Muslim Drag Queens & “Iran’s Sex Change Solution”

Last night the Channel 4 documentary Muslim Drag Queens aired despite Asif Quraishi, and other muslim drag queens featured in the programme, receiving death threats.

According to Channel 4’s website the film is a “powerful documentary meeting members of Britain’s underground Muslim drag queen community. How do gay Muslim’s publicly reconcile their sexuality with their cultural identity and traditions?” The answer is with great difficulty – the controversy sparked by the documentary alone is testament to this.

Within often close knit Asian and Muslim communities, homosexuality is a sensitive subject – it is widely seen as shameful, sinful and wholly incompatible with one’s cultural or religious identity. This is exactly what Asif Quaraishi, Rezzia Rani and Zareena Khan set out to challenge, hoping to stir up a conversation within the Asian community of acceptance and perhaps even support.

It is notable throughout the documentary however, of the distinct absence of the Asian and Muslim community – a march organised in honour of Dr Naz Mahmood, a gay Asian man who committed suicide after coming out to his family, registered disappointment in Asif Lahore as it became apparent that those who came out in support were overwhelmingly not of the Muslim or Asian community. To Asif Lahore this seemed to suggest that the community does not care, that this issue is not something that concerns them.

It is important to remember however that this is an issue that will not go away overnight, it will take time and perseverance – change from within the community is needed just as much as support from those outside of it.

The documentary goes on to describes a double life led by many gay Asian men, whereby they are caught between two identities. What is striking about this is how for some men the drag community offers a kind of lifeline – it is easier to accept, and maybe even ‘rationalise’ their feelings, if they are attracted to men who possess feminine mannerisms and dress as females.

But what about those in other places, living in countries where being homosexual is not only illegal, but can be punishable by death. Not long ago the BBC highlighted the plight of many homosexual men and women who flee from Iran to Turkey, to escape Iran’s so called “sex change solution”.

In Iran “clerics do … accept the idea that a person may be trapped in a body of the wrong sex. So homosexuals can be pushed into having gender reassignment surgery” – not only can this be psychologically traumatic for those that are simply homosexual and not transgender, but can also rip families apart as people seek to flee Iran having faced the option of surgery or death, in a disturbing number of cases threatened by the family.

From this it is clear that LGBTQ rights and acceptance have a long way to go in the gay and Asian community, not only in Britain but around the world. For the time being, Asif Quaraishi, Rezzia Rani and Zareena Khan can only be commended for their brave decision to appear publicly and openly about their sexuality. Hopefully this show of bravery will encourage others in the gay and Asian community to do the same.

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