“There is a whole community that is living in Britain which is hidden. 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.” Asif Quraishi
This First Cut documentary from director Marcus Plowright allows unprecedented insight into the clandestine gay Asian or ‘Gaysian’ community in the UK which provides a haven for young men who are unable to publically reconcile their sexuality with their cultural identity and traditions. Homosexuality is widely deemed to be forbidden within Islam and the exhibitionist nature of drag remains one of the ultimate taboos for many British Asians – forcing the entire scene underground. This sensitively-made film focuses on the stories of three of the 100-150 Muslim Drag Queens who face the seemingly insurmountable challenge of gaining acceptance and tolerance within their own wider communities.
32-year-old Asif Quraishi is Britain’s first out and proud Muslim drag queen. Performing as his glamourous alter ego Asifa Lahore he has established himself as a leading figure within the Gaysian community, and as an activist for gay rights. Born to conservative British Pakistani parents, his choice to perform and out himself so publically has strained relations within his own family and triggered death threats against both himself and his parents. Unbowed, he uses his very visibility to campaign and challenge perceptions: “Up until now, people in my community have chosen to be invisible,” he explains. The epitome of glamour, Asifa appears on stage in sequins, ruffles, saris and cocktail dresses and in a calculated move to provoke reaction and debate – a burqa.
28-year-old British Pakistani Imran has been using drag for six years, creating a female alter ego Zareena Khan. Single and searching for love, he has profiles on a number of dating apps and social media sites, but has discovered he attracts more interest as Zareena. Men in both Britain and Pakistan respond to his online profiles – often married men who he believes find it more acceptable to sleep with him because he dresses as a woman.
Ibrahim, a 22 year-old Mauritian, is studying for a degree in the UK. He recently came out to his family who surprised him with their unconditional support. Since arriving in the UK he has immersed himself in the Gaysian scene and wants to start performing drag. Having discovered Asifa Lahore online he seeks out Asif for advice and support. Despite his passion to perform, Ibrahim sometimes struggles to reconcile drag with his devout religion.
As well as tackling the public conflict between Islam and homosexuality, Asif continues to try to slowly change mind-sets closer to home as he reaches out and invites his mother to attend the Attitude Magazine Pride Awards Ceremony in the hope she will witness him collecting this prestigious LGBT award.
The film is narrated by Sir Ian McKellen. Muslim Drag Queens is part of C4’s eclectic and award winning First Cut strand, which showcases the work of the best up-and-coming directors. Commissioning Editor David Brindley says: “This is an incredibly important, surprising and moving film. Those who have chosen to tell their stories have done so with immense bravery and speak so eloquently about the struggles they have faced. With piercing honesty, Muslim Drag Queens gets right to the heart of a community that have up until now remained hidden from the wider British public.”
To read more about Muslim drag queens and the Gaysian scene in the UK, please read this Guardian article found here.