I recently walked into a Chicago tea bar in the Andersonville neighborhood to watch a vibrant Arabic music and a Southwest Asia and North Africa drag performance.
The room was packed with beautiful queer people brought together to support each other’s talents and provide one another with love, safety, and trust.
While it is impossible to identify the actual number of queer Southwest Asian and North African people living in the U.S. because of the way the U.S. government classifies them as white on the census, Chicago queer folks in this group have been organizing for many years to bring together a community that has been on one hand systematically erased by the U.S. government and on the other hand, stigmatized by its own community.
This community of people in the U.S. have historically experienced invisibility and hypervisibility, in part due to their racial/ethnic misclassification as “white” by the U.S. government, and in part due to the dominant narrative, especially post September 11, that portrays this group of people as terrorist, backward and violent to women and queer people.
Queer people from this region are faced with multiple layers of invisibility, stigma, and stressors that adversely impact their lives on a daily basis.
The concept of queerness is not new to this community, however, the history of colonialism and imperialism between the “west” and the Southwest Asia/North Africa region, has created an ideology among these people that queerness is a western concept, and therefore is wrong.
In addition to experiencing (internalized) queerphobia from the community, queer people with heritage in this region are marginalized and discriminated against by other queer communities. This is especially true with the white queer community in the U.S.as what many could assume they experience within their homes: traditionalist and queerphobic families.
Stereotypes are commonly associated with these geographic-specific societies that push for a pinkwashing agenda, and reinforce the idea of U.S. exceptionalism to maintain the double standards. Yes, queerphobia exists within our societies, but its existence within the American society is definitive, according to the Center for American Progress.
As a queer Lebanese immigrant woman myself, I have a first-hand experience with feeling invisible and underrepresented in most of the spaces that I belong to, and as an academic scholar, I feel uniquely invisible in the academic settings.
I’ve been living in the U.S. for 12 years and seven of them in Chicago. My move from Lebanon to the U.S. in 2011 was initially to pursue my graduate studies. But 12 years later, I feel comfortable to call Chicago my second home. That is mostly due to the queer Arab community that welcomed me unconditionally.
My biological family is very important to me, but like others in the diaspora, we exchange virtual love and support across thousands of miles and multiple borders. However, unlike other queer people in the diaspora, I was privileged to maintain this loving relationship after sharing my sexual identity with my family and most of my friends.
Community relationships are essential for all people, but many queer people in this specific community do not experience a supportive environment neither form their families and communities, nor from the general American society.
With shared multiple intersecting forms of discrimination including racism, sexual racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and queerphobia, the Chicago queer community from this region is changing the narrative around the co-existence of queerness and ethnic/racial identities and is providing a sense of connectedness and belonging.
Research shows that among queer immigrants, social support and networks are critical for improving health outcomes and wellbeing.
A sense of belonging and acceptance is a crucial part of each person’s humanity. And it is what everyone deserves.