Art piece by Emmy Nicolle
*Editor’s note: Sorjo talked with Dalia before they came out as non binary and identified as a queer woman. However, we changed the pronouns to what they’re comfortable with now.
Half Egyptian. Half Polish. Muslim in America. Queer. All of these words are filled with endless struggles and marginalized experiences. You or someone you know probably relates to one or two of these things. I mean, someone can’t possibly be all of them, right?
Meet nineteen year old Dalia Maghoub, from Pennsylvania. A college student who studies Political Science with a Middle East Studies Concentration at Bryn Mawr college. Their mother moved from Poland and their father immigrated from Egypt to New York City during the late 80’s. Their parents met at Greenpoint, Brooklyn and thus, Dalia was born.
Dalia and their family live in a small quiet town in Pennsylvania where they lived mostly as an outsider in their community. However, not only did they not fit into their neighborhood, but in their family as well. Sorjo chatted with Dalia on how they unite all their complicated identities into a perfect harmony.
What was it like growing up half Egyptian and half Polish in America? What struggles did you have to overcome? Or what positives were there?
Hard? I think that’s the best way to describe it. It is rough being the yt sheep in the brown family and the brown sheep in the yt family. There was a lot of just figuring out what the hell I was and navigating other POC spaces but also navigating yt spaces. It was truly a nightmare for the most part but a giant positive is that a ton of my slam poetry has been written about mixed kid feels.
What does the word “queer*” mean to you?
Queer is such a beautiful word! I feel as though it’s the best bracket term for anything that’s not cis* or straight and that’s how I mostly interact with that. I just love how open and fluid the word is and how it allows my sexuality to be fluid as well.
*Cis: short for cis-gendered. Someone who identifies with the sex they were born as.
*Queer: this is a term that is only recently starting to become more recognizable within the LGBTQ+ community. The word holds hundreds, or even thousands, different types of meanings and allows each individual to mold this word into their own liking. Being queer is a state of being that allows your sexuality or gender identity to be fluid. It allows people to escape the claustrophobic categories and just be.
Image source: Difference Talk
How and when did you first realize that you were queer? I could imagine how difficult it is being raised as a Muslim and figuring out your sexuality!
Yikes, that’s a good question. I honestly want to say always? Since I’m not out to my family, I spent the majority of high school just covering it up. I would date cis-men and just suppress it. I know that sounds terrible, but it worked and it let me come to terms with it on my own time.
Did you know any queer women/men growing up to help you understand how you were feeling?
I grew up in a small town and was always surrounded by heterosexual* cis people. There was truly no one I could reach out to that understood what I was feeling. I clandestinely looked up to Saba Taj through their Instagram. I love them!
*Heterosexual: being attracted to the opposite sex.
Did you struggle with your faith because of your sexuality? Vice versa? It must’ve been like an internal battle between your Islamic beliefs and being queer.
It has always been a power struggle between either being Muslim or being queer. For a very long time, I felt as though I had to pick between the two. Thankfully, I met so many other queer Muslims, and I’m able to talk to them about the struggle of balancing faith and sexuality. But at the end of the day, I am both queer and Muslim and that’s that.
However, the Muslim community is widely known for being against gay folks, and there’s a strong sense of homophobia as well. Considering [the fact that] not too many people know back home [that I’m queer], it’s pretty easy to sit through conversations with aunties while they hype up their sons for 25 minutes begging for you to meet him. That I can deal with. On campus, my MSA (Muslim Student Association) is super inclusive. In general, I try to avoid mosques [because] they don’t vibe well with me and a lot of the mosques in my area are super segregated and I find that they are not women or queer friendly. I don’t want to say I’ve felt like an outsider (yet), but I know that if I don’t end up with a cis male my masjid (mosque) and my family are going to have a lot to talk about.
Some people might say that it is ‘hypocritical’ or ‘contradictory’ that you proudly call yourself a Muslim and wear the hijab but identify as queer since “Islam hates gay people”. What do you say to people who think that?
*Note: Dalia no longer wears the hijab, but this is still important as there are queer folks who do wear the hijab on a regular basis.
Islam itself doesn’t hate gay people. The cultures and people who have accepted Islam [as a religion that hates the gay community] are homophobic, they are the ones that are twisting Islam to fit their own convoluted beliefs. I constantly hear statements that just come from a place of misunderstanding and false information. If I’m in the state that I’m willing to explain I will, but also doing that is- I’ve found- emotionally draining and taxing. You don’t have to defend and explain your existence. If you want answers to your questions Venmo or PayPal me.
It was around 9th grade that I was exposed to slam poetry and I fell in love. I was already writing poetry but to be able to perform it allows it to become more personal. The first time I performed, everyone hyped me up so much and it just warmed my heart. The [slam poetry] community are supportive and so inclusive. Albeit it was truly a nightmare [growing up half Egyptian and half Polish in America] for the most part but a giant positive is that a ton of my slam poetry has been written about mixed kid feels. Oh and the food, the food is so good, wow.
Lastly, what advice do you have for other queer Muslims who is struggling with their faith and sexuality?
Don’t ever feel like you have to prove how ‘religious’ you are to anyone. That is between you and Allah. That is your relationship with Allah. No one, genuinely no one, can tell you that you’re haram (sinful) or that you’re practicing Islam incorrectly. But also have fun! There’s so much to learn and even more to see.
Although Dalia has so many identities that seems so different from one another, and sometimes clashes into each other, they all unite together in a beautiful harmony. They are so much more than just their sexuality, mixed heritage and sexuality. At the end of the day, Dalia is a teenager trying to figure out the rest of herself as each day goes by with a pencil in one hand and a notebook full of poetry in the other. Just like the rest of us.