Muslim drag queen Glamrou: 'Queer people must be the tellers of their own stories'

  • By ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

Amrou Al-Kadhi - or Glamrou in drag - is a non-binary Iraqi writer and performer who is done with having other people tell their, and other queer people's, stories.

"Storytelling is going to be the main way for the queer community to hold the line," they say.

In among the ongoing "culture war, and toxicity - especially on social media," Amrou says it is time queer people were in charge of their own narratives.

That's especially true, they say, of how transgender people are being portrayed in the media and on screen.

"There's so much misinformation around trans people's lives, that don't actually centre trans people and queer voices as the narrators of our own stories in a joyful way," they say.

'Storytelling is going to be the main way for the queer community to hold the line.'

"I'm a storyteller who's always trying to look at queer, people of colour's stories in a way that may surprise, or slip outside of the narratives that we often see in the media.

"I'm always looking for joy and for comedy, and to show people they usually share more in common with me than they might think.

"I think a well told story where you can empathise with the character, will hopefully - no matter what your prejudice is - help change your mind."

It is those stories that Amrou has been telling.

Amrou Al-Kadhi is a non-binary story teller and drag queen. Credit: Vivek Vadoliya

Their book Life as a Unicorn, is a memoir about growing up "queer, Arab and Muslim in British society".

It was a relief, they tell me, to be able to tell their story without "anybody shouting back".

Getting those narratives out into the mainstream media is the next goal, Amrou says they hope for more television studios to recognise the value in sharing queer stories.

The upcoming GLAAD (a US media monitoring organisation) awards recognising and honour content that represents LGBT+ content in a fair, accurate and inclusive way.

Amrou's work on The Son, an episode for Apple TV+'s Little America series, has been nominated for a 'Special Recognition' award.

It tells the story of a queer Syrian man who leaves the home country he loves and travels to the US as a result of the violence he faces from some of his family.

"It had the potential to be quite a traumatic story, but actually we wanted to just find the levity and the queer joy of it," Amrou, who co-wrote the piece, says.

"It's not a story about queer people having to leave a scary place, it's more about queer people having to find a home - and make their home. It's an ode to chosen families."

'I've definitely had to find my own space.'

It's a narrative Amrou finds familiar.

"I've definitely had to find my own space. There was an element, particularly when I was younger, of trying to find this one size fits all identity.

"So when I was exploring my sexuality and gender identity, I saw that as really separate from being Arab and being Muslim."

"A big quest of my life has been trying to figure out how to bring those different sides together."

The art of drag, and finding Glamrou, helped provide a lot of answers in that quest.

Their drag show Glamrou: From Quran to Queen - on pause due to the pandemic - explores the relationship between being queer and being Muslim.

Amrou tells me those elements of themselves sometimes conflict, and sometimes match up.

"Part of the way that I've come to be happier and more myself is just by finding a way to bring what might otherwise seem as 'contradictory' together - and drag is a really good place to do that."

'I felt empowered by femininity, rather than feeling it was something I had to disguise.'

Recalling the first time they were in drag, a "chaotic" event at university featuring a "crazy blonde wig", Amrou says: "I couldn't believe the confidence I was feeling when I was in drag. I remember just thinking 'oh wow, who is this?'

"All of a sudden there's just 400 people watching, celebrating you."

That celebration is something they can't wait to return to once the pandemic allows it.

"That side of expressing your queer identity, being in a room or a club with hundreds of other queer people - that sense of community and that sense of collective power is something that I'm really missing."

With some hope of restrictions easing, a return to those spaces might not be too far away.

Amrou said they'd urge everybody to go out, support those queer spaces, and continue that storytelling.

ITV News is showcasing the lives, legacies and stories of individuals throughout LGBT+ History Month, read more in the series here.

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