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/
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
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
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
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.
Read my full article here: http://www.tanqeed.org/2016/07/queer-shuttling-tq-salon/
“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]
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
Dear young western-educated Muslim sisters: I see you priding yourselves on your “love” choices as you get ready to marry that boyfriend. I see you dancing in the limelight of capitalist delusions as you celebrate how “free” you are of religious and traditional constraints. I hear you demonize my Muslim mother for having consented to an arranged marriage thirty years ago as your talk about your “modern” love. I see you hate on my Muslim grandmother for looking at your boyfriend suspiciously, for refusing to believe the narrative of “freedom” espoused by the younger westernized generation.
Dear smug sisters: my grandma’s suspicion is a lesson in the traps of patriarchy. It is meant to teach us that self-chosen marriages are not inherently liberatory; they are the exact opposite of liberatory because they have us duped into thinking there can be any choice in this capitalist-heteropatriarchal messy world. My mother’s arranged marriage was so much more radical than your “love” marriage: she was under no such illusions when she unsmilingly signed her nikkahnama; she never believed in the emancipatory potential of the neoliberal ideas of free-will and autonomy. And perhaps she can teach you about the oppression that lies under willingly happily entering an institution that commodifies women as property. Perhaps she can show you that illusions of post-patriarchy are even more dangerous than in-your-face patriarchy.
So when you differentiate yourself from those oppressed Muslim women to make your own muslimness palatable to whiteness, know that your willingness to “choose” love cannot even match the strength of my mother’s refusal to love. My mother’s lack of smiles and laughter in her wedding pictures symbolizes resilience. Your smiles and laughter at your wedding symbolizes coercion, a kind of coercion that manifests itself through an arrogant patronizing feminism.
Our educated, westernized, modernized generation is not any less oppressed than the generation of our mothers and grandmothers. Self-chosen “love” marriages are not any different from the older generation’s arranged marriages. They are simply veiled under the dark illusory shrouds of love and choice. But how can there be choice in an act that inadvertently transforms a relationship into a contract in which the woman is an object of white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy? My mother understood the inherently patriarchal nature of this institution when she consented to an arranged marriage years ago. My grandmother understood the violent nature of marriage when her consent didn’t even matter years and years ago. These are women who can surely give you lessons in feminism, who can write correctives to your arrogant feminism that privileges Western-capitalist patriarchy over Muslim patriarchy.
Dear “modern” Muslim sisters, this is why certain older women refuse to participate in your contrived happiness. They have a knowledge that is so much deeper and sadder than the theatrical romance fed to us by heteropatriarchal capitalist culture. Despite her lack of English-medium education (or perhaps because of its lack), my grandmother can see the violence in both “arranged” and “love” marriages. So how can you demonize her for eyeing your boyfriend-turned-fiancé with suspicion? My frail aging daadi who recently said to me “shaadi se burri cheez is dunya main koi nahi” knows better than to endorse such false “love choices.”
I finally got done writing a tedious list of citations for this paper on transnational feminism. One after the other, I wrote names of academics, articles, books. As if my thoughts on feminism were actually inspired by them. As if the passionate voice that my professor lauds was actually stirred by them. As if you had nothing to do with this paper, with all my papers, with all my angry rants and strengths. As if I came to consciousness by reading feminist poets and fiction writers and academics, and not by your everyday acts of resistance as you confronted boldly the men in the bazaars, as you made sure that we wouldn’t learn the gender roles that you and Dad performed, as you always smiled at me when I shifted back and forth from tomboy to femme to sari to black hoodie, as you made sure no relative imposed gender on me.
Ma, I am sorry I cannot mention you in this citations list. I am sorry I would not think to mention you even if academic conventions allowed it. I am sorry there is no space in my life now to acknowledge how you provided forays into alternative worlds that I now waltz in, forgetful, indifferent, unremembering.
Ma, I am sorry that when you call me from Lahore and ask me proudly what my conference paper was on, I am unable to explain poststructural feminism to you. I am sorry I stutter and stumble as I try to “dumb down” the concept of gender performativity for you. I am sorry that in our Urdu conversations, I always switch to English when you ask me about my thoughts on gender.
Ma, I am sorry I told a friend recently that my activism stems from rebellion against my apolitical family. I am sorry for all the lies, for all the erasure, for stepping all over you so that recognized western feminists can validate me.
Ma, I am sorry I spend more time thinking about Butler and Foucault than I do thinking about all the childhood lessons of feminism you gave me. I am sorry that when I try to think about anticolonial queer feminists, the faces of Sara Ahmed and Jasbir Puar always eclipse yours.
I want to tell you, Ma, that you were my introduction to feminism. That I wouldn’t even know how to read the convoluted language of Puar and Butler if it hadn’t been for your teachings, your tenacity, your sacrifices. Sometimes I want to throw away these books and videos and lectures, and just massage your feet. I wonder if your heels have become coarser in the past year. I want to tell you that you are the fiercest feminist I know, the kind of feminist who can love despite the anger, who can forgive despite the oppression, but I have no words to express such feelings. I just wrote six thousand words discussing western androcentric homonormativity, but my education, my activism, my political consciousness have stolen the words that I need most to remind myself that overt politics sometimes colonize your mundane politics, that they make me think of you as victim rather than fire, as apolitical rather than warrior.
So I am sorry Ma, for letting my feminism trample all over your womanhood.