The Queer Umbrella

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?)

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5 thoughts on “The Queer Umbrella

  1. I definitely understand what you are expressing since April is clearly not Muslim awareness month and they just merged Middle Eastern with the Muslim religion. There are clearly Muslims in different regions of the world. In many instances I find myself put under umbrellas as well such as when people assume that since I look/am Latina then I am automatically Mexican or “love spicy food and tacos”. I actually dislike spicy foods. Generalizations happen many times at Wesleyan. What this brings to question is, how can we build a resistance against this as a community? We need to educate, serve on leadership positions to name a few. I agree with you when you say that you admire how there is no one strict definition for the term queer. I believe that most of us have some type of queer in us and I do agree that by appropriating the term queer to a select group, we are in fact limiting the power of the movement. Like Lorde says, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the masters house”.

  2. I find your post really thought provoking. You mention a lot of different issues, such as the conflation of muslim and middle eastern identities, and the turath house concert that was left of the calendar, as well as the definition of queer and people’s ability, willingness, or right to identify with the term. With regard to the calendar, I wonder who is in charge of making it and who it is supposed to reach.
    Your post in general points out the different ways identity work: you can self-identify, you can have an identity imposed on you, and you can create alliances by identifying with a term like queer, as well as create a lot of debate.
    When Roy first said queer was about being different, and not just sexuality and gender, I was skeptical in some ways. Because I thought that not everyone who is “different” in some way identifies with queer. I do think that to be queer you have to have a certain attitude toward gender and sexuality? Like can someone really be queer if they actively identify with heteronormativity? I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone who stands out necessarily identifies with a gender rebeliousness or the politics associated with queerness, or with “difference.” Yea, I guess that is one thing. In order to be “queer” you have to not only be perceived as different from the norm, which many people are in some way (obviously some more than others) but to identify with that difference and feel that it plays an important role in who you are. So I think you can’t call anybody queer unless they want to be called queer. I also think that nobody would choose to be called queer if they did not support non-normative gender and sexuality, since that is the history of the term. (but I could be wrong?? but I think in general people don’t want to associate themselves with something they don’t believe in.) So I don’t think it is much of a danger of people appropriating the term who are not actually supportive. Even though they might criticize or disagree about some things, ultimately, that criticism then still comes from within the movement and not outside it.

  3. I liked your post in many ways. I think that the term queer should try and encompass as many efforts toward collaborative liberation as it can, while making sure not to colonize them (if you will). And as far as the April calendar goes, I can tell you exactly why it happened that way, but not on this blog post. So if you’re actually wondering and interested in finding out why so many events didn’t end up on the calendar even though I put them in the draft, and why some events that I didn’t put on the draft ended up there (like the MSA’s Muslim Youth Leadership Conference, for instance) then please talk to me in person.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post! I find it very interesting that people had a hard time thinking that a Puerto-Rican American Muslim is queer. But I understand them because before taking this class I thought that the term queer was only for the LGBT community. If someone would call me queer I would feel uncomfortable because even though I questioned my sexuality I didn’t want someone to label me something I thought at that moment I wasn’t. Yet now that I have taken this class and understood what queer means, I embrace being called queer (although at home I wouldn’t say that. But that’s a whole other story).

  5. Hey Zainab
    I really enjoyed your post. I personally am able to identify with this issue because I am Muslim and Latina and in no way what so ever Middle Eastern lol. It’s hard to fit into either of my identity groups perfectly (I mean who can right?). I remember reading something about Swedish Muslims (kind off topic but stay with me here) and a women said something along the lines of that around Muslims she felt Swedish and around Swedes she felt Muslim. (The book was Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West by Karin van Nieuwkerk)
    That really encapsulates how I personally feel at times with my two identities. I can’t eat everything a Latino is “supposed to eat” because I don’t eat pork nor do I follow Catholic traditions, even though Catholicism is usually regarded as the religion of most Latinos. However, my insistence on retaining my birth name rather than taking on a Muslim name and my appearance makes me stand out when I am in large groups of Muslims.
    The term queer encapsulates what I feel in this “tug of war” with my cultural and religious identities. The “tug of war” issue is brought up by Juana Maria Rodriguez. Rodriguez in Queer Latinidad told the story of a Puerto Rican, black, lesbian who insisted that her identity could not be pulled into different sections or pieces because she was fully all of her identities. I totally agree with her. My Bolivian/Salvi/Muslim identity cannot be pulled apart just like her Lesbian/Black/Puerto Rican identity cannot be seperated, even though this might lead to feeling pulled apart by or excluded from our different identity groups. Therefore, I personally feel that both her and I fall under the queer umbrella that you speak of in your post.

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