The way Amrou Al-Kadhi sees it, "you have not met a drag queen until you’ve spent time with many of the Middle Eastern women in Harrods!"
Himself a proud queer Iraqi-British drag queen, Al-Kadhi credits his Arab mother as being one of the major inspirations behind his drag performance.
"As much as my mother has been so hostile to my queer life, she’s one of my queer icons," Al-Kadhi told StepFeed.
We talked with Al-Kadhi about being an Arab drag queen, his forthcoming film projects and how Islamic principles and his childhood in the Middle East made him into the fabulous queen he is today.
He feels 'totally nomadic'
Al-Kadhi was born in London to an Iraqi father and and Egyptian-Iraqi mother. Growing up, he moved around a lot, living in Bahrain and Dubai, before he returned to the United Kingdom, where he still resides.
"In truth, I feel totally nomadic," he said, saying that studying hard in school and reading a lot of literature kept him grounded.
"I’ve always been very studious – without working so hard at school I’m not sure where I’d be now," he said, adding that books have always been the "window into an alternative life when things were tough."
Reconciling his Muslim heritage with his queer identity
Although it may seem strange to some, Al-Kadhi, as do many other queer Arabs, identifies strongly with his Muslim heritage. He doesn't currently practice Islam, but he sees it as an important part of his identity.
"I was raised Muslim and it is a part of my family and heritage, and I’m proud of that," he explained. "Islam is also where I learned a lot of the values I’m proud of as a queer person – familial loyalty, generosity – and those have been deeply instilled in me."
"Of course I’ve experienced a difficult separation from Islam, and it’s tough – but through my drag I think I hold on to the facets of Islam I hold dear – the ritualistic nature of prayer and Sufism, and the feminine poetry of the Quran," he said, explaining that exploring his Islamic origins has also helped him "fall back in love" with the faith.
While the mainstream narrative in the West often pits Islam against the LGBT community, Al-Kadhi sees this as dangerous.
"The Far Right have gained such agency through suggesting that they are preserving Western privileges and secularist ideals, but in the process are inciting an extremism of their own," he said.
"I think LGBTQI+ communities need to remember that Muslims have as little to do with ISIS as the majority of white people have to do with the KKK."
His latest projects
In addition to his drag work, Al-Kadhi is a burgeoning filmmaker and writer. Currently, he is seeking funds via Kickstarter to complete a short-film called Run(a)way Arab.
"The short explores the relationship between drag and Middle Eastern femininity, through the lens of a gender queer 8-year-old Arab boy, and the relationship they have with their Muslim mother – a drag queen in her own right though without realizing," Al-Kadhi explained. "It is, I hope, a nuanced and intersectional depiction of queer Arab identity that feels necessary on screen, given the climate of global Islamophobia."
In addition to the short, Al-Kadhi is writing a feature film for BBC called Abigail & Gabriel.
The plot of the film focuses on "the relationship between a homeless Iraqi gay man in London addicted to BDSM, and his unlikely friendship with a 75-year-old Catholic widow."
Al-Kadhi's drag troupe – Denim – is also set to perform a debut show for Edinburgh at the Underbelly this August, followed by a run at the Soho Theatre.
His family and his identity
A queer drag queen wasn't exactly what Al-Kadhi's parents and family had envisioned for his future, but he said they now "choose to ignore it as one big pink elephant in the room and try and get on as much as we can."
"They’ve never been great about it, but they’re not terrible. They just refuse to talk about it," he said.
Fortunately, Al-Kadhi has found acceptance and support from his twin brother.
"I’m thankfully very close to my twin brother, who is very supportive and proud of my work, which means a lot!"
Although he definitely admits that being honest about his identity has caused "tension" and "trauma" with his family, he encourages other queer Arabs to be strong.
"Living your authentic self is worth the struggle that comes with it, if you have the ability to," he said.
"And if it’s not safe to do so – and in many places it isn’t - remember that I’m here, we’re all here, and we’re looking out for you, even when you feel most alone."