Blair Imani on The Importance of Celebrating Queer Muslims
Get to know Blair Imani, Black American queer Muslim author and historian
IMAGES Shot by Kaelan Barowsky
MASK by Elhoffer Design
Can you tell us about who you are and what you do?
I’m Blair Imani, I chose the name Imani in 2015 when I converted to Islam. I’m a historian by profession and my focus is bringing the knowledge that has been long trapped in academic institutions to the people. I’m the author of two books including ‘Modern HERstory: Stories of Women’ & Non-binary People Rewriting History’ and ‘Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration & The Black American Dream‘ (2020). I’m also a volunteer ambassador for Muslims for Progressive Values which is one of the oldest Muslim organization to champion LGBTQ+ rights.
How can we foster a sense of community while in isolation?
Social media has been crucial throughout the scourge that is Coronavirus. Whether that means logging into Twitter, Instagram, or even Animal Crossing, connections can come in the least anticipated forms and realms. Sometimes laughing about the same meme with people an ocean away can bring us a sense ofcommunity. Outside of these elements, community can be found by lifting one another up.
What does the word queer mean to you?
When I host diversity & Inclusion discussions I often explain that queer is an umbrella term with a patterned past. For some elders in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a term that is drenched in pain and harm but for those of us who are younger, it’s a label that frees us from being labelled. To me, Queer means everything and the in-between.
What is your earliest memory of the queer community?
My first memory of the queer community is playing The Sims with my younger sister and Uncle Darren and making a character called “Darren.” I was in middle school at the time and I wasn’t totally sure that Uncle Darren was gay but when we asked him if he wanted us to make him a wife, he said no thank you but I would love a husband! It was a small gesture but it was definitely the first time I recognized that LGBTQ+ people are everywhere and most likely within your family too!
It’s exhausting to feel like you don’t exist within a community of people who are also made to feel like they don’t exist.
If there is one thing you could say to oppressors of queer people, what would you say?
Develop a hobby that doesn’t involve berating people who you see as different and remember that denying others the right to a liberated existence does not make for a righteous life.
Who inspires you?
My mother because she’s literally a superhero. Outside of my family, I am inspired on a DAILY BASIS by Myles Loftin, a Black queer photography and art prodigy. I often joke online that Myles is my son and even though we are both in our twenties people believe me. I always run into Myles in the most beautiful places. Our last adventure was in Cannes in 2019. He’s a genius with the wit and with a camera.
I’m also inspired by Black online personality, Courtney “Color Queen” Quinn who goes by @colormecourtney online. I originally met her at the Billboard Music Awards and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Throughout the pandemic, she has not skipped a beat. She’s adapted to her surroundings SEAMLESSLY, and she even remembers to take time for self-care and preservation. That’s the level I want to be on.
Something that is rarely spoken about in the queer community is Muslim people, how has this affected both you and many other queer Muslims?
It’s exhausting to feel like you don’t exist within a community of people who are also made to feel like they don’t exist. There’s a lot of education happening and a lot of healing that’s taking place. There’s an entire squad of us, it’s certainly not just me. In the UK alone there’s Glamrou, Shahmir Sanni, Leo Kalyan and that’s just who I’m thinking of off the top of my head. We’re all doing our part to educate the non-Muslim queer community, but we are all exhausted by the amount of work that has yet to be done. Justice, inshallah.
Modern HERstory which you released in 2018 was radical in its approach to portraying the diversity of queer women, why were these stories so essential for you to share?
Thank you! I did my absolute best. Modern HERstory is a celebration of diverse women and non-binary people as well. Because the title is a play on the word history I brought all of the figures together under the pronouns she/her regardless of gender identity. An important part of writing the book was to include people who are currently living. Too often people are not celebrated until they’ve passed and I want to disrupt that cycle, especially for marginalised people.
Doyou feel it is crucial as visible queer people to set boundaries so you don’t give too much of yourself?
Boundaries are absolutely crucial. For example, I have a frequently asked questions page on my website so that I can quickly refer to the legions of random strangers that enjoy flocking to my DM’s with the SAME DAMN QUESTION! This helps me to feel like I am in control without becoming burnt out by the stress of being an information portal for absolute strangers. Some visible queer people didn’t choose to be visible, visibility was thrust upon them. I remind folks who find themselves in the spotlight that it’s okay to disengage. You have to choose for yourself who you share your story with.
Are you optimistic about the future for queer people?
Absolutely. We have grim days ahead of course, but we have countless bright ones ahead as well.
Watch Blair Imani’s TED Talk below, purchase her books via her website and keep up to date with her work on Instagram.
Enjoyed this story? Help keep independent queer-led publishing alive by becoming a BRICKS community member for early bird access to our cover stories and exclusive content for as little as £2.50 per month.