As most of you probably know, April is an awareness month for Queer, Middle Eastern, Asian/Asian- American, and Pacific Islander communities. Wesleyan has an awesome tradition of celebrating identity in spectacular ways, so it makes sense that a calendar was put together to organize the events pertaining to this month. Unfortunately, without our consent, several of the Muslim Student Association’s events made it on to the April calendar—probably because we had requested rooms for events with “Muslim-sounding” event titles. Naturally, we (the executive board) were pretty upset about this. A “Muslim Youth Leadership Conference” hardly has anything to do with Queer, Middle Eastern, Asian/Asian- American, or Pacific Islander communities. We work very hard to differentiate the MSA from ethnic identity groups—to put it simply, we are NOT a SOC group. Conflating Middle Eastern communities with a Muslim Organization is sooooo problematic (since when are all Middle Easterners Muslim or all Muslims Middle Eastern?!). The most unfortunate part of this is that a concert organized by Turath House (which actually IS a Middle Eastern identity program house) was left off of the calendar. The concert was actually organized for the very purpose of celebrating Middle Eastern music and was scheduled months prior to the creation of the calendar. Thankfully, we were able to make the most of this super-problematic calendar by tweaking one of our events to fit into the Queer aspect of April Awareness Month.
Last Thursday, in conjunction with Turath House, La Casa, and Ajua Campos, the Muslim Students Association screened New Muslim Cool (click here for a trailer of the movie), a documentary about the spiritual journey of a Puerto Rican-American Muslim. This event was one of several that made it onto to the calendar. We decided to align ourselves with the Queer aspect of April Awareness Month in order to simultaneously ally with the Queer Community and fight the stereotype that Muslim = Middle Eastern (we even served a “boriqua halal” dinner—great work, Gabz!). In my opinion, being a Puerto-Rican American Muslim can easily be seen as queer, as it’s obviously not normative. Unfortunately, not everyone in our (the Wesleyan Muslim) community agreed. One of the Muslim brothers sent a few of the executive board members an e-mail about the MSA celebrating Queer Awareness Month. He wondered why we would do such a thing if the term is usually connoted with LGBT communities. At a Muslim gathering outside of Wes, I decided to share the MSA’s recent experience with the screening. At first, the people I shared it with were shocked, but when I explained how the documentary was queer, they replied, “Well, if you define it THAT way, sure. But no one’s really going to see it like that, you know.” (They were also shocked that I’d rather be identified as queer (which I am, as a hijabi on a college campus) than Middle Eastern (which I’m not at all)!)
I personally believe the fluidity and adaptability of the term queer is one of its greatest strengths. Not having to box the term means being able to continuously draw in new non-normative communities for support, transformation, and reorientation. However, since I was faced with some shock and hostility from within the Muslim community (keep in mind a very select portion of the community reacted this way), I began to wonder if members of the communities historically associated with the word (in this case, I guess members of the LGBT community who chose to re-appropriate the term) would feel discomfort in aligning with other arguably “queer” communities. Should we let the term queer be appropriated by any movement/individual who feels they are queer? What should and shouldn’t be allowed under the queer umbrella? (thought: wouldn’t building a rigid definition of the term be creating a normative definition for the term, thus supporting a system the word is trying to separate itself from?)