London is one of those rare cities that allows me to express all my identities. I’m British, I’m Asian Pakistani, I’m Muslim, I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community and I’m disabled – I’m severely sight impaired. Living here means I can go to Friday prayers at the mosque, see a drag show in Soho or go for a curry in Southall.
The city provides opportunities for me to intertwine my identities, too. One of my first experiences of this was at Club Kali in Camden, a London LGBTQ+ Bollywood hotspot. The first time I went there was around 2005 – I was at Queen Mary University and struggling with who I was. It was around the same time that I came out to my family. Until that point I felt like the only gay in the Asian village. At Club Kali, I saw other gaysians and I realised I wasn’t alone. It was overwhelming seeing so many brown LGBTQ+ people in the same space, dancing to music that I’ve grown up with. London’s LGBTQ+ scene allows niche groups, like the LGBTQ+ South Asian community, to thrive.
‘I created a drag character that embodied all my identities.’
For the last couple of years I’ve hosted the main stage at Pride in Trafalgar Square. That experience made me realise how much of a world city London is – seeing thousands of people of all races, creeds and different sexualities is heartwarming. I’m known as Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen and at Pride I’ve presented Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor – words can’t describe the pride I feel in getting to introduce him at such a major London event.
Coming out as a Muslim drag queen was difficult. For me it was down to accepting each and every part of my identity and not feeling like I had to give one up for another.
I got into drag by entering Drag Idol in 2012 at Two Brewers in Clapham. I thought about what would set me apart and I went on stage in a rainbow burka which I ripped off to reveal a sari and under that was a mini skirt. I created a drag character that embodied all my identities.
If you’re grappling with these issues, you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out. There are so many communities in London willing to accept you with open arms.
Asifa Lahore is a speaker at WOW – Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre. March 6 – 8.