By Ashlee Green | NPR
Monday, February 13, 2023
In the new memoir Hijab Butch Blues, Lamya H takes what Leslie Feinberg started in 1993 with Stone Butch Blues – a complex representation of the politics of gender and work in 1970s America – and makes it true and sacred. For Lamya, God is not a man or a woman. “My God,” they write, “transcends gender.”
Lamya, a bored 14-year-old “nerd” who “never skips Koran class”, wants to die. At the age of four, her parents dragged her from her unknown, Urdu-speaking country of origin to live in a “rich Arab country”, “in a “great metropolitan city” located “far from everything and everyone we knew”. is trapped in a system of “unspoken racial hierarchies.” She is fascinated by her economics professor: “A hyperawareness of your coordinates all the time, as if there is a long invisible string connecting us.” She realizes that she is gay – even though she don’t do it I don’t have the language for this yet.
The author’s new identity seems to conflict with his faith, until deeper readings of the Quran’s stories educate them and readers about Islam in an avant-garde way. Their curiosity keeps them alive. At the age of 17, Lamya wins a scholarship and moves to the United States to study at an unnamed “prestigious college”. A few years later, however, when they apply for a special visa extension, US Citizenship and Immigration Services mistakenly send their official correspondence to an old address. Lamya is paid too late and they must make a life-changing decision: leave the country or fight for the new life they are building for themselves.
Hijab Butch Blues It is organized in three parts. The first is about Lamya’s childhood and questioning gender. When Lamya tells her mother that she will never marry a man, her mother replies, “How will you live…? Who will take care of you?” Lamya is not sure. Readers are given the CliffsNotes on Maryam, the “Virgin Mary” of the East, and Lamya sees the story with new eyes: “Maryam said no man touched her because she didn’t like men?” The teacher says no, but Lamya resists: “Isn’t it obvious? Doesn’t it make sense?… Maryam is a dyke.”
In the second part, Lamya challenges the “authentically gay experience”, for example, coming out to her parents, frequenting lesbian bars, and explicitly defining her sexuality to others in order to be “readable”. Such beacons are not necessary, argues Lamya: confessing to parents “does not make sense.” They “live across the ocean in a country where queerness…is not an identity…” According to Lamya, all you need to be gay are your own “gay enough” activities. For them, this is “dosas every Thursday night; watching the soccer world cup and choosing which teams to root for based on anti-imperialism…”
They show readers how harrowing it is to navigate life in the United States in their “brown hijabi-wearing Muslim body”, which is “seen as frightening, disempowered, hypervisible and invisible at the same time”. Lamya learns to carry photocopies of her papers with her at all times. When their postgraduate time is coming to an end, 11 years have passed since they arrived in the United States. They renewed their student visas four times: “Four times filling out extensive paperwork, four plane rides to the only US consulate in the country where my parents live… Four times being asked questions designed to mislead me: Can you tell me your parents’ birthday again? Have you been rejected for a visa before? You’re not the one we have to worry about, ha-ha-ha, right?” Lamya’s life in the United States could quickly end due to a bureaucratic problem.
The third and final part of the book is about Lamya’s internalized homophobia and its revelation. “Dating queer women will make my gayness real in a way that it doesn’t when I’m in love with straight girls,” they realize. Several bad dates later, Lamya finds someone she wants to keep seeing. At the same time, they commit to their faith and start a study group, finding new meaning in some of the Qur’an’s “most difficult verses to reconcile”: those which, according to typical interpretations, condone “partner violence”. intimate” and the unjust inheritance. laws for men versus women and condemns homosexuality: “What if Allah wants us to move beyond gender inequality to class inequality,” Lamya wonders, “… wants us to redistribute wealth?”
Hijab Butch Blues it is more than a must-read. It is also a study guide on Islam, a handbook for abolitionists, and a queer manifesto. It inspires critical thinking, champions activist self-care, and allows you to define your own weirdness. Good versus bad Muslim, straight versus gay: it’s all a trap. There are third options as well. In the end, readers will see the strangeness – theirs, others and the concept – “for what it is: a miracle”.
Ashlee Green (she/they) is a Washington, DC-based writer and editor. Green is a former editor-in-chief of The Northern Chronicle; her work exploring gender and sexuality, power structures, personal freedom and mental health was published in HuffPost It is The Rumpus. Find them on Twitter at @ashleegreenbean
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