November 6, 2020
Drag performer, writer, and filmmaker Amrou Al-Kadhi joins Jameela this week to discuss growing up between London and the Middle East, the progressive roots of Islam, coming out as “white” to their parents, using quantum physics to explain being non-binary, how their drag character represents a more free version of their mother, and their book – Life As A Unicorn: A Journey To Shame To Pride And Everything in Between.
31 — Amrou Al-Kadhi
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of “I Weigh” with Jameela Jamil. Are you OK? I don’t know if I am. I haven’t been sleeping very well and I’ve been eating rubbish because I’m stress eating. And that’s also not really making me feel much better outside of the moment. I wake up every hour with anxiety and have to fight the urge to grab my phone and check to find out if democracy still exists in America. What a week. I’m not going to dwell on it too much, because I know that you are probably soaked in it just the way I am, and I’m also not going to be a hypocrite and tell you to step away and look after your mental health, because even though that’s what we should all be doing, it’s really fucking hard with this much going on in the world right now. We’re all kind of glued to this monumental and historical moment. So let’s hope in the next day or so we will have some sort of answer, we know that this isn’t going to be easy. We know that even if Biden wins, there are still going to be a very potentially violent and upsetting backlash. And so we’re all just going to have to hold each other through that time. And as I said, I know that I’m not supposed to tell you to take a break, but if you want to, I have this lovely podcast episode in which we don’t really talk much about politics. I sat down with Amrou Al-Kadhi, who is a British Iraqi who grew up in Dubai and then Bahrain and then moved to London. And, and they are a nonbinary writer, screenwriter, filmmaker and drag queen. Iconic drag queen. They are such an interesting person, such, such a warm and kind and inquisitive human being, exactly the kind of person that I hoped would eventually come on this podcast. I’m so lucky to have the guests that I do. And I was so excited to have this conversation with Amrou, because even though we’re very different people, we have some real similarities. And I haven’t really had much of an opportunity in my life or in my career even to sit down with someone else who shared similar background experiences to me, because there are so few of us in this industry. And so I got to sit down and talk to Amrou about growing up in quite a strict Muslim background and, and working out how to navigate yourself in the West through holding on to your identity and your culture, but also understanding that some things maybe don’t fit the person that you are today based on the teachings of those religions and those cultures. So we sat down and talked a lot about Islam, the things that we don’t resonate with and the things that we do and the ways in which it’s frustrating to watch Islam be so misrepresented all of the time, not just by people who aren’t Muslims, but by some Muslims themselves who’ve kind of taken this religion and bastardize it to their own agenda. And it’s a conversation that we in the mainstream just don’t have enough. And it was funny and it was heartfelt and really eye-opening I think. I really, really, really love Amrou. And if you want to follow them, they are at Glamrou on social media. They have a book called “Unicorn” and they are just a joy, so bright, so ridiculously and intimidatingly bright, and, and fun and human and vulnerable. I loved this episode and I hope you will, too. I’m pleased as ever. Let me know what you thought. And if you learned anything or if you didn’t like anything, or if you want me to cover something else, I’m all ears, especially now in this moment where we just need to only have the difficult and important and stigmatized and taboo conversations with as much love and empathy as we possibly can manage. Wishing you all loads of love and, and sending hugs to your frazzled nerves. I can’t quite believe this, but I remain hopeful. I remain hopeful because of people like you, because of how much you inspire me and push me to carry on and keep seeing the beauty in the world. So before I just cry, I’m going to go, and not burden you with how emotional I feel at the moment. But please enjoy the wonderful Amrou. Amrou.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:04:41] Hello.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:04:41] You are a public speaker, an artist, a writer, and truly one of the most iconic drag queens of all time. Welcome to “I Weigh”.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:05:10] Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:05:13] No, thank you for dressing up so much. You look unbelievable. I wish people could see you right now. I will be uploading a video of you, obviously, this week onto my Instagram. But, oof.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:05:24] This is quite indoor Islamic wear. So that’s why I’m wearing it, because it’s quite like, I associate this with just like my grandmothers and aunties just drinking coffee inside. So I know it’s a bit over the top, but this is actually very indoor.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:05:39] I feel like that part of our culture is so hidden. You know, I think a lot of the way that the West see where we come from is as kind of, you know, they see the kind of more poverty stricken or kind of war torn side of our culture. And yet actually, they have no idea how extra we are, how extra the clothes are, how everything is like bejeweled and bedazzled.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:06:03] Totally.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:06:03] And so I love the fact that you are prominent with that part of our culture in the way that you dress. I mean, my grandmother, good God, she would wear this like swimsuit that was covered in jewels and diamonds, like way into her 60s and 70s. And, you know, with these like long kind of like Sari bottoms. And she would wear like a full face of make up at 80 degrees in the pool.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:06:25] Right. Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:06:26] And, you know, just swim just with her chin just above the water.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:06:29] Icon.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:06:29] Total icon. And I feel like so many of the women in our culture are that. But the world never sees that side.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:06:36] Totally. I mean, I’m always trying to represent those women, no matter, in whatever field I’m working in. I think there’s like a few different things as well. Like, it’s, A, there’s the like mega performative issue of those women. But when I think about my childhood back in Bahrain and Dubai, I actually think, I mean, there is a lot of difficulties, but there was a lot more sort of passion than what I experienced in London. Like I mean, I’m sure it’s similar for you, but like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:02] What do you mean? English people aren’t repressed. I don’t, I don’t understand what you’re saying.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:07:06] I was like, oh, my God. Like just three kisses on the cheek to every relative, every time you walk into a room.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:13] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:07:13] Like every night with 15 people having a meal, like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:16] Not very COVID friendly, though, is it? They must be going out of their mind.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:07:20] I know. My god, can you imagine?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:22] But I want to take, I want to take everyone back through your, I mean, just, what a life you have lived.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:07:29] Oh.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:29] My goodness. It’s ridiculous that you’re so young and so many things have happened. And I just kind of want to start back at the beginning with you, because to, to stand today as a very prominent, very outspoken, highly visible, nonbinary drag queen who comes from a Muslim background, I feel like that is just the story that is not told often enough. And it would liberate so many kids out there to be able to hear that freedom as possible. And you embody it with such elegance and so much glitter. So take me back to a childhood of moving around all the time. This is because of your father’s work. You, you were born where?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:08:10] Yeah. So I was actually, so my parents met in Iraq and then Saddam was in power. So they happened to have a couple of family members in the UK. So they came to the UK. So me and my brother could get born and we automatically kind of got citizenship. As for safety. But then at two years old, we were moved to Dubai and then at seven, I moved to Bahrain and then back around 11, turning 12, I came back to the UK. But that early bit of moving around was, I mean, we’ve lived in so many different houses, like we did move around a lot. I mean, I was so close to my mum, in particular, and as a young child, like, I just didn’t really question much until about seven. There was so little we are allowed to discuss in terms of like questioning Islam or questioning your family. And I didn’t actually question it until we got back, at seven years old. It was just one specific Islamic teacher who was very harsh, who started to make us imagine, you know, every time you commit a sin, you get bad points on your left shoulder. Every time you do good deeds, you get good points in your right. And everything is a sin, literally everything like, you know, thinking anything negative. Like I’m jealous of that girl’s fuchsia pencil case and I’m jealous of that lunchbox and oh, God, I’m tired. And, you know, literally everything, every shoe that’s upside down because that’s an insult to God is a sin and then good deeds, really hard to accomplish, genuinely like helping save a homeless man’s life, age seven, not going to happen. And so, and then we were told that your mom would also come to Hell. And also, if you had more sins on your left shoulder by the time that you died, you’re going to hell for forever. And they really describe Hell to you. Because there’s no one like imagery in Islam, because that’s not allowed. It’s really described very intensely in the text. And you’re kind of asked to sort of close your eyes and imagine it. I mean, Hell is intense. I mean, this is, you have to imagine this is age seven that we’re hearing this. But so on, so what happens is, is on Judgment Day, you’re going to be lying in, in your grave. As soon as you die, you go in-, and you’re in your grave, you get a flash of whether you’re going to Hell or Heaven, and then you have to sort of sit with that until Judgment Day. But I mean, basically, everyone’s going to Hell because, you know, that’s, you, everyone’s committing a sin just by being alive.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:47] It’s amazing that knowing that doesn’t just make everyone just have the purge. It’s just, like it’s amazing that people aren’t just going, if they know that it’s so hard to to get into Heaven, they’re not all just going buckwild. Getting jealous of everyone’s fuchsia pink like lunchboxes.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:11:03] Yeah. Well, I think it’s interesting. I, there are some people who do go, but I think it’s like at seven, it’s just that, right, I’ve literally got to do whatever possible to get out of that because also you can get out of Hell. So it’s like if you have, feWest, if you only have a couple of sins over your, on your left shoulder, over your right, that’s only like two eternities you spend in Hell, and then you’ll get to Heaven, you know? So, you know, it does vary. And there are some things apparently that are infinite, like homosexuality. But the Quran doesn’t actually say that. It’s just been culturally imposed by really kind of essentially conservative Islamic scholars.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:40] Every, almost, most religions have a history of doing that.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:11:45] Yeah, exactly. Like they start out quite progressive.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:47] Well, also like, you know, I believe the Quran was one of the first religious books that, you know, spoke of men and women quite equally. As having equal importance.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:11:56] Yes, quite equally.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:56] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:11:56] And it hardly ever talks about men and women. It talks about masculinity and femininity a lot. It just talks about like the household having the masculine and feminine. So if you like, look at that really linguistically, it’s not actually talking about, you know, male or female bodies, which I find really interesting and. We can talk, but yeah, with Hell, so you’re lying in your grave and then on the final day of Earth, your grave is ripped open and you go all the way up to purgatory and Allah’s there and will weigh all your sins and good deeds in front of everybody, you know, who will hear everything you’ve ever said or thought about them.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:31] I’m fucked.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:12:32] And then. Yeah, exactly. My God. And I, you know, and then, and then Hell is just like hilarious. Hell is literally like, you know, you have to eat these fruits and then the fruits turn to the little devil heads that rip up your intestines and then you go to the river to drink water. But the water and boiling water, I mean, it’s just like insane.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:52] And Pitbull’s music is playing all day.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:12:54] Oh, my God. Yeah, that would be Hell. Oh, God. He’s sort of over now. Isn’t he?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:00] I hope so.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:13:03] Ooh. He doesn’t even sing, he just talks.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:06] I don’t have, look, I admire what that man has achieved. I’m just not a personal fan of his music. That’s my personal Hell. I’m sure plenty of people love Mr. Worldwide. It’s just not my vibe. Anyway, I wish no harm upon Pitbull. The man of the, the man of the music. Anyway. OK, so I was reading that you were seven years old being forced to imagine yourself lying in your graves. All of you in class. That’s so dark. That’s so intense. And it’s also important just to quickly interject, because a lot of people perhaps listening to this podcast might not be very familiar with Islam. And it’s not all like that. It’s just some people take the Quran and they twist it to whatever their agenda is.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:13:49] Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:49] If they want to feel powerful, if they want to scare children, if they want to scare women, it’s a, you know, it’s an excuse to exercise their own inner demons. It’s not a demonic, like, evil religion.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:14:00] No, the Quran itself, and, you know, in my book, the final chapter is really about this. But the Quran itself has lots of wonderful progressive things that have, many things have stopped people exploring that, one of which was actually Western colonialism coming into Arab countries and getting rid of Sufism, which is a really tolerant form of Islam. I mean, literally exterminating millions of Sufists. And, and also bringing in essentially colonial laws on homosexuality and gender that aren’t in the Quran. So there’s like a bit of entangling to do and a lot of socialists that I know, really, there’s a big Muslim contingent of British socialists. And you really see that their Islamic faith, which is all about generosity and being nice to others and not having ego and not, you know, not having expensive things and, and making sure that everyone else is before you. You know, you can theorize whether that’s good or bad, but you actually see a lot of amazing Muslim people on the left who have a really good sense of taking care of everybody as a society.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:15:15] Community.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:15:17] Yeah, community. And Islam is like, you know, and also before this one Islam teacher and a couple of others sort of ruined it for me, Allah was this amazing sort of, it was amazing to have faith in that way where you just sort of felt that Allah loved you no matter what.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:15:38] Interestingly, in Islam, pre-colonialism and, you know, loads of different things that happened, there’s this thing in the Quran is called Jihad, which is basically, it’s, well, it’s about the Quran, where basically the Quran is supposed to be treated as a series of poems, essentially. And Jihad means a group of Muslims come together and each give their own agreements or disagreements and you come up with your own sort of, so it’s not kind of a hegemonic text that’s supposed to be seen as dogma. It’s sort of written into there, that this is open for interpretation and you’re supposed to intellectually grapple with it. Women particularly, you know, there were so many kind of female scholars and Sufists, you know. Sufists believe that Allah is something completely different for every different Muslim. And it’s however you access it. So you’re not supposed to kind of see the Quran as a kind of end state, it’s a kind of offering. But as with like, basically, what’s happened all over the world, that was seen as quite dangerous, both to colonialists who came over, but also to men who wanted to, to cis men, who wanted to have power was, so they banned that. So that fear now of the Quran that you were just talking about, of, oh, my God, you disobeyed the rule, that’s actually not as inherent to it, that only if you treat it as an end state, like a kind of a-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:10] Agreed.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:17:11] Be all and end all. So as ever, like cis men and patriarchy instrumentalize it, and you know, I’m like you, I live in the West and my parents live in the Arab-, I don’t know where your parents have been-, but, you know, I am freer here. But, but I also have this sort of thing of, well, the West is also responsible to what happened to Islam.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:35] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:17:36] So as happy as I am to be here, I’m also like, what if I never had to come because of what you did centuries ago? I don’t know.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:43] No 100-, but I think 100 percent that’s such a reasonable and fair thing. And like, you know what, I mean, what happened to India and now how we are still seeing politically the impact of what is going on with Pakistan, India, Kashmir, like none of this needed to happen.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:18:00] Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:00] This is British colonialism. And so, yeah, it is, it’s almost like they came in, fucked everything up and then just kind of got on with their lives and they left this kind of, you know, free, slightly more, I don’t know if it’s evolved, but, you know, just a, a more liberated way of life and just forgot about the kind of the state in which they left everywhere else.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:18:18] Yeah. And they used the, this sort of lack of civil rights in such places as sort of cultural fodder to be like, see, like let’s not let immigrants in, look how backwards it is. And it’s like you’ve created those set of circumstances.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:35] 100 percent. And also sometimes I wonder about the misogyny that kind of happens, you know, from individuals, not from the holy books within many different cultures. Right? Not just Islam, but also, you know, within certain parts of the, kind of African communities or the black community or, you know, China or anywhere, that sometimes it is white oppression that can lead the men from different cultures to want to then go on because they cannot oppress the white man, they therefore oppress the woman from where they’re from. And so there is this kind of trickle-down culture of then, then the kids get oppressed.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:19:08] I never thought about it that way, but yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:09] You know, someone needs to own then the, the servants, you know, because there’s such a huge, I think so many people in the West can’t even fathom the fact that servants still very much exist as like a main part of the culture within a lot of these places.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:19:21] Right. I mean, my god.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:22] And so they are the most abused. And it’s just kind of like, this like food chain all the time. That always starts with the British at the top.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:19:32] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Who have come in and created a set of circumstances that has basically led to this power struggle. I mean, like the, I mean, you know, it’s a controversial thing to say, but ISIS really wouldn’t be around had we not created the conditions for them in Iraq.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:48] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:19:48] And what’s really upsetting, you know, that we created this monster that has then, not, you know, the West has created a monster that they then used as a sort of weapon to say this is why we’re the best.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:03] Also, let’s be honest, regardless of race, cis men. Cis men, bloody fucking hell.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:20:10] And patriarchy.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:13] Patriarchy and cis men.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:20:13] It’s basically. Yeah, it’s a nightmare.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:14] This wouldn’t have happened. None of it would have happened. Oh, good God. Anyway.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:20:18] And I would just encourage people listening, by the way.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:20] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:20:20] There is, if you look up Sufism or feminist Islamic scholars, there’s so much out there because I really want people to know that like, the, the problems that, what happened to me in the Arab world is much more cultural than it is-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:34] Religious.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:20:35] Yeah, liturgical from the Quran.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:38] 100 percent. I’m glad we had that conversation because it’s a conversation I haven’t yet had on this podcast about Islam, and I really feel that, you know, especially post 9/11, there has just been so much further and further demonization of people only ever hearing one side. And by the way, I, as someone who comes from a fully Muslim family, like a lineage of Muslim family, you know, of Muslims, I myself have suffered from the Western interpretation of Islam and of the Middle East and of South Asia. I myself, even though I know individuals from that background, I was polluted by the ideals of like what I thought Islam was and how-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:21:26] Same.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:21:26] How oppressive and, and what a vile way it was represented and how what, you know, kind of terrible place to come from it was, you know, to the point where I used to wish that someone would think that I was Spanish, you know, and having grown up in Spain a little bit and like looking a little bit more Western because of my features, because of God knows what kind of pillaging happened to my, you know, like, you know, in my family’s past. But I used to pray people would think I wasn’t from there. And reading about you, knowing that you had a similar experience, I thought was really interesting. You came out as white to your parents when you were younger. Can you tell me about this?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:21:59] Yeah, well, I would, yeah. So what happened was because I had come to the UK and then pretty soon after I came, when I was 13 in 2003, it was the war in Iraq. And that’s where my family are literally from. And, and Iraq was the enemy. And I was sort of living on, you know, on the oppressor side now, I suppose, and my parents were really upset, because they really, they had friends and family and their parents were still there.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:22:29] You said that when you used to speak to your grandmother on the phone, you could hear bombs in the background.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:22:33] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:22:33] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:22:34] You could hear bombs. And I mean, it was a nightmare. But we were also living, I was very happy to be in the UK because by that point I knew I was gay and I just knew that I wasn’t going to play by any rules. I just just knew inside that, uh oh, this is going to be quite difficult for me. I knew that really, I think at age seven in that Islam class. And, and I, like you were saying, I mean, I equated freedom with, well, at least I’m going to be in the West because freedom for me was like, well, when I eventually do come out and just live as a gay person, I can do so legally. And I’ve been to Soho once to go see something in the West End and I’ve seen some gay people and a Muslim relative was like, oh, they should all be shot. Which was like really terrifying. But I’d seen enough to be like, I’m going to, this is where I will be able to actualize myself. And so when I kind of was like, alright, well, I’m not Muslim anymore. And because my parents were being really homophobic and really policing everything about me, I just thought, well, I’m not going to be Arab anymore. I was like, I’m not going to speak this language. And so I was sort of like, I’m white now, by the way, like, they’d be like, Amrou, you’re Iraqi. Why aren’t you eating this food? I’d be like, oh, I’m white. I’m British. I’m really, I don’t identify.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:23:52] I want McDonald’s. Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:23:53] Yeah. Well, also just like eating. But I was a dick as well about it, which like I would like during Ramadan I would like come home and be like, Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm bacon for breakfast, guys, you know? And they were just like what the fuck are you-? I was getting revenge.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:08] Yeah. It’s understandable.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:24:10] It is. I mean, obviously, we broke their heart and I’m sure I was like a precocious asshole about it, you know, my god.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:18] But they’re denying your whole identity. And even if they’re not doing that from a place of hatred because they’re trying to protect you from what they think will be Hell.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:24:26] Yes.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:26] It is, it is also like-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:24:28] It’s abusive.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:28] It’s incredibly abusive and oppressive to ever like, however decent your intentions are or how much you are a product of your environment. It’s also completely understandable that you would feel like rage for someone making you hate what you just inherently are.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:24:41] Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, you’re right. And so I took it out not on homophobia.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:46] The eating during Ramadan thing is just a bit mean.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:24:48] Yeah, just a bit mean.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:50] Someone’s starving.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:24:50] And, and they brought, that in Islam, we had an Islam teacher and she quit because of me. She would, she would, you know, she was really Muslim and she, she got me to like, we were supposed to write sentences in Arabic and I would just write about like sex and like that really. She was like, use the word “big” in the sentence. So I’d be like, [Arabic], which basically means like, Amrou’s got a huge dick. And this is a really Muslim woman. Like during, like during Ramadan.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:22] Oh, my god.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:25:23] So, yeah. So yeah, but I mean, I took the rage out on Islam, on being Arab, you know, not on homophobia itself, because I just thought in that really reductive way, the West, the most liberated place in the world and accepting of queer people, the Arab world, not, so I guess I’ll be Western now. And I tried. I mean, my God, I took, like things at home got so, so awful. Without telling my parents, I applied for a scholarship to Eton College, which I don’t know, if, it’s the most, it’s the opposite of Islam, isn’t it?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:59] Yeah, I mean it’s, it’s-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:26:00] I mean.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:01] I can’t think of a more, a more opposite place, maybe, but it is, for those who don’t know, it’s like the kind of most elite school in the United Kingdom. It’s where, like all of the royal family members go, it’s where every bastard that you see in our government went to school. And-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:26:19] You wear tailcoats.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:20] You wear tailcoats. I mean, it feels like, yeah, it feels like 250 years ago. It’s just the oldest, like English, most patriarchal system.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:26:29] Yes.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:30] Really in any kind of schooling institution, but OK, so you got a scholarship into Eton, that’s insane.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:26:36] It was, well, but I was always very, once, as soon as literally like as soon as that Islam class happened of you’re getting sins on your left shoulder, I just became very studious because I honestly think I was just trying to compensate for all the sins that I was getting. And it was just a way to, and also this is like a real thing that you see, I think, among a lot of queer people that, you know, you get told that what you are is wrong. And so you try and prove to the world that you’re right. And for me, just getting 100 percent was the only thing. I mean, I developed really bad OCD, but it was just, it stop, it stopped my brain from thinking about anything else. And it meant that I felt some kind of worth. Really unhealthy drive, which is much more managed now. But back then it was like if I got 99 percent, I would like literally throw up. I’d be like, this is the end of the world. And people would be like, are you absolutely mad? So I got a scholarship and I pretended I was Christian actually, for my first year because I just was like, I’m going to build a new me. It was terrible. Eton was the first time, I was like, oh, wow-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:27:39] Amrou, I used to wear a cross at secondary school.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:27:42] Did you? That’s so funny.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:27:42] Yeah. And I didn’t know anything about religion, but I used to wear a cross. I was doing everything I could to just try, and I upheld zero Christian values other than not murdering people, but also that’s just because I have no-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:27:53] Did people think you were Christian?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:27:53] Yeah. I have no upper body strength so I can’t, I couldn’t murder anyone anyway. But, yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:27:58] That’s so funny that you did that.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:28:00] I forgot until just now that I did that. That’s mad to hearing that again and realizing that. Also, like after 9/11, I don’t think I took my cross off for like another like seven years.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:28:11] That’s so interesting.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:28:11] I was just like, please don’t, please don’t throw acid in my face.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:28:14] Did your parents, did your parents ever be like, why are you wearing that?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:28:16] No, no. I think they were pretty supportive considering, like, how racist the UK was towards our people like, you know, I think a lot of parents, you know, get criticized heavily when they go back home with their Westernized children. But also, if you are going to move to somewhere that is so wholly unwelcoming to your family and to your children, sometimes it’s just a safety thing. Aligning with whiteness is something that you do for safety. And, and so, you know, I’m kind of still figuring out, like, what part of me is me and what part of me is survival. Because, you know, when my mother came here, people used to like, you know, hold their noses in school when she would walk in because it was the idea that a brown person would stink. And this wasn’t that long ago, you know?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:28:56] No.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:28:56] And so, and similarly with me, it was the, you know, the racial slurs against, you know, you and me aren’t that dissimilar in age, the racial slurs, the ways in which we are spoken about. And then once kind of the rise of terrorism happened and the war started, it was just open season on children.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:29:11] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:29:11] Who looked a certain way.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:29:13] It was like, yeah, it really was.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:29:13] We were all considered future terrorists. And so, you know, anything I could do that would make me look more like I was from anywhere other than that place was what I did just to make sure that I didn’t get, you know, just murdered.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:29:26] Yeah, and it makes you really hate your heritage.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:29:31] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:29:31] Which is sad. Because there’s so many wonderful things about my heritage, which I now a much more kind of connected to, but I wished I was not Arab. I actually once, because I was, when I was 13 at a drama class, like I was spotted by this agent. And she’s I can get you loads of work. And I thought, this is great, I’m going to feel so free. And the only work I got, the first job I had when I was 14 was in Spielberg’s film “Munich”. And I played a terrorist’s son. And I only got to audition for something to do with terrorism.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:04] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:04] And I was like this really camp like 14 year old. And they’d be like, OK, like, let’s detonate the bomb then, shall we? And I’d be like, I can’t do this convincingly. Like, it’s not, like. So I really hated it and I was so embarrassed by my nose. I tried to bash it in once.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:21] What? So that you could have a nose job?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:23] I just wanted it to be straight. No, I wanted to do my own nose job. I just kept hitting it with a book.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:28] Christ.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:29] And actually dented it a bit. But now I, now I’m very happy with my nose.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:33] I love your nose.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:34] Thank you. It is huge.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:37] And damn straight. It deserves to be huge. It’s fabulous. It’s so deserves to be seen.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:43] I grew into it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:43] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:43] I’ve grown into it. Back then I was literally just like a walking nose with arms and legs attached.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:49] I mean, I felt the same when I was younger as well. And like I used to consider getting a nose job when I was younger and was encouraged by different family members too. And I’m really glad now-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:30:57] Oh no.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:58] I’m really glad now that I didn’t do it. I really-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:31:00] I know, me too. I was almost going to do as well.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:02] Now I’m glad I didn’t. And also, like knowing my luck. It would have just gone like, it would have been one of those, you know, just sort of Voldemort sort of noses.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:31:11] There are some bad ones out there.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:12] There are some bad ones. And they would all happen to me with my terrible luck. So thank goodness for me personally, no judgment on anyone else who chooses to do that. OK, so. So, we now, so at this time in your life, you are a teenager. You’ve just gotten into Eton, at this time, you are still identifying as a man, but a gay man.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:31:31] Yeah. Yeah. I think so, yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:32] At what point did you learn that you were nonbinary?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:31:37] It’s really hard one, because it’s more like, like I kind of came out as nonbinary at 27 and I’d been doing drag by that point for about seven years.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:49] Had you ever considered wanting to be a transwoman? Like have you, not as in wanting to be, but had you ever like questioned whether you might be a transwoman?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:31:56] Yeah, I had, I had. But it was more like so for me back in the Arab world, because the only things I was identifying with, were, was feminine, it was femininity. And my mum, who I had a really close relationship with, you know, I really hated a lot of the men in my life and really didn’t fit in. So in a kind of childish way, I mean, I don’t think I was experiencing that kind of intense dysphoria that like I was a woman, but I just was like, for my childhood, I was always like saying if I could be born again, can I just be born as a girl so that I can just hang out with my mom and all these women and just be like them? Because I, because I’m failing masculinity so intensely and I’m getting so badly punished for it. And femininity was just so embedded in me that I just thought, but I always had dysphoria. And the fact that, like, really rejecting masculinity and also like my male body, like, I just felt like it wasn’t a right fit, but I didn’t really have the language for it. And obviously there was no discussion for it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:02] No.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:33:02] There’s a chapter in my book, but there is, when I was a teenager, I became obsessed with marine biology and I started to work in a fish tank shop every weekend. And I think the reason I was so drawn to it was because, like, fish can just change sex. It’s literally very fluid. And I just was, like, enchanted by it. And I was like always, I was, I said, I remember saying to my mom one time, I was like, I just want to be a starfish. And she was like, we need to get you out of the UK. Like, what’s wrong with you? But I just, I just, and then drag was like a real way to like, a first access that side of myself. But I thought it was this thing that was separate to the rest of me because I was actually having to hide it from family so intensely that it was like Glamrou was this thing that I did while I was at uni and on weekends. But you know, if ever family was in the country, I’d make sure that I put all my drag in my friend’s house. No one could see it. So it almost felt like a second closet in a way. Then it was like at 27, I just was like, I remember just someone saying, you know, what’s your pronoun? They right? And I remember just feeling like, like I was having a lavender bath. It was just like, oh right. That works for me. I just don’t feel any anxiety about being gendered as a man and, and by that point, drag with such a central part of my life like, and drag now for me isn’t this separate thing, it’s like Glamarou is like part of me, even if I’m not in drag, she kind of becomes accentuated when I’m in drag, but it’s so fluid. And so I just asked a few friends, really, and I was like, can we just try this out? And it just was like a weight off. So I kind of think I found the language of being nonbinary, you know, at 27, but was probably nonbinary my whole life.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:35:04] Yeah. What’s your quantum physics analogy for being nonbinary that I love so much?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:35:12] Well thank you, to you for sharing that. So basically I became obsessed with this when I was at uni, but I’ve always held it quite close to me whenever I’ve been feeling, you know, whether it’s dysphoria or just anxiety about the way that the world is going. So basically, if you think of hetro-, and if you think of standard Newtonian physics as heteronormative physics and quantum physics as queer theory, quantum physics is to Newtonian physics what queer theory is to heteronormativity. Now, Newtonian physics, physics is brilliant in many ways, but it’s very concerned with looking at the overall formulas and rules that govern the universe. You know, if I do A, what happens to B? What is the finite formula? And it’s macro. It’s literally like looking at, almost, you think about constructs. Like how does, you know, what are these universal formulas that will make us understand the world? And in a way like, there’s a kind of egocentrism of it. It’s like I just want to know the rational underpinning for how everything works. Or A does B. Quantum physics is when we were able to start looking at inside atoms, which were once thought to be the smallest things in the world, but then neutrons, electrons and protons, you can even go inside them. And that’s where quantum physics is happening. When you’re looking at the tiny most subatomic particles and the way that they behave kind of contradicts what happens in Newtonian physics. So if Newtonian physics is going, you do A and B happens. In quantum physics, you’ll see that the particle that’s doing A is also doing B, but it’s doing A bit more sometimes. And as a result, reality starts to approximate it so that reality can kind of solidify what’s happening on a subatomic level. So the most famous experiment to explain this is the double slit one where you basically fire an electron through a wall with two holes and every now and then, it’ll go to the left or right and a sensor will pick it up, but every now and then, it’ll just go to both at the same time, because like an electron isn’t really like a finite thing. It’s like a wave that every now and then just sort of defies what the logic physically should, should happen. And so multiple versions of the same thing are always happening. And this is literally like in-bedded in like the world. So I always like to think about that when people are like, I think it’s really good explanation for why fascism, for instance, is wrong if you wanted to go to it, because it’s like fascism and a lot of, all, every kind of fascism is all about like the natural order of things is that these people are the purest. So this is what a cis person is. And if you go well, actually in nature, the most natural order is chaos. And it’s no surprise that once this video I did, the Channel 4 video, I got so many emails and there is a huge population of trans quantum physicists. They tend to go to quantum physics, not all the time, you know, but a lot of queer physicists are drawn to quantum physics because I think it disrupts boundaries.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:32] And transpeople and nonbinary people disrupt boundaries, like they don’t subscribe-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:38:37] All the time.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:38] To the kind of gendered boxes that you’re supposed to tick. You know, we had Alok on this podcast recently, you know, who was talking-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:38:45] Who I love, yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:46] About the freedom they mentioned of transness, of the fact that, you know, and I was also talking to Munroe Bergdorf about this. Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:38:52] And biology and sciences and destiny.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:55] Exactly. Something that I thought was so interesting when I was researching you is that, you know, you talk about your mother kind of being this icon to you and everything you kind of wanted to emulate for a while. I mean, there was a period through which you kind of, you know, when you started drag, you said you were like unhappy drag. Where you were this sort of bitchy white woman. But then, like, kind of over time, you’ve become a kind of happier, you know, drag, woman in drag, I guess, would we describe it? How do you? How do I, would I describe that? A drag queen?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:39:31] Drag queen, yeah, yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:32] You become the happy drag queen who is, you know, now, you know, paying homage to your culture, kind of paying homage to your mother. And I want to find out how your mother felt about you once she found out about you doing drag and kind of emulating an exaggerated version almost of her. But I also want to get into the fact that while your mother probably had to wrestle with it, the fact that she would end up feeling jealous of you because of the freedom you’re able to exude in this version of her that you portray. I think it’s magical.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:40:07] Yeah. Well, thank you for that, that, yeah, beautifully put.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:10] Take me, take me to the time that she found out that you were, when did you come out as a drag queen?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:40:16] Well, I was outed by a very angry relative who had, who had business in Iraq, and he wanted to scare the shit out of me. So he-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:25] How did he find out? Was he at a show?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:40:28] A friend of his randomly, a friend of a friend was just at a show and put a photo up on Facebook being like, oh, watching this great show. And they were friends on Facebook. And I was in a very uncompromised position. I think I was basically pretending like the microphone was a dick and sort of sitting on it. And I was like 24 and I was taking a lot of drugs back then. I was, that was unhappy drag moment actually, because, because my drag was like, fuck the world and fuck anyone who doesn’t-, which has its place. But, and I actually think it was so, some people said it was always quite electrifying to watch because people didn’t know if I was about to, like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:11] Stab someone.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:41:12] What I was going to do.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:13] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:41:13] Yeah, I was quite unhinged as a performer back then. In a way that was, I think, really fun at points because I was just so like get it all out. But, but it was coming from quite a dark place. And I think it does still come from a dark place, but now in a much more positive way, I would hope. But yeah. So he, so he spread that to the family and shit really hit the fan, you know. You know, my mom was basically saying, you know, you’re literally like the thing I hate most about my life. You know, you’re the reason that I commit, I want to commit suicide. Like you are the worst thing that’s ever happened-, my whole, the whole family zeroed in on me as this problem. Because it was like I broke all the rules, like everyone was going about their lives in the way that they were supposed to. And I was going, I just want to do what I want. And I’d graduate from Cambridge. So, but I was, so they just thought, oh, well, why didn’t you get like a proper job? And I just was like, doing whatever I wanted and everyone was zeroing in on me. So I, after that basically said, you know what? Fuck you guys. Let’s just end this. You know? But I hadn’t taken their money really since I was about, you know, since I started uni at 18, 19. And so I was like, there’s no, there’s literally no reason. I don’t need your money. Like, I’m renting this really crap apartment. You know, I’m making just, I mean I was barely making anything back then, but I was just managing it, you know, just figuring it out. I was like, I was like, I was like, if you want to see me, then you have to not say these things to me because I really, I was like, I hate you guys. I don’t want any, I don’t want to be around this at all.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:59] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:43:01] And so there was a period of just a long time of not seeing them and just doing my own thing.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:43:05] How long?
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:43:08] Years, really. I mean, there is one bit, where it was like a year of literally no communication, but back then it was probably like once every six months I would do like, yes, I’m alive, leave me alone, kind of call. Yeah, but then I made friends with a, with an Arab girl who had kind of a similar journey to me and others through networks in the U.K. and were starting to like, remember, not only really bad things that had happened, but just like, oh my God, this reminds me of like some quite happy memories about my mom. And so instead of getting in touch with my mom because I wasn’t ready to because at that point she had so much denial, she was just like, I did nothing wrong. I was a perfect parent. I was like, well, you said this, this, this and this and this and this and this. And you did this. She was like, nope, didn’t happen. You were really lucky to have me as a parent. So, like, I wasn’t really, and you’re not allowed to question your parents.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:05] It was the Gaslight Express. Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:44:07] Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. It was that. And so I, when I was sort of spending time with a lot, these other Arabs and queer Arabs, and going to some queer Arab parties. I was like, oh, wow. Well, I’m not ready to talk to my mom because she’s not ready to just apologize. But maybe I’ll start incorporating these things into my drag as a way to-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:29] Feel closer to her. Maybe.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:44:31] Yeah, yeah. Feel closer to her and feel closer to this thing that was part of me. But I wasn’t ready for the kind of carnage of it. And I was, I think my drag character back then literally became my mom. If she had not been made to follow the rules, it was kind of like performing a version of her that I wish that she was.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:54] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:44:54] Had she not believed that all these rules were there. And then after a long time, she just was like, I really can’t do this anymore. You’re the love of my life. I just need to talk to you. And so, I mean, I didn’t arrive in drag or anything because like, poor woman. But I arrived just, but I did arrive wearing something quite out there. And she just was like, had a bit of an awakening herself. The uncle who had spread that photo around me was, had basically fucked her over in quite a major way. And he was seen as this sort of untouchable patriarch who was just so moral. And she kind of realized that, oh wait, and she sort of was like, look, I really don’t like what you do. And it’s caused a lot of genuine pain for me because she was getting so much shit, because it’s the mom’s job to be a good parent.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:45:51] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:45:51] You know, no one has a go at the dad. So she was getting friends calling her up, you know, what are you doing? We’re getting calls here. And she was like, but you know, what I don’t get is that, like, you know, I’m a woman. I’ve grown up in the Arab world. Men tell me to do this, this and this. You know, I have no power in a way-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:46:10] No autonomy, no financial autonomy as well.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:46:13] No financial au-, yeah, none of that. And you, you know, are, you, you have the gift of being born a man, the way, you know, that’s what she thinks. And you decided to, to, to do this when, and be, basically dressed up as a woman, when being a woman is the most horrible thing. And obviously, there’s some real issues with like, it’s very simplistic way of understanding, like gender, obviously.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:46:40] Yeah. But I also, by the way, I relate. I, I have hated being a woman so much longer than I have loved being a woman. I wished I was a boy. I dress like a boy, behaved like a boy, tried to walk like a boy, like everything about me. I distance myself from women. I used to shit on women, not literally, just don’t have that kind of movement in me, but I, you know, I was such a little misogynist. And I really just, even though so many men had hurt me in my life, I still felt like, well, wow, you have the, the power to just get away with stuff. You have so much power, so much freedom. And as a woman, I have no freedom and I’m just this sort of like, you know, little blob waiting to be attacked by a man. I just like, I just thought there was so much power and, and greatness in being a man. Until, you know, I was very much so the kind of embodiment of impersonation is the highest form of flattery. It really took me until the last couple of years, even when I was performing fem, you know, in like all the strapless dresses when I was on T4 in England, you know, and like just like all the makeup and all the heels and stuff. Which I still do now sometimes. But I was performing femininity so intensely, but again, still, still just secretly longing to be a boy. It’s really only been the last couple of years that I started to understand that you can be a woman and not give in to all of the stereotypes and you can be quote, unquote, “alpha” and a bit masculine and you can just be whatever the fuck you want.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:48:02] Right, right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:02] And I look to people like you and Alok and, and all these different great thinkers and speakers in the world, as a part of my, my journey through that, into understanding that, but as simplistic as your mother was, I do get it especially coming from-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:48:18] I get it, yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:19] Coming from a similar background. You just feel so fucking powerless.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:48:23] Yeah, I think, I think-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:25] And resentful.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:48:26] Yeah, you’re right. And it made me realize in a way like, oh, you’ve got your own story and obviously as a kid, you know, you can’t really see that. You’re just like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:35] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:48:36] I’m-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:37] You are my PA. That’s what you think about your parents. You are my personal assistant.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:48:40] And everything you do is about. And I think she just thought, I think there was also a double, a double edged, like a double thing, which was that like she was thinking, hold on, I played by the rules. You know, your brothers played by the rules. Everyone’s played by the rules. I mean, this is going to sound harsh. A lot of them are unhappy, but they’ve decided to play by the rules. And, and it was a bit of a slap in the face that I was like, I really disagree with your rules. And I’m going to do what I want. And I think I’m actually now quite happy and free. And I think, you know, as a woman in her 50s and as, you know, I wonder if part of it was a bit of an identity crisis of like if breaking the rules was, could end up being so much fun and freeing, why didn’t I? I always think that. And that’s why I always said my drag is my, the version of my mom who broke the rules.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:33] I love that. It’s so poetic. I mean, it’s such a great song. It’s such like a, it’s so beautiful, but it’s so heartbreaking as well that that’s the freest that she can be through you. But I also love that tribute to her. It is interesting, isn’t it? The, the fear mongering of others, when you question a system that they have lived within. I feel like sometimes even amongst my own peers and I mean this with like other women, let’s say in this instance. I can sometimes, they can sometimes get triggered by me, even when I’m not doing anything to them, because I’m exhibiting freedom and I’m questioning the system.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:50:09] Yeah, you get so much shit.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:10] I get so much shit, but I don’t get anywhere near as much as I get love. It just, it’s perceived as if I get shit because that’s what the headlines, you know, promote. But I’m just talking about internally in a way that other people don’t witness things that I go on, that go on between me and other women, sometimes within the same kind of work realm as me. I’ve got wonderful women friends, but I, amongst my peers, I notice that in my decision to just not lose weight, to not freak out over food or the decision to like question my role or ask for the same hair or make up time as men or like whatever, just my little kind of micro decisions to be, no I think I’m going to like say what I want and do what I want.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:50:49] Yeah, right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:49] And still be polite and professional, but just kind of, you know, exist in a bit more freedom. I’m not going to try and placate everyone or bend over backwards if it’s inappropriate to do so. I think that can, that might throw out my career in like 12 years, has triggered the other women around me. Similarly, when I was in England and I decided, you know, I think I want to just move to America and see what happens. The fear and rage that people projected onto me as in, like, how dare you think you can leave England and go to America and chase your dream? Like, how dare you have ambition? How dare you think that you can just take that risk and not be embarrassed about the fact that you’ll probably come back with your tail between your legs, which I thought I would do. I felt quite certain I would and I thought that was really fucking honorable because it means you tried. I think it’s super cool and brave.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:51:34] Agreed.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:51:34] And again, similarly with my, my familial background, the fact that I broke all the rules and I decided not to be the good Muslim girl and the wife and the mother and I decided to go out and just like break all of the rules and try and liberate as many girls as I could and just speak with a filthy mouth and be, you know, dishonorable sometimes or be disobedient, fuck up in public, not then go in like, you know, disappear, come back, get better, like exhibit certain freedoms that only men are given.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:52:01] Yeah. Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:02] The rage that people project onto me. And it’s, and I, I kind of want to just ask you about it.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:52:07] So much projection.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:08] So much projection, and is it because they’re disgusted by it or is it because they resent the fact that they aren’t having that freedom? Or is it the fact that they’re worried that they will be able to look back on their life and think, fuck, I could have lived like that all along? No one told me I was allowed to just do it my way. And you are confronting me, you know, a bit like when we had the women push back against the Me Too movement. The older women.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:52:30] Yeah, yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:30] Push back against young women coming out in the Me Too movement. It’s like, oh, god, maybe you have been abused.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:52:35] They just think, deal with it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:35] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:52:35] A lot of them was, “deal with it.” Men. Some of them were literally saying, deal with it, men sometimes rape. It is what it is.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:41] Yeah. Or sometimes it’s, what did Germaine Greer say? She said it was just bad sex. Rape is just bad sex. Like if we just convince women to look at it in a better way. Fucking insane. But part of me was like, you know, these, a lot of these women have likely, statistically, likely been abused. And they don’t want to own up to that because they don’t want to look back on a life where they just tolerated behavior that was unacceptable. They’d rather we all just keep normalizing the confinement.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:53:10] Yeah, I mean, I feel like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:53:12] Sorry. It’s a big rant. Sorry.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:53:14] No, no, I completely, no, I’m just, I really agree with you. I mean, like I mean, you know, conservatism, whether it’s political or social, is about keeping things the way they are. And right now, I think in the world, you’re having an uprising of people going, oh, wait, no, I don’t like the way things are. And you’re having quite a violent reaction politically by people going, no, this is the way that we’ve always done it and therefore we need to, which is like, I literally think that, that is the fault line of America right now, is that on the ground is very different to what’s happening in power. And it’s like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:53:49] Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:53:50] But, but I see it all the time. I mean, I definitely see it among gay men. There’s a lot of, some white, mostly white, but cis masculine men have quite a visceral reaction to me sometimes. Like, you know, like why are you at this party? Or, you know, just like, oh no, never fuck anyone like you. And some of the stuff like that on Grindr or that kind of stuff and, you know, Alok talks about this as well, actually, you know, your desire for me makes you hate me because it’s like showing something about yourself. So with gay men, for instance, a lot of them have gone, well, I don’t want society to see me as an other. Which, you know, society shouldn’t. But like, therefore, I’m going to just assimilate and be masculine and that’s it. And that’s it, the jig is up. And then someone really fem and queer comes along and is, mmm nah, I don’t actually love that idea, to be honest. And so they get violent to the fem person for revealing the other way of things, rather than the system that’s, which is essentially slightly co-opted them to masc up. And like if they are, you know, I’ve seen it with guys in their 40s, like clearly don’t like their jobs. They’re, a lot of them are working in finance and their self-worth as gay men is having a perfect physique, seeming really masculine, seeming straight acting, that’s what they say, you know, straight acting guy here. And then like when a fem drag queen comes on stage and is like, wow, guys, lol, no, that’s not the one. And it’s just like doing what they want. It’s like they’re revealing the thing that they’ve sacrificed in a way or that they don’t even want to hear about. So now when I get those kind of violent reactions, I’m quite like, oh, unevolved.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:40] Yeah. And also, I think it’s important to point out and I think this is coming out more and more now, that you don’t just have to be a straight cis man to be capable of misogyny.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:55:51] No, no, no, no.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:51] There is so much misogyny and so much patriarchy in and amongst cis gay men.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:55:59] I experience it the worst now in pockets of the gay community. Yeah, like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:56:07] Feels more divided than ever, honestly, or at least, yeah. In the last 30 years.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:56:12] And, and in the UK in particular, you know, a big sect of, you know, quote unquote, “progressive” lesbians generation above, mostly, thinking that, you know, transwomen are coming to eradicate lesbianism. And, you know, it’s, you know, and I think that’s the kind of similar, coming from a similar place. So it’s generational. But it’s also, I mean, the gay community is so divided. Like I wore a dress to this party. I was a [inaudible] for a week and I didn’t realize it was going to be so kind of mass-, and so I bought this dress, which was just like a day dress was really fun. I thought, well, I don’t usually wear that on the street in London because I can’t be bothered for any shit, but I’m going to wear that when I’m at this gay party. And one guy was like, why are you wearing that? I was like, I think it looks really cute. And he was like, this is a gay men’s party. I was like, OK, why do I feel like I would feel safer at a rugby match right now? This is very strange that this is happening in a gay club. And I don’t know whether it was, maybe just repulsion, but also like, we, it’s almost this thing of we’ve all collectively decided that the thing to be winning at life is being really masculine and rich. And like, you know, I actually do make good money. But, you know, they don’t see, they just think you’re really fem, therefore you’re a failure. And so you’re coming here and living for yourself as a fem person, tells us we’re wrong-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:57:42] Is it a similar thing to, is it a similar thing to what the, you know, the older lesbians in the United Kingdom are going through? Where they’re, you know, they feel as though there’s almost like a heteronormative. Heteronormative, what’s the word? Incentive behind transness, right? It’s like you’re so repulsed by being gay that you’d rather transition so that you could be in heteronormative relationship. So let’s say that you have a woman who doesn’t want to be a lesbian, so therefore she becomes, this is their theory. This is not truth. That you are a gay woman who would rather become a transman, to then be in a relationship with a gay woman so that that way you are modeling some sort of heteronormative relationship. That’s what their paranoia about the existence of transpeople is. Where as transpeople have always existed. And that has never happened. Lesbians have never been erased. They never will be erased. It’s a completely different thing.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:58:33] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:33] But do you think that potentially that is happening with gay men on the other side where they feel as though you are trying to lure them with your femininity into a more heteronormative looking relationship? Because you are fem and they are a man who’s supposed to be attracted to what we know to be men. And then you are coming in and threatening that by behaving in some ways that are feminine.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:58:54] Mmhmm. Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:55] It’s that same small minded like terror that completely refuses to acknowledge history. And sense.
AMROU AL-KADHI [00:59:03] Yeah. I think, I think it’s, I think it’s slightly different, to be honest, with the gay male and what you’re talking about, that sort of kind of demented paranoia about transmen. I think it’s really embedded in pure misogyny and pure patriarchal privileging of masculinity, because what I think I’ve noticed is that there are these men who, when they realize they’re gay, think they failed masculinity somehow. And so the way to compensate for it is by hypermasculinity, which is why you see a lot of that in the gay community and only sleeping with hypermasculine men. It’s like the world told me that being gay was this weakness, so look how masculine I am. So I think the, their, their repulsion to defend gays or queers like myself is it’s like, it makes them confront their queerness, which they still think is a problem, which is, which so they’re suffering from the worst kinds of queer shame in a way, because it’s like they constantly think that they have to compensate for it by adhering to heteronormative standards.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:20] It’s a shame to go to break out of one box, only to build yourself another one. Why is it worse in the UK at the moment?
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:00:30] I think the UK is just basically got a long, it’s much more conservative historically, actually.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:37] Well, that’s where all the shit starts all over the world, isn’t it? Fucking Great Britain.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:00:42] Yeah, Great Britain. We’ve been around for centuries.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:44] America wouldn’t have happened. Great Britain.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:00:47] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:49] So, yeah, I get it. I actually don’t even, you don’t even need to answer that question. We all know.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:00:53] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:53] We can just look back through history.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:00:54] And, but the main thing is the UK hasn’t actually grappled with it. We’ve never had, colonialism is not taught in schools and as a result, we’ve not, no one’s decolonized here. So no matter what people say, like we will always be a country that aspires to kind of whiteness and, and rigidity until we start undoing some of that stuff.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:01:17] Well, to paraphrase, it’s that expression that if we do not examine our previous mistakes, if we don’t examine our history, then we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes of that history. And so that’s exactly what we’re facing.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:01:29] Exactly. Who said, who said that, Jameela?
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:01:30] It was George Santayana, actually. So I don’t know if you know. I just, um. I’ve always got him on my mind, so yeah, cool. Letting everyone know that I’m really smart and informed. What he actually said, as I’m reading from my phone, because I obviously did not really know this is, “Those who don’t learn-“, fuck me. “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”. There we go. Much better than I said it. Fucking George Santayana. Smashing it. Alright, quickly, I would love to know what, where are you now? Through this whole journey, this epic journey of your life, you now, would you now describe yourself as a Muslim?
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:02:18] Yeah, I would actually.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:20] That’s great. You do kind of more subscribe to the Sufism.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:02:23] Yeah. Sufism, in particular. Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:25] And you are a happy nonbinary person. You have found comfort and joy in that area.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:02:31] Yeah, I think, where I basically, I think so many of my anxieties through life were about always finding like a destination and then just having that. And those always essentially limited me. And so for me, I just am very happy to constantly, basically, be chasing a horizon. And I sort of feel like I’m just constantly just becoming. So just being in a kind of constant state of change, not as in a fickle change. Like, you know, tomorrow I’m going to wake up and decide that I’m Christian again. But like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:05] Growth.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:03:05] The just, a, just feeling like actually that’s what I love about the they pronoun. It’s like, it’s just, it’s a neutral place where anything can happen. And that’s kind of where I see myself now. I’ve definitely resolved a lot of stuff, but yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:22] And where is your mental health at? Would you say?
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:03:25] I mean, I have bad mental health, unfortunately. I’ve just had from a very, very young age, managed quite well from Sertraline.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:34] What is Sertraline? Sorry, I don’t know.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:03:36] It’s, it’s my SSRI, antidepressant.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:39] It’s an antidepressant. Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:03:41] I loved it so much that I did a drag show where I got married to it and then used a dildo that was shaped like Sertraline and had sex with it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:49] Classic.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:03:49] I’m just so in love. I’m so in love with Sertraline. You know, my mental health is so much better than it’s, I mean, compared to where I was. My God, I look back at like how bad my OCD was and how much I hated myself and all that stuff. But to me it’s just this thing that’s part of my brain that is literally neurologically wired to think that I’m always accumulating sin and I’m a failure. And that is there everyday. I probably get off this call and be like, what ten things did I say that might have offended Jameela? Or whatever.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:04:18] Nothing. Nothing, you’ve said nothing that has offended me. I’ve adored this conversation.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:04:23] Oh, thank you. But I also now have just nice voices in my head going, I don’t think you said anything. Which I never used to have. So it’s like those voices are always going to be there. But I’ve learned how to just sort of go, oh, OK, well, I’ll talk to you later, actually, right now I just sort of, and for me, just yeah. My work really keeps me happy. Being in drag keeps me happy. Other queer people keep me happy. So-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:04:45] So living in your truth has, has, has, it may not have affected your existence, but it has definitely made you feel happier and freer.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:04:55] Yeah, freer, definitely. And my God, my one thing to everyone is just, just, if everyone could just live their authentic self and if they have the privilege to be able to do it safely, that, that is really the best remedy for anything, I think.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:09] 100 percent. Well, when you get off this call, you’re going to have all those doubts and worries. When I get off this call, I’m just going to read more of George Santayana, as I always do.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:05:18] Yeah, I know.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:20] Got his book in my back pocket. Yeah.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:05:24] You exercise to Pitbull.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:24] Maybe I’ll read some Nietzsche, you know. Yeah. Anyway.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:05:29] Listen to some Pitbull.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:32] Go listen to some Pitbull, Mr. Worldwide. Anyway, listen, thank you so much. It’s such a-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:05:38] No, thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:39] Fascinating journey you’ve been on. If you want to learn more about Amrou’s life story, then I strongly suggest you read, “Life as a Unicorn”, which takes you through that whole journey in so much detail. And they are so funny and relatable and cool and interesting. And before you leave, having already asked you for so much, would you please tell me, what do you weigh?
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:06:02] Well, I weigh my interactions with other queer people all the time. Those always enrich me. I weigh the power of being in drag on stage and feeling so connected to just who I am inside. I weigh my makeup because it’s literally like a tool box for just self expression. It’s like whenever I’ve had a bad day, I always just put makeup on and I’m like, ah, that’s healed. I weigh watching “Grey’s Anatomy” because those characters I grew up with and Cristina Yang is basically my sister, even though she doesn’t know it. And I weigh, I weigh like looking over some of the achievements I’ve made in terms of drag and writing and allowing myself to feel good about them, because I don’t often allow myself to do that, but I’m trying to do that a lot more and going, actually, you should be proud of yourself.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:07:11] I think you’re way more of a saint than a sinner, for whatever it’s worth. And, and-.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:07:16] Oh, that’s good. Thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:07:18] And it’s an intense background to come from. And I, I can definitely relate to you in more ways than one. And so I admire and look up to you so much for how you’ve been able to stand against so much alternative programing and be yourself and to all of us, brown, brown, queer people, we say thank you because you continue to reaffirm our decisions to exist outside of the box.
AMROU AL-KADHI [01:07:44] Oh, thank you, Jameela, and thanks for all the amazing work you do. It’s so inspiring to see.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:07:49] Love you. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. “I Weigh with Jameela Jamil” is produced and research by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music that you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate, review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. I really appreciate it and it amps me up to bring on better and better guests. Lastly, at “I Weigh”, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543. Or email us what you weigh, at IWeighPodcast@gmail.com. It’s not in pounds and kilos, so please don’t send that. It’s all about you’re just, you know, you’ve been on the Instagram. Anyway. And now there is another message from one of our listeners. A listener today wrote in and said, “I weigh my art, my criminology degree, my love of music, autistic and proud, my bisexuality, anxiety, my Harry Potter obsession, my voluntary work, my family, my daily meditation”.
November 27, 2023
This week, Jameela is joined by writer, broadcaster and feminist organizer Clementine Ford to discuss the historical roots of marriage as a tool of patriarchal control, the illusions surrounding modern matrimony and the modern marketing machinery that sustains its myth.
November 20, 2023
Jameela is joined by beauty culture critic Jessica DeFino in a candid conversation about where her current research and journalism is taking her, after years of covering a multi-billion dollar beauty industry for major women’s magazines & beauty apps in the US.