Artwork done by Shazleen Khan.
I think coming out even partially is a liberating experience
Tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m never good at answering this sort of questions cause I’m not good at having little bite sized bio’s. I’m a 23 year old PHD Student at Manchester Uni who loves to write. My name is Iqra Choudhry I co-host and produce a podcast called Brown Girls do it with a friend. I’m one of those people that love to get involved in everything; which does my mums head in. So that is me.
Tell me about the Podcast you do with your friend.
It’s something we’ve had in the pipeline for about a year; we were faffing around for a year thinking ‘what if people don’t like it’. We sat down and did it. We were lucky because we managed to get some funding from a local theatre that supports community-based projects. When they heard what we wanted to do they; contact theatre, asked us to come on board the 2017 Future Fires Program. We’ve been really lucky as they’ve introduced us to loads of amazing people.
We have two episodes out at the moment. The first one is about on-screen representation; such as the black women in black panther. The second is very serious as we want to be an issue-based podcast; it’s about our own experiences especially those that are black and brown when it comes to sexual harassment. We’ve talked about everything from the Weinstein scandal to the violence that trans women face. The next one is going to be about racism in the LGBT community.
What hobbies do you have?
I’m a reader. My nana jokes that she named me Iqra which means read in Arabic. I always have a book and I bought one with me. I read a lot and love listening to podcasts and doing my podcast homework. I’m hugely into pop culture and feminism and for about 3 ½ years I’ve been into activism such as LGBT activism, to trans rights activism; our current government and their treatment of disabled people. You will always find me at a protest.
When did you come out?
That’s an interesting one: I have and a I haven’t. I’m quite happy to be like “Hi, I’m Iqra and I’m queer,” to random people in my life. We were at the Women in Media conference and I went along to Carrie Lyell’s panel from Diva magazine; who is amazing. She opened up the floor to questions where everyone was shy at the beginning and then she asked “Why did you come here as opposed to the other session?” and pointed to me. I just said “I’m just a massive gay.”
I never hide who I am but at the same time I haven’t sat down and had a conversation with my mum, I haven’t come out to my dad and I haven’t come out to the wider family. I have come out to 3 of my 5 siblings. I’m of the mindset that it doesn’t affect them and they don’t need to know. I have a feeling they’d react badly to it and I’m just leaving it.
You’ve come out to three of your five siblings; how did they react when you told them?
I’m the oldest and my second sister is 18 months younger than me. When I first told her, she was totally fine with it and would be happy with whoever I bought home. As she has got older and more religious she didn’t like to hear about it; she is just like “You’re bisexual, so if you can CHOOSE to be with a man you should be with a man so you don’t have to do any of this gay stuff.” I haven’t sat her down and told her this isn’t how it works as she is very squeamish about anything LGBT.
The other two are just like “eh, okay. You wear a lot of track shirts so it makes sense. Alright.”
Have you told any friends?
Oh yeah, all my friends know. I’m very open about it in my friendship group outside of my family sphere.
How did they react?
Um…I’ve been out since I was 17 in that bit of my life. A lot of them were like “oh, I’m not really surprised.” A few of them were super supportive and were like “When we go out, we’ll go out to the village!”.
I made a lot of friends when I was younger that were gay, lesbian or a part of that community. I had this awesome close-knit community of friends and everyone has been chill about it.
Is there anything you learned from the experience?
In my head, it was like you come out once and that’s it. But you come out again and again and you meet someone new it slips into conversation you’re coming out to them and they’re like “Oh I didn’t realise.” Especially now that I wear a headscarf. If I say ‘I’m queer’ they do a double take and go “You’re visibly Muslim and look like you’re a religious person, but you’re queer??!” I’ve realized that people have an idea of what it means to be queer and they’ll have an image in their head and that image won’t look like me.
Load of different kinds of people fall under the umbrella of queer. And what a queer person looks like so you need to challenge that assumption. That’s the main thing I’ve learned.
How did that make you feel?
I think it’s really important that both straight and queer people need to see diversity in this group. Queer brown people exist, queer black people exist, queer people of faith exist. And people that are comfortable with the two things living side by side like me do exist and that it’s important for them to acknowledge it and understand that it is possible.
I feel like it’s my responsibility to do that, it makes me sad that people think you can’t be all of these things. My take away is to do something about it.
Do you have any regrets?
I think probably not coming out to my dad before he died is a big one. I think he definitely knew as he worked for the taxi company that partnered with pride. And he saw me with a pride wristband on once and he went ‘what’s that?’ and I said ‘Just a thing for a thing on in town this weekend.’ That is all we said about it so I think he knew but we never had that conversation where I was like ‘dad, I like girls too,’ and I think he would’ve been chill about it. Like he didn’t throw me out the house when he saw a pride wristband on me.
How was life after coming out and how did that differ from before you came out?
I think coming out even partially is a liberating experience; because you can be part of this whole community like a family when you find your people. There is that side of it and it does feel like a huge weight is being lifted off your shoulders as well because you don’t have to lie about yourself.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about coming out?
I would say it is okay to be part in and part out of the closet and a lot of people compartmentalise different parts of their lives and at some point, maybe these things will all come together but if you can’t come out to certain people in your life you don’t have to. You don’t have to be out to your co-workers. You don’t have to be out to your family. You don’t even have to be out to your friends if you don’t want to be. You can choose who to tell and who to not to. It doesn’t make it any less of coming out if you’re not out to everyone. That’s your story, it’s part of who you are and you should have the control over that.