This is the companion blog post to the launch event of our intersectionality series, “Queer & Race”. Head on down to Brag on Saturday 5th January at 7:00pm for dinner/film/discussion then chillaxin’.
I spent a few years in Libya when I was young, but I mostly grew up in suburban Manchester among a large but insular community of Arabs. It was a cultural bubble, which was mostly contained in people’s homes and the local masjid. There was gender-segregation, racism, homophoia and patriarchy to the max, but also darboukas, tea and a tuna sandwich after juma’a. The bigoted social programming will be a lifetime project to try and shake off, however a nostalgia for other aspects of the culture has started to emerge in me.
My family disowned me about 5 years ago, when they found out I was sleeping with people of a gender they’d rather I didn’t. It was a pretty hot issue for them, a dealbreaker. Words were said, punches thrown, and I found that I no longer wanted anything to do with them and theirs any more than they wanted to with me and mine. Though at that point, being a cultural orphan as well as an orphan in the literal sense, there wasn’t much in the way of “mine”. That was something that came later, and slowly. With my cultural blinkers off I was able to better pursue my political interests, particularly in privilege politics. University was something of a renaissance for me, enabling me to meet people with similar interests to learn from and also to share something deeper with, that sense of a supportive and generous community I thought didn’t really exist in non-Arab cultures. Something I feel even more strongly in the squatting community I’m now a part of.
I’ve been piecing together who I am and what is mine over the past 5 years. Deciding which values are important to me, and which things I was brought up with that I’d rather discard. I feel like I’ve settled on something pretty consistent now, and as well as looking forward to things I want to do with what I’ve built, I’ve found myself looking back. I don’t miss being made to feel I didn’t perform my gender appropriately, but I do miss wearing a Jalabiya, and I miss eating besin.
I feel like I didn’t just lose my family in The Divorce, but that they have also denied me my connection to a huge, ancient culture that was routed in me from birth. And yeah, fuck that. I’ve become accustomed to trespassing recently, and to taking things I need. And I want it back. Do any queer, Arab comrades know where I can find it, or fancy lending me a hand?