Beautiful books to add to your reading list

I have read two memoirs this year which I wholeheartedly recommend and go really well together.

The first is “We Have Always Been Here” by Samra Habib. I first heard of Samra when I attended a panel on the Desi LGBTQ+ scene at the WOW Festival in London this year. I was captivated by what she had to say and pretty much ran to the book table to buy a copy her memoir afterwards.

The cover for “We Have Always Been Here”. At first glance it shows a pattern of pink, green, orange, and turquoise shapes – which you then realise are actually the outlines of people.

Samra writes about her childhood in Pakistan and what is was like to arrive in Canada as a refugee. She had to navigate two very different cultures and later escape an arranged marriage at 16. Like many who have to move countries, and many who realise they are queer within a homophobic/Islamaphobic society, what followed was a search for her own culture and identity – and how she can inhabit her truest self.

It is beautifully written. It is moving and inspiring. It is the kind of book you hug after finishing because reading it meant so much. Months later, I still think about the author from time to time and celebrate who she is and the amazing things she has achieved. (Like this photography project on being Muslim and queer, for example.)

Next on the list is “My Life as a Unicorn” by Amrou Al-Kadhi, a British-Iraqi who struggled to fit in and find a sense of self whilst trying to satisfy the unachievable demands of both cultures. Their Muslim family instructed them to not be gay and did things like throw away their gender non-confirming clothes. Outside of home, the world treats them no better for being gay, effeminate, Muslim and born outside the UK.

Whilst funny at times, this memoir also left me feeling anger and despair at everything they have had to go through – just for existing. I am so glad Amrou found joy, healing, acceptance and themselves through drag.

I really wish this book were mandatory for everyone. Our society would be a lot better for waking up to the hell we are currently putting people through.

The book features features a pink, helium unicorn balloon on the cover, surrounded by quotes of recommendation.

One thing that really struck me from reading Amrou’s memoir was the long-lasting harm of internalised homophobia. Speaking from my own experiences, I tend to forget the damage it does because I’m used to it always being there. This reminded me how brutal it can be.

As with Samra, I admire Amrou’s strength and courage so much. Especially when, towards the end of the book, they confront their parents about their homophobia. Something which all of us in similar situations have imagined doing at some point.

I only finished reading this last night but I am sure that months later I will still think about Amrou too, and celebrate who they are and the amazing things they have achieved.

“For my entire life you have made me feel so bad for being gay and for being myself. You told me I was the source of your unhappiness. Well you know what, you are the source of mine…

…Unless you are willing to apologise for what you have put me through, I have nothing to say to you.”

Amrou Al-Kadhi

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