Too gay for Iraq and too Iraq for gay – why I’ve been single my whole life.
My name is Amrou Al-Kadhi. I’m 27 years old. I’m gay, a drag queen, Muslim by heritage – and I’ve been single my entire life.
In my early 20s, I avoided potential intimacies like a soldier ducking from shrapnel. Now that I’m edging towards 30 – F-U-C-K – I’m yearning for a meaningful relationship, a hope that hovers in front of me like a cock-teasing mirage.
At times, intimacy has seemed as improbable to me as interstellar travel; at points, it’s as enticing a prospect as cultural authenticity must feel for Katy Perry. But why have I always been single? I think it’s because I’ve faced challenges that are particularly symptomatic among queer people – the biggest being shame.
As a child raised Muslim, I was taught that every time you sinned, the devil placed bad points on your left shoulder. Every time you did something good, an angel put positive points on your right shoulder. Each sin was worth 10 points, whereas good deeds – well, they amounted to a grand total of ONE MEASLY FUCKING POINT. While sins could happen from the most natural of thoughts – like ‘I’m jealous of that girl’s fuchsia pencil case’ – good deeds were bizarrely hard to accomplish, like helping save a homeless man’s life, aged five.
The points inevitably stacked against me because I spent most of my early childhood furtively plotting to become a sodomite. Now, it was instilled in us that if we had more sin points on our left shoulder than good ones on our right by the time that we died, we were doomed to an eternity in hell. Hurrah!
So from an early age, it was hardwired into me that sex with a man would result in my being tortured in flames. While this sounds like a once unremarkable night at The Hoist (RIP),
I’ve ended up religiously conditioned to reject intimacy. Residual visions of fiery punishment caused me to sabotage potential relationships. And long with the rejection of Allah, I’ve also endured the rejection of my parents, who still refuse to accept my homosexuality – let alone my being a drag queen. Because my formative relationships went so completely tits up – those with my mother, my father, my father in heaven – intimacy has been a Pandora’s box of fear for
Perhaps I should get the following
statement tattooed on my head: people
of colour and gender nonconformists are not a threat to the gay fight for
me. The prospect of enduring another rejection was once so anxiety inducing, that my emotional love-life was confined to chemsex parties and wandering alone in saunas. And whether or not you’ve suffered a fall out like mine with my upbringing, society’s systemic rejection of queer people makes trust in intimacy that much trickier for some of us.
I’ve now reached a place where I’m much readier for it – thank you therapy, thank you anti-depressants, and thank you drag, the most reparative of joys. The battle now lies with gay men. Depending on the extremity of rejection you’ve endured, each of us brings a wealth of queer anxieties into gay spaces – surviving your own as well as that of a prospective partner’s can be quite the feat.
For me, the gay community has been a forum of countless rejections. Even if the chemistry has been electric, men I date often are turned off when they discover I’m a drag queen. These men tend to be white, middle-class and cisgendered, and have said things to me like, ‘I try and date men who are… you know… men’, and, ‘I don’t really know what I’d tell my friends and family.’ When my empathy glass is more half-full, I recognise that the social shaming of LGBT+ identities leads some gay men to dissociate with queer presenting people. When I’m feeling pissed off, I scream an Alyssa Edwards staple – ‘get a grip, get a life, and get over it.’
But what I absolutely don’t have the emotional energy for is the growing tide of racism in the gay community. For while being gay in Arab contexts has been traumatic for me, being
Arab in gay spaces is just as bad – if I have to hear ‘I don’t date Asians’ one more time I will spontaneously combust into a unicorn fart. Perhaps I should get the following statement tattooed on my head: people of colour and gender nonconformists are not a threat to the gay fight for ‘equality’ – DON’T LEAVE US BEHIND!
Intimacy is something queer people deserve, if it’s something we decide we want.
I’m not saying that a relationship should be a queer end goal in and of itself; but if we can all learn to love ourselves a little more, loving each other might not be so hard.