A quick hello and what we’re up to…

It’s been a loooong week… family, work, dreaming & scheming!

I will hopefully have a post up later this week, but I wanted to let y’all know what we are up to in the coming month:

Friday, April 5th: TTG & I will be presenting at the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Diversity Conference with workshop entitled Reconciling Queer & Muslim Identities. 

Sunday, April 14th (my little sister’s birthday!): Coming Out Muslim will be at Brandeis University in Boston! Exciiiitttting! We will post details on time and space soon.

We submitted for the DesiQ 2013 conference in San Francisco and are crossing our fingers that doing the show is what is intended for us in July.

June 27th is the air date for the HBO Out List documentary – eeeeek!

Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze

Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze.

If you’ve seen the show, in it I talk about four different Queer Theories about what made me queer. These aren’t actually my own, they belong to the various people in my life who seemed to need to understand what made me not heterosexual. It’s always so interesting to be reminded of them and lately I’ve been writing down the handful of other Theories.

When I told Terna that I had written some of them she said something along the lines of well, let’s see them! And so here is Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze:

In college, as a Women’s Studies major, I learned about the male gaze. I read about it, I wrote papers on it, I organized the campus wide programming of Social Change for Womyn working to dismantle it?

I never knew it had a name until college, but my cousins and I had this belief that Allah makes Muslim girls hairy so that guys wouldn’t want us.

In my adolescent years, I knew it as boy attention. And I was not, or rather I did not feel like I was cut out for boy attention… and I had many reasons and proof for why that was the case:

I was hairy.

I am hairy. My entire body, if untended to, is covered in fur. If you are one of those people who enjoy euphemisms like peach fuzz – it’s actually more like the rough quill coating on a kiwi.

I was not the milkman’s baby… oh no. With my hairy traits, my South Asian father is definitely my flesh and blood – I just don’t buy the claim that I came out of my mother’s womb. This is because I am certain even her vulva is hairless. She is the smoothest, (white) smooth baby-skinned woman I’ve ever met.

I think the donor for my other X chromosome was a Brussels Griffon (and yes, I know I’m getting my genetics wrong here, just play along). Just wiry haired, scrawny and well, furry… and if any boy thought I was cute from a distance, the moment he walked up to me under the horrific, confidence-crushing glow of the fluorescent lighting in my junior high school classrooms, he then would surely know he was mistaken.

I remember bargaining with God to take all the unnecessary hair on my body and turn it into one long hair strand that grew out of my chest… a singular hair that I promised I would dye, curl, and maintain with care… lovingly, tend to because he had heard my prayers.

What made being hairy worse was that my mother unsympathetic to my plight.

For one, she was hairless and smooth. She claimed that she was hairy too at one point and eventually all the hair on her arms, legs (including upper thighs) just fell off on its own.

She refused to let me shave, wax, PLUCK or even bleach any part of my body. Getting my eyebrows done was reserved for my engagement and any other hair removal would confirm her suspicion: I was having sex.

Behind her back and without the supervision of any adult or knowledgeable person, I did these things on my own though… and in my fanatical routines, I likely made myself less attractive:

I would steal one of my dad’s terrible, TERRIBLE (dear God, why are these still on the market) Bic razor with orange handle. I would shave with hand soap early in the morning on the days I had gym – mind you, not in the shower… just my leg lifted high up in the sink on cold mornings. Have you ever tried shaving with goosebumps?!

I would do it quickly – and then put on my staple leggings (under my skirt or dress as I did not wear pants – more on that later) and by the time I put on my gym shorts, my ashy, unmoisturized stems were  speckled all over with spots of dry blood.

I began a regiment of at-home waxing basically my entire mouth region, not even my upper lip and whatever hair I missed, I bleached afterwards… all in the same half hour. I did this all in the secrecy of my bedroom and somehow thought that no one would notice the chemical burn on my face.

Conservative Goth

Much to my parents’ approval and happiness – and likely why I did not register on the radar of boys: I was a conservatively dressed young woman. And I was goth(ish). If my friends and I were in an Industrial/Dark Wave equivalent of the Spice Girls, I’d be Conservative Goth (and I would play the synthesizers).

Each day I made sure I showed no skin by covering in a combination of the following:

Black lace or fishnet
Stripey Wicked Witch of the East socks
Bangles/bracelets
Knit shawls and capes

Oh and I did not wear pants. Instead, I wore layer upon layer of skirts complete with a slip – sometimes with tulle and hoopy underwires. And just like in Little House on the Prairie, I would board my carriage, the Q76 bus, by lifting my skirt like a real lady.

I could probably go on but I won’t because it feels sad to be mean to young Wazina. I talk about it all in jest because it’s easier to remember it this way.

The truth is I don’t know if she would’ve been able to accept boy attention… or if I even wanted it. I was so frightened by crossing the wrong line – one that would get me in trouble with both my parents and God – to do something they both disapproved of.

And when my first girlfriend came along, there was an ease, a normalcy and rightness that made it easier to accept her girl attention.

The male gaze? Yeah, I am still trying to dismantle it.

Visible & Invisible

Visible and Invisible

I could write for days and days on this theme… and I know that Terna & I will revisit this many more times.

 I thought long and hard about what I would do for me on my 30th birthday. I didn’t/don’t feel like turning 30 is scary, in fact, I’ve been excited to join the club for a long while… but I was still unsure about what it was that I could do that would mark a new year. I decided I would do what I had been toying with for a while and being strongly encouraged/urged to do for even longer by my mother: I would begin the process of growing out my short hair. 

In order to make it as painless and least awkward possible, I decided I would submit to extensions. And so, I had extensions put in to take my short, pixie-ish cut to a chin-length bob.

 Deciding to do it was a huge step and statement about my identity – as a woman, as a feminist, as a queer feminist woman. I felt like I was masking a part of my recently lived-in identity. I literally felt like I was making a small part of the way I express my queerness invisible. Diluting a part of me? Succumbing to traditional standards of femininity?

Yes, queerness is not in my hair or my clothing; it’s not in the stereotypes and generalizations… and yet, yes in some ways I have made it about my hair because I’ve chosen it as one of my conduits to make a ‘statement’ about my identity politics. 

The same machine that has told me to be/do ‘girl’ in the ways that were counterintuitive, the ways I have been taught to perform – the same machine that has told me to swallow reactions on fucked up truths about my desires and marry the man of someone else’s dreams is that same machine that has told me how to wear my hair and what is valid femininity. And cutting my hair was a way to cut (some of) those same puppet strings.

 I cannot deny though the guidance and awareness of those puppet strings I’ve been able to move through this world. Successfully and ironically been guided me in the most familiar ways. When even in the most unfamiliar moments, places and out of my comfort zone, I knew how to play the game, make things work, get through a moment because I knew what was expected of me and how to manipulate…

 My motivations to cut my hair were out of curiosity and honestly? Honestly? I think I had a desire to have a ‘queer’ experience like some of the people in my life. To be able to access, fit in and participate in queer identity like they did. They had access to those spaces not just because most everyone else there matched their gender expression – they matched one another’s race and class – one another’s whiteness. They were all teetering on fighting heteronormativity with their white privilege that I hoped I could access too. But what it did was make feel enclosed rather than liberated because it didn’t really give me access to spaces. 

Some of my short haired friends say they like their hair short because it’s easier/faster for them to do. This is absolutely NOT my truth. I take a long time to do my hair: wash, dry, straighten, product, scrutinize… and then match with make-up and outfit. Nothing about my appearance is a time freeing activity. I LABOR over it and whilst I do it, I love it; I really do because I’ve learned to love the process of my costuming.   

As a sexuality educator, working with young people I feel like a bit of a sham admitting to this. I’ve felt like even more of a crappy role model because all of my students are young women of color who receive many of the same messages that I battle with about beauty – and yet, they have been my biggest allies in this understanding of me, gender roles/expectations and on hair. And luckily that’s because I can tell them in appropriate drips and drops in conversation about the desire to grow out my hair, about family wants, cultural expectations… hair care and brushing the knots out of the darn thing!

 Just as I am all of the above, I am also an Afghan woman happens to be a queer feminist.

For my parents, the short hair was received as a double whammy – rejecting femininity, heterosexuality and their version(s) normality. What was formerly out of sight and out of mind was now at the dinner table.

In the midst of my short hair, my mother gave me a magazine with a Rihanna on the cover. She had a bright, fiery red ’do. I didn’t question it and a day or so later when talking about my own hair she said to me, “well, Rihanna has long hair now. And then I realized that she thought or convinced herself that I wanted to be or emulate Rihanna?! I mean, I DO want to be Rihanna (funny though, this has a lot to do with my new Queer Theory #6), but that’s not why I cut my hair short.

When my dad first acknowledged my short hair it was weeks after I cut it short. At the dinner table he said to me, I hate to say it but you look like one of them.

He may have said which one he meant, but I don’t remember really.

 And now, I have my long hair and it has gotten even longer. And I really love it. I don’t like the comments I get from men on the street.

I reminded of the first time my short hair got even shorter – like fuzzy/shaved short and I freaked out. I called my ex to yell at her for recommending the salon I went to. And I freaked out at myself because I remember walking frantically on the streets of the West Village looking for a street vendor to buy a hat because I was no longer pretty.

 I have to remind myself I am not just a queer done one way; or a feminist through one lens; I am not my parents’ breed of Afghan Logari-style alone… I am a blended, complex.

 And in my messy complexity, the truth is, I feel pretty.

Not just because of my look, of my hair, of my aesthetic. I think it’s an inner peace, light, noor that comes through. I feel content because pieces as much as the pieces begin to move apart, they also fit.

Image

Coming Out, again.

A blog is such an interesting space. It feels a little self important.

Okay, let me clarify and say that I, Wazina get stuck because a blog feels so self-important. Who really cares what reflection I had this week?

Well, with all that said, I need to stop stalling…

At the end of the summer, a good friend (and former colleague) reached out to me about an opportunity that sounded both unreal and unable to be passed over; it wasn’t set in stone and so I didn’t get my hopes up much. Then in September, I got the official invite to interview for a documentary with a renowned film maker on LGBTQ identity in America.

We filmed, photographed and interviewed. I talked about being an out queer teacher, LGBTQ issues in education, GLSEN, my identities as Muslim and Afghan and daughter… even my tattoos!

Currently, the documentary is in its final stages with names like Wanda Sykes, Neil Patrick Harris, LARRY KRAMER (in all caps for emphasis of my excitement), Wade Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Ellen DeGeneres (among many more)… and me.

I am a ball of excitement and nerves about it… it doesn’t seem real and frankly, it’s not. At least not yet in all the ways that being public will impact my life.
I don’t know how much of my interview and what parts they’re using… is it my perspective as a queer educator… is it focusing mainly on my queer Afghan and Muslim identities?

And, what will my hair and make- up look like (yes, the truly important question)?

I’ve been asking myself, how in the world I got to be on the precipice of something this big. Seriously… how did I earn this privilege? Am I/can I be worthy of rising to the challenge of being the only South Asian, Muslim , working class, queer teacher voice on this project?

I know I am not meant to represent over a billion plus people who fall under the above mentioned identities, but I can’t help but feel that weight on my shoulders.

I do not want to, nor should I or can I speak for a community of queer Muslims but I also know that we rarely have avenues to tell our stories our way.  As simply a Muslim woman (forget everything else for a moment), I find myself explaining, clarifying, affirming, denying, defending and/or trying to undo the story that someone heard about XYZ country or the article they read or the one student with the crappy parents.

It’s exhausting being related to or having people listen to your story for its deficits. My hope is that this is an opportunity, just like Coming Out Muslim is, to initiate the conversation about the complex, beautiful, layers of our lives.

I’ve been asking myself how I got to here grappling with this question and these set of concerns and it is clear that God give me this opportunity to continue on this path. Terna reminds me that when I have questions, hesitations and uncertainty, all I have to do is ask Allah for guidance. This is my way to serve Allah, my community and humanity for the better.

I haven’t told my parents about this yet and I am afraid to… but I must and want to. It makes me sad that they will hear about parts of my life that I have never ever told them before.

I believe in justice and speaking up because they raised me.  And I just hope that they will hear that if nothing else. And most of all, I want them to be proud me; I am proud to be part of them.

For info on the documentary, The Out List: https://www.facebook.com/TheOutList

Be easy, babe.

I have to be honest, it’s been hard for me to get back on the COM horse… but I’m here and doing it.

be easy with yourself Waz.

I have to be honest, I usually over promise and at every cost, I do my best to deliver.
I often don’t deliver the way I want to and I hate myself for it.

So, my intention for my 30th year is to be easy with myself.

It’s harder to do than expected:
my muscle to say no is weak.
everyone else around me seems so effective and able to balance their life and here I am,

finding myself making lists on post-its that lose their sticky and lost at the bottom on my bag
and the ink of my arm runs.

I want to please everyone around me. SO MUCH.
and I please no one, especially not me.

and so I am taking on the inner monologue of

be easy with yourself, Wazina.

My ex-girlfriend’s response to my stressing about all the things on my plate was usually something along the lines of:
Well, all I have to do is stay white and die.

This insensitive line always struck me.
I mean, yes, she, I, we – anyone! – could just do the bare minimum in life and then well, die.
Could I just stay Afghan and die?

to be me in this world
to be us in this world
queer + muslim (+ woman!)
staying alive is success
and there are so many more successes i don’t give myself credit for.
I will be successful
I am successful
I don’t have to deliver anything

I create

I manifest

This post doesn’t make too much sense… but whatevs.

be easy, babe,Waz