Coming out in inverted commas because I'm unsure as to how I feel about the term. No one should feel obligated to declare their sexuality - it is a very personal thing. However, we live in a world where people are assumed heterosexual until they assert otherwise, and as such coming out is often a practical thing you have to do. How can we expect to obtain our rights, without first asserting that we exist?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Opinion: Political Pride

I marched at London Pride this year. Unmasked, not in any kind of fancy dress. I'm not sure when during this journey I started to feel secure enough in myself to do that. I guess a lot has changed in the last year. I've graduated from university, gotten myself a cushy job and finally emancipated myself from the parents. I'm by now (actively or by power of rumour) out to a few of my family, most of my friends and even colleagues at work. My parents still don't know, but I no longer live my life worrying about what happens when they find out.

Who says Pride can't be political?

Initially, I was going to discreetly man a stall for a UK based Muslim LGBTQI support group called Imaan. However, the lure of marching at Pride proved to be too much for my attention-seeking self, and I decided to join them with the banner above. I'm now very glad I did. Marching was the most liberating experience I've had with respect to my sexuality since that first time I told someone I was bisexual. Imagine coming out, but on an exhilaratingly massive scale.

A year ago now I wrote about Madrid Pride, complaining how it was overtly sexualised and minimally political. I stand my by comments of overt sexualisation - there was too much explicit content present during the day and around kids. I also still feel Pride in general lacks the edge many say it had in the past. Just look into the prohibitive cost of getting a float for London Pride, and the fact that you are only allowed to get it from one source. Or that the media seems more interested in reporting bare skin and elaborate costumes. Even papers like the Guardian relegate queer Muslims clearly protesting at Pride to 'revellers'.

At the same time, I also feel that I should recant other parts of my opinion. I admit I observed only a little of Madrid Pride. I missed out on the Parade and any smaller events that may have been taking place on the side. I wasn't even aware of these till a friend sent me a list of them scheduled for the week leading up to the actual Pride march this year. A lot of these events, as it turned out, can be very meaningful. For example, I spent a beautiful evening with said friend at Transpose. I learned about the trans* experience from artists, academics and activists from clever stage performances, short films and recitals. Check out a campaign called You Are Loved I found out about while there, aiming to prevent suicide amongst trans* youth. On another evening of the week I attended an InterLaw panel discussion of issues that still affect our community - from violence to immigration equality. From here, I ran to an Imaan meeting where we stayed up late making banners and posters for the march. See - no time for partying or sex.

The entire experience culminated for me with the parade itself where maybe twenty of us gathered to march with Imaan, some people still in masks and scarves. A queer Muslim presence at a Pride event is (unfortunately) still pioneering; and over our few hours of marching the response from the crowd was amazing. We got everything from shouts of encouragement, admiration of our apparent bravery and sympathy to the reference of Islamophobia in the 'Frisk Me I'm Muslim' sign. Conversely we also got some Islamophobia and even a little of the 'this is not acceptable in Islam' diatribe. 

These very encounters, however, reinforced my growing feeling that what we were doing was very much political. And that's what made me realise that if we want to maintain activism at Pride, we need to make sure that we're there ourselves, rather than complain about the glittery naked men from the sidelines. Queer Muslim visibility, one little step every year.