June is regarded as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which began after the Stonewall riots, a series of protests for gay liberation in 1969. Since it’s spread to being celebrated and honored outside of the United States, I wanted to acknowledge that queer Muslims exist and decided to read a highly anticipated book released earlier this year, “Hijab Butch Blues” by Lamya H.
In this memoir, Lamya (she/they) shares vignettes from her life as a queer Muslim in connection to stories from the Qur’an. She uses ayahs (verses) from prominent surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an that provide parallels to her experiences growing up and coming into herself.
When she is young, Lamya and her family moved from South Asia to the Middle East where she spent many of her formative years feeling lost and out of place, desperately wanting to belong and fit in. At an early age, she knew that she didn’t conform, but did not have the language to define how she felt. However, one day in Qur’an study class, she came across the story of Maryam that begins her journey of true self-discovery and belonging. From then on, we as readers go on this journey with Lamya as different religious stories from the Qur’an are shared. Her reinterpretations of them guide her understanding of herself as well as how to navigate the world around her.
The memoir is uniquely told in the format of chapters devoted to a prophet and/or religious story from the Qur’an and mini-essays of Lamya’s takeaways from them. As I read “Hijab Butch Blues,” certain ideas and themes kept recurring in my mind that highlight the essence of the memoir.
Let’s explore two prominent themes embedded within this book.
Oftentimes, a lot of the narratives that exist about queerness are those of White and Western perspectives. However, “Hijab Butch Blues” provides us with a narrative where religion, race, ethnicity, and culture play a deeper role in one’s identity and experience with queerness. The heart of this memoir is that it is about being queer, being Muslim, and how those two aspects of one’s identity both fit and collide.
Lamya touches on real and common experiences many queer Muslims face, such as being “in the closet” to family while being out to a select circle of friends. We follow her as she thinks about the concept of coming out and how it is not a feasible option for all queer folks – and how this sometimes leads to struggling with one’s identity of not being “queer enough.”
“Hijab Butch Blues” touches on the concept of “inviting in” which redefines what it means to be openly queer. As Lamya says, “I’ve learned to reframe telling people as ‘inviting in,’ instead of ‘coming out’ – inviting into a place of trust, a space for building–and it feels like a waste of emotional energy to tell straight people whom I don’t expect to understand my queerness, don’t intend to count on for advice or support in this area.” We witness Lamya grow confident in her identity and break free from the shackles of heteronormativity.
Family and Belonging
Lamya expresses that she has often felt alone growing up, and this feeling followed her briefly when she moved to New York City to attend college and graduate school. Given that she was not out to her family overseas or her family in upstate New York, she yearned for a community, one that would see her as her authentic self. Throughout the memoir, Lamya recounts her experiences with losing certain friendships due to being queer as well as facing the fear of abandonment once she became too vulnerable.
Lamya’s story provides a beacon of hope as she does not give up her seeking for the community. She attends various LGBTQ+-friendly Islamic events in which she is introduced to a plethora of people who are like-minded. Lamya finds her people – the people who love and accept all parts of her, the people she always yearned for.
“Hijab Butch Blues” is insightful and I deem it to be an essential read for those who are queer and Muslim. For those who may not identify with either or find a way to spew hate when queerness and Islam are brought up in the same breath, I hope that it can be a book that serves as a reminder to have empathy and understanding. These are ideals that are dearly upheld by Muslims. It’s a beautifully captivating memoir that can resonate with those who feel out of place and seek belonging. You can purchase your copy here!