A 33-year-old gay man of Pakistani-Muslim origin who performs in drag as alter ego Asifa Lahore. He uses his public shows to campaign against homophobia. By appearing in Channel 4 documentary Muslim Drag Queens, he hopes to try raise awareness for the “Gaysian” community.
He wears sequins, cocktail dresses and also sometimes traditional Islamic female dress.
“There is a whole community that is living in Britain which is hidden,” says Asif. “Now is the time to come out. You’ve got to be big. You’ve got to be bold. And you’ve got to have balls of steel.”
What is the “Gaysian” community?
It’s an oasis for many British Asian men who don’t feel they can tell their family that they’re gay. In the film, Asif and fellow drag queens in the growing Gaysian scene talk about the conflicts they face to reconcile their sexuality and their faith.
Some members of the Gaysian community say that religion and culture are two extra factors that make it particularly difficult for them, as well as their families, to come to terms with their sexuality.
Do Asif’s own family know he’s gay?
He came out to his conservative Muslim parents five years ago and says he found it very difficult. He also struggled with telling the imam of his local mosque in Southall in West London, where he grew up, but felt it was crucial to his mental state to be honest about it.
He is a practicing Muslim who attends a mosque every week, fasts during Ramadan and is immersed in his cultural origins. ”I am a very good Muslim. Some people say that stripping off a Burka isn’t the right way forward but what I sad to that is ‘what’s the alternative?”
How has the wider Muslim community responded to Asif’s campaigning?
Asif has received abuse and death threats in the past and the police are on alert in case of a backlash after Channel 4 airs Muslim Drag Queens. His response? “I’m saying f*** you to all those people giving me death threats — and looking fabulous why I’m doing it.” He says that there is slowly more acceptance from many British Muslim families but that he still has “to fight every day just to be me.”
Kasia is a TV, film and arts journalist who writes news, feautures and comment. She spends a lot of time feeling nostalgic about 90s American films and working her way back through the Desert Island Discs archive.