What it’s like to be an immigrant, Muslim and queer

Moon Charania met her lover and co-parent of her 14-year-old daughter at Pride 2010, in a “dinky lesbian bar” she says will always represent to her “the power of queer spaces, the power of women’s spaces.” She cherishes those spaces, while also worrying how she’s witnessed them change to exclude the queer people who need them most. This is her story:

In the beginning
Charania was born in Pakistan, but in the late ’80s, Atlanta became home to her and her family. In the U.S., she completed high school, went to college, married a Pakistani man and had a baby.

Coming out
Ten years into her marriage, while pursuing a Ph.D at Georgia State University, she came out.

The backlash was intense, the closeness with her family interrupted.

“I think coming out stories are deeply complex, and often the stories we tell don’t capture those complexities,” she said.

“I think coming out stories get further complicated when you’re a person of color and when you’re a person who is seen outside of the U.S. context, as an immigrant, in my case a Pakistani, and in my case also a Muslim,” she said. “I think what sustained me, especially because I was a young mother at the time, was that I had a very strong and very collective feminist vocabulary and community that carried me emotionally and nurtured me as I figured out what it meant to be a queer woman of color in the U.S.”

Charania, who is now a professor of international studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, said her and her ex-husband co-parent their daughter and remain close friends.

Navigating the LGBTQ community as a person of color
When Charania came out, she says she had a lot of support from queer and feminist colleagues, but she was still the only queer person of color in her community.

“I think that’s one of the shortcomings I’ve seen over the past decade now that I’ve moved into the queer community in Atlanta, that there is a deep segregation between white queer communities and queer of color communities,” she said.

Bridging the divide
As a start, Charania said, the white queer community must face its own racism.

“I think there is a real resistance, even among white leftists, to really think critically about why their communities, their social circles, their sexual circles, their emotional circles are not as diverse as their rhetoric is,” she said. “What does it mean to say you’re an ally of a person of color but then not have any people of color in your social circles?”

The thing about queer spaces
When Charnia first started entering queer spaces, she was thrilled to be a part of the dynamism and “sensuality that is erased from normative heterosexual spaces.”

But as she frequented them more and more, she realized many were only available to certain kinds of queer people. Queer people who were white. Queer people who had money.

“In Atlanta, a couple of very well-known gay bars I used to go to as a young college student have now gotten completely white-washed,” she said. “As we become ‘more accepting’ of LGBT folks in the U.S., there is a very particular LGBT figure that has emerged as likable, palatable, as the good citizen. It’s a very troubling trend.”

How to be an ally to a queer person of color

  • A lot of that work is doing deep refection, Charania says. Some questions to ask:
  • Who is my community?
  • How did I create that community?
  • What would it mean for me to challenge my own assumptions about how I formed my community and how a new person enters it?
  • How do I occupy public spaces?

Her frustration
How Pride has increasingly become a corporate celebration of the good LGB citizen (white, middle-class), while violently erasing the narrative of queer and trans people of color. She’s watched queer spaces exclude the most vulnerable in ways she finds deeply disturbing.

“This mainstream corporatization of Pride has deeply violent effects on queer and trans people of color,” she said.

Her hope
She wants more people to understand the lessons that lie in the histories of radical LGBTQ movements for freedom, which she believes would better liberate us all.

“There was always this deep intersectionality in the queer fight in the U.S., and particularly in the South,” she said. “We were never just a movement about sexual rights. We were a movement that held hands in solidarity with anti-poverty, anti-militarization, anti-war, anti-state violence — and to find those radical roots would be a real revelation for Pride movements around the country.”

by Alia E. Dastagir
Source – USA Today