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
i am tired/ of shuttling between the binaries of mullah and white/ of defending the worst parts of me my history my trauma/ of constantly laboring to shatter stereotype to complicate your simplistic reductive bullshit that makes me want to give up the parts of me that are meant to be the most radical
your mullah, your imam, your man who holds hadiths like knives makes me defend the feminist movements that have harmed my mother my grandmother my aunties, makes me suck up to your imperialism, sows my mouth shut when the white cis gay man shrouds me in this rainbow veil/ i do not know how to critique the neoliberalism and colonialism behind feminist and queer movements when my womanhood and queerness is being charred slowly by the sparks of the holy quran/ in the name of god who is most merciful and kind but only in his tyrannical ways
your white, your western, your liberal makes me defend the religion the culture the traditions that i always ran away from, makes me suck up to all things islam, sows my mouth shut when my own brown men shroud me under their protective possessive violent gaze/ i do not know how to critique surah nisa and the thirteenness of khadija-zainab-saffiya-ayesha-etc.etc. behind the faith that has protected me against the swords of whiteness that do not slay, but only probe me slowly split my skin slowly/ you don’t kill straight-up you maim bruise torture me islamophobia
i’ve had enough of this shuttling/ of defending the violence of my brown muslim men in the face of your islamophobia, of defending the colonial violence and prescription of my western-educated feminism and queer liberation in the face of your blasphemy laws/ i am tired of shuttling between your islamophobia your blasphemy your mosque that pushes women to the back your fucked up imperialism your pinkwashing your homonationalism/ when will i give up this defending this justifying this explaining this educating/ when will i finally give up this body, this womanness, this ism, this islam, this muslimness, this brown queer bullshit that is supposed to make me radical but only makes me want to/ wash away my brown, tear apart my quran, vomit out my womyn my queer my desire, and surrender to you/ all of my shields and all of my explanations and all of my contrived broken strength
Dear White Gay Americans:
When I was young and scared and growing up into my queerness in a violently heteronormative world, I let you dictate what I could be, which box I could fit neatly into, which desires of mine could be liberated by your benevolent “LGBT rights” and which desires I had to erase because they were too unrepresented (or disliked) in your gay culture. I learned quickly—because you taught it so well—that the G from your four letter movement was the only identity worth adopting: the L was still harassed, sexualized, and visible only when masculinized; the B was considered too ambivalent, too scarily queer for your politics of “different but the same;” and the T was too murdered, too bloody, too erased, too used and raped and battered and thrown away. So you know, I became “gay” and very proudly held the banner of “LGBT rights” in front of my people you told me again and again were too homophobic.
I learned what you told me since you were the only visible representative of non-normative sexuality: that since I was different and could not fit into urban Pakistan’s desexualized heterosexual culture, I had to adopt your kind of desires, your kind of skin, your kind of language. I had to escape South Asian heteronormativity to enter your American homonormativity. I had to do gay and be gay like you. I had to love (white) and be loved (by white) like you.
I learned well: I knew I had to work hard in school so I could go to college in America by being a scholarship girl; probably a very liberal college where you expressed a very touching kind of interest in my coming-of-age story when I talked about how I could not come out to my family, but looked away to another brown “more oppressed” person when my story didn’t fit your mold, when it didn’t give you enough reason to pat yourself on the back for giving me your gracious scholarship. But I told myself you were well-intentioned, and that you were the only one like me, so I kept learning. I even learned to thank you profusely. To shake your hand on fancy dinner parties and wear my newly discovered preppy gay fashions and smile so very graciously. I did wonder then why marriage equality was on your top priority when kids like us were being thrown out on the streets, when adults like us were being fired for their lifestyles; but you told me quickly and politely that I was not meant to question your movement. That I had no right to critique and challenge you, when I myself was a mere refugee into your movement. That the only feeling I was allowed to feel was gratitude. I was used to being policed by heteronormative patriarchy all my life, so some extra policing by you didn’t seem too strange. So I went ahead and obediently smiled for the “international human rights” pamphlet you had me pose for.
But I never did become part of you, no matter how hard I tried. And it wasn’t simply because your modernity failed to be in sync with mine. It wasn’t even because I failed to properly distinguish my sexuality from my other more salient identities (like Urdu, like brown family, like brown history, like spirituality) the way you asked me to. It was because you never listened to my story. You listened to the parts that suited the narrative you had already constructed of me and discarded the rest, calling me harmful and ungrateful and uncivilized. You told me I was being unfair to my own people whenever I voiced any anti-capitalist and anti-colonial critique of your movement, whenever I even implied that your movement was only harming queer folks like myself.
So you shut your doors, and refused to include a brown woman who was even slightly disobedient to the prescriptive freedoms of America. How dare I not accept the liberty of the lovely field of banks and tanks that was America? How dare I, as an obviously oppressed girl from Pakistan, refuse the benevolence of facebook’s rainbow filter, and the vanilla cakes of gay marriage? How dare I not celebrate July 4th when America just announced itself as the liberator of all gay people? And most of all, how dare I raise my voice to speak up against the drone-induced trauma on Pakistani children when my voice could be well used for GayPride songs about the triumph of love? How dare I point out that life (even the “worthless” life of a brown child in northwest Pakistan) may be more important than your consumerist version of love?
I couldn’t become a part of you was because you refused to include me in your movement the day I didn’t have enough money, the day my third-world feminism and anti-imperialism made me critical of your gay (but very straightish) marriage, the day I washed off the bleach from my skin and stood naked in front of you as the brown queer woman I am. Put your white clothes back on, you shouted at me, reminding me of the religo-fundamentalist men back home. Shut up, learn to feel grateful and stop ruining our fun, you and your allies screamed. Long ago, you allowed capitalists and racists to steal your movement, and then you became the capitalist and the racist. And soon you became the liberal rainbow-loving glittery colonizer who kissed his cis white husband in pride parades and simultaneously bombed all indigenous and third world queer movements that didn’t look like your parade, that weren’t gay enough, that weren’t Americo-capitalist enough. This year on June 26th (and a week later on July 4th), you held a red, blue, and white banner of LGBT rights and Marriage Equality as you policed the world (literally, the world) on how to behave sexually, on how to live “freely.” And you taught your privileged allies to act just like you: to silence any critique of gay marriage, and to contort queer bodies into your homonationalist stairway to global capital and violent military interventions. So my dear white gay fellows, this is how you became my trigger for the terrorism you always pretended to save me from.