we will be able to celebrate intersectional queer movements that are not western, that are not androcentric, that are not even national, but regional and local, that resist Pakistani nationalism as much as they resist western imperialism, that do not fall into the traps of NGOized feminism. Shuttling, after all, is just a painful and urgent call for the day we won’t need the colonizer’s “global” narrative to fight our own families as we justify our right to exist. The contradictions in our current narratives are a plea for a time when resistance will not encompass making violent edits to our own stories, when radical queer work will not involve selectively expunging parts of our own bodies and memories to fit our shuttling politics.”

[“Queer Shuttling” is part of TQ Salon’s series on queerness and the post colony]

Tum Aur Lahore

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Despite the borders and histories and impossibilities etched into our lives, I still plan for when I’ll introduce you to Lahore and Lahore to you. I think you both would be able to share wounds, admire each other’s earrings, enjoy some alaichi chai

Your brown would look so beautiful surrounded by Lahore’s, but I’ve told myself over and over again that you and Lahore are not meant to meet, that sometimes circumstances are just so queer that even the safest softest closets cannot straighten them

But I plan still

To show you the long legs of Maall Road with the kind of stubble I know you’ll find sexy for its i-don’t-give-a-fuck flair; to slide with you into the inner crevices of the reddened walls of purana Lahore and spot that one blue kite flying amidst the orange heat; to feel the moist sponginess of the monsoon air; to tickle the erect tips of Badshahi Masjid’s minarets; to kiss with our mouths open and catch the smoke of centuries on our tongues—you see, when it comes to Lahore, even the clichés feel so good

When it comes to Lahore, even the most mundane act amongst sullied roads becomes a romantic cliché

Like the ice cream cone from the roadside stand in Liberty bazaar I so deeply want to share with you, watch the whiteness of the cream diffuse into your tongue, watch you hold the cone as I recount to you how getting ice cream from a street stand became my favorite thing to do in the evenings, tell you how I used to imagine eating that ice cream off of you, tell you that there is no better place to fantasize about our sex than amidst honks and dupattas and aging rickshaw cylinders

You see, when people ask me if I was born with the queer gene or if something ruined me later in life, I want to tell them that I was born into queer by being born into Lahore. You see, there is something so deliciously feminine about this city that the strength of it lingers on my tongue months after I leave it

Perhaps the intricacies and difficulties and love of Lahore have taught me to taste you properly, to travel through your crevices and find your tender spots, have taught me that the walls that guard your heart are made with the toughest red bricks but can soften up with a glance, that there is so much rare beauty in your layers and nuances and shadows (the kind that fell asleep and buried itself deep in my lungs (the kind that makes me smile every time I smoke and see clouds of you coming out of me))

So when I told you I love your rawness, this is what I meant: that perhaps you remind me of a place that is so bruised and bold, but so delicious and sweet still, whose femininity swallows buildings and bazaars but gags on men—refusing to take them in— the unswallowable men who colonize, terrorize, globalize, the men who force us into an exhausted rage

So when I want to bring you to this city perhaps I just want you to feel that something deep within Lahore— despite its men, despite its visible upper class, despite its global bullshit— is in solidarity with our love