Fiction and Memoir

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.

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Bachpan ka Zenana

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Growing up, my zenana used to the All-Girls School that I attended in Lahore. It was a place full or rules and regulations: about how to dress, about how to behave, about how to talk. The girls in my school had a reputation of being boy-desperate, which is why the teachers regulated our behavior even more. Until O-Levels, the B-word (boyfriend) would raise the teachers’ eyebrows and result in some kind of verbal intervention. Wearing shorts or a strapless sari to a school party would raise more eyebrows, and funnily would also make some girls drool and others jealous.

I remember this place as one of confinement. But the weird policing, and the resistance it inspired in the girls also transformed the place into one of possibilities. It was here that I started to develop a feminist consciousness. It was here that I could engage in intimate friendships with the friends who perhaps meant more to me than I meant to them. But since there were no boys to dominate our gossip and minds, I experienced a wide, wide array of friendships in this pseudo-convent.

I met my first crush in this space. Munazza was a tomboy, with a British accent. And of course my colonized mind found her persona sexy. She and I engaged in all sorts of role-playing eroticism. I would pretend that she was my husband, and I would role-play the wife, since I was the shorter, more petite one in the pair. And during this role-playing, she would let me explore her crevices, her soft spots, her anger at the world, her big big heart that was wide enough to fit every sharp part of me. She and I fought a lot too. We were both young readers of romance fiction (the awful novels of Judith McNaught were our favorites), so we enjoyed romantic drama. We liked sending each other melodramatic songs as dedications. We listened to those songs and cried silently under the sheets. But we never stopped to plan our lives as queer Pakistani women. There was no possibility of that to even make me think that I could live a life with her. Even then I knew that we would end up with men even though we both said “eww” to any mention of shadi. That was the queerish zenana of our girls school. A space where our friendship meant more to us than our brothers’ lives, a space where we held hands and listened to American music to seem cool, where we shared our pubescent angst, but never entertained ideas of living actual queer lives. Everything about me and Munazza was queer—our efforts of gender-bending, our light pecks on each others’ lips behind buildings, our palms exploring the growth of breasts—but our minds weren’t queer. We had no narrative, no role-model available. We were taught Iqbal’s poems, not Ismat Chugtai’s stories in our Urdu classes.

Munazza recently got married. I was not invited. She texted me this a week after her wedding: “hey, guess what lol, you were my first lesbian lover, lol :p”

I imagine that the queer zenanas of young middle-class Pakistani girls who go to English medium all-girls schools is still being covered up with tongue-out emoticons and LOLs. We think that sending cover-ups like LOL’s in messages will take away the intensity, will make the deviant seem okay, will somehow add a layer of comfort to something that we cannot otherwise even articulate. But despite the LOL’s the rush of heat through my stomach is still there, a rush that is evoked not because I still have feelings for Munazza, but because of the tragedy of heteronormativity and marriage-obsession in my culture. I wish I could inject such emoticons and LOLs into my blood stream every time I lose a friend from my first queer zenana to the violent construct of marriage.