I recently had the chance to talk to Asifa Lahore, the UK’s first out and proud Muslim Drag Queen. Since the Channel 4 documentary, “Muslim Drag Queens” aired in August 2015, Asifa has become a voice for the South Asian LGBT community. We talked how his life has changed since the documentary, his thoughts on the celebration of diversity within the LGBT community and all things “Six Inch”. Check it out below.
A lot of people will recognise you from the Channel 4 Doc ‘Muslim Drag Queens’- has your life changed since it aired?
Yes, a lot in my life has changed since then. It was the first time people really got to see who I was. Up until that point people knew me via social media but this was the first broadcast media documentary I was involved in. My family really took part in it so my life has changed in the sense people recognize me on the streets more. In terms of my shows and my club nights more and more people are coming and engaging. I think it’s important it put the fact on the map that gay Muslims exist in the world- that’s really cemented that and put a stamp out there.
Do you think the south Asian community is becoming more accepting of LGBT people within their own circles?
I think there’s a change definitely in the younger generation. In the UK now we have a situation where LGBT communities are living side-by-side with Muslim communities, African communities, Sikh communities- the issue can’t really be ignored. In the traditional first and second generation it’s still very much a challenge and a difficult subject to broach. I think as a Londonder it’s very easy for me to say that but I do know in majority South Asian populated towns like Oldham, Bradford or Leicester it can be much, much harder. When there is less integration and when there is less exposure of the wider world outside your community, the consequence is that LGBT folk don’t exist.
It’s a mixed bag really, I think yes change is happening and people are now aware that LGBT Asians exist. It’s just what’s next? We follow what’s happening back home (Asifa is British Paksitani and like many South Asians he refers to Pakistan as ‘home’) so the roots of the situation and real combat is back home really. A shift has got to happen.
London Pride is coming up soon. Do you think there is enough done to make the event as diverse as possible?
I don’t think so, I think there’s a lot of divisions and intersections of the LGBT community who aren’t really celebrated. The fact that ‘Muslim Drag Queens’ was seen as groundbreaking is ridiculous because clubs like Club Kali, which is the longest running South Asian LGBT club night in the world and it’s celebrating its 21st Birthday in May, it is one of London’s biggest LGBT club nights next to G-A-Y.
Intersections have existed for decades but when it comes to celebrating the intersections within the LGBT community, that really isn’t at the forefront. Diversity isn’t really celebrated at Pride, it’s very much white, middle class and male. It’s very masculine led and though there have been major strides forward, we still have situation where UK Black Pride takes place a day after London Pride.
I’d love to see diversity on the main stage in Trafalgar Square. We don’t just have pop music and club music, there are other genres like Bollywood, Bhangra, RnB, Hip-Hop and they do not have to be confined to a BME stage. It should all be in one section as we are all one community.
Will you, or any of your fellow Muslim Drag Queens, be participating in the London Pride parade?
It’s very interesting for the last two years Pride has always been slap bang in the middle of Ramadan. I’m still marching and I think it is important to take part, even during Ramadan and use that platform for visibility. Do I think other gay Asians or gay Muslims will march? I think the turnout will probably be lower than normal. You never know! Last year I said the same thing and there was a pretty decent turnout. I’m looking to do a walking group which should be fun!
Which song from Beyonce’s new album ‘Lemonade’ best represents you in and out of drag?
*Laughs* Ooh! That’s tough! “Six Inch” I’d say. Definitely, you know with drag it’s a given but out of drag I think “Six Inch” could mean all sorts of things and I’m at least a “Six Inch” person! *Laughs*
Aside from yourself, I can’t name any other openly gay South Asian media personalities, why do you think there is such a lack of representation?
The only other person I can think of is Mawaan Rizwan who I’m really good friends with, he presented the “Gay Pakistan” documentary on BBC3. I think it works both ways here, gay Asians aren’t confident enough to come out on such a massive scale. I had to really weigh up all the pros and cons because I think we have to overcome a lot more challenges than the everyday media personality to really be visible and I think that definitely plays a part. It is one thing coming out in your community and another thing coming out to the world.
I think in the media there has been a shift towards diversity and representing everyone on screen and there is still a lot of way to go but maybe they [South Asian Gays] weren’t confident enough on camera. Being on screen isn’t a walk in the park and for me “Muslim Drag Queens” could have gone one of two ways and as great as it has been for me, it could have gone really badly. So I think its s mixture of those reasons.
Are you currently working on any big projects?
*Laughs*Yes! There is quite a lot in the pipeline, some big major stuff coming up which I can’t talk about.
Is one of them appearing on Celebrity Big Brother?
*He pauses* …I can’t comment on that! But there is more in the way of T.V work and appearances. I am currently doing a lot of shows, I’m performing at the Southbank Centre as part of the Alchemy Festival. My performances and club nights are getting bigger and there is a lot more from me and I’m excited for the year ahead.
What was the last book you read?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I have to say reading it I was like oh my God, it’s a great classic. There’s a line in there that when I read It I was like ‘am I really reading this?’. I think it was “I am Heathcliff and Heathcliff is me”- It was just a really deep connection of love and it was so powerful.
Quiet night in or big night out?
Wow! I mean it definitely depends on the day and the situation but I have to say where I am now I am really happy and celebrated so definitely big night out. I really love Shoreditch right now, I love Hoxton. I’m a big fan of House music so I do love Hoxton for that reason. Definitely a big, big, big night out. Party on the town!
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Photos courtesy of Asifa Lahore