Sir Ian McKellan shines a spotlight on a subculture of gay British men struggling to find acceptance within their faith communities in Muslim Drag Queens, airing on Channel 4 tonight in the UK.
The groundbreaking doc follows three gay men who practice Islam and also perform in drag, a struggle that forces them to reconcile their sexuality and faith on an almost daily basis. The film’s star, Asif Quraishi, known as Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen, says the struggle is what keeps many Muslim drag queens from publicizing their careers.
Quraishi identifies with what he calls the “Gaysian” scene while he’s out performing as his alter-ego Asifa Lahore. He characterizes the subculture as one of mostly Middle Eastern and Asian gay men who were culturally ingrained with anti-gay sentiment from an early age.
The film begins with him reading emails he’d recently been sent.
“You call yourself a Muslim? You should be ashamed of yourself and be killed,” one reads. Another says, “You think I don’t know where you live. You think I don’t know who your mum is who your dad are? You carry on and you will be killed. I will kill you with my own hands.”
McKellan, who narrates the film, told reporters the experience left him “in awe” of the cast and the thousands struggling with this daily battle.
“I’m ashamed how little I know about drag and trans and areas of being gay that I have not been part of,” he said. “It makes me begin to understand what it was like 30, 40 years ago when people didn’t understand about simply being gay.”
Muslim Drag Queens airs tonight at 10pm on Channel 4.