What does “queer” mean to you?
I’ve battled a lot with accepting the term queer as part of my identity because of its historical use and definition of labeling people freakish, odd, or unnatural. Though I gladly embrace my freakish ways, I’d be lying to say it’s not something that I still sit with, toggling between the umbrella-term queer and just saying I’m a lesbian. For me, queer is “all of the above” – in preference; bending against the norm and embracing sexual fluidity. I may be hella wrong but these are the words and colors that come to mind.
How do you identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum? Do you have preferred gender pronouns?
I identify as lesbian/Queer with She/Her PGPs. —I know, what a basic bitch, lol.
What other personal identities describe you and how do they intersect with being Black and queer?
Ah, well, [my] Muslim identity has been drowning and resurfacing for over a decade. I think for now, I am sitting with [former] Muslim or “raised Muslim” as it relates to my experience growing up in Islam as a queer/lesbian black girl and how I experience the world. It was once the most difficult set of eyes to see through and explain visually to my brain how I saw and lived, and now those crossing lines provide me the most clarity I’ve had in obtaining interconnectedness.
What obstacles have you overcome in developing your queer identity(s)?
Employment discrimination, religious persecution, suicide, depression, substance abuse, homelessness, self-hate. This was actually a big process of not just developing, but 1. understanding, 2. accepting and 3. finding pride and love in the queer but also my black identity. I don’t know any black child that didn’t feel self-hate. I mean [that I don’t] personally know. Having moments of wishing you were white, or fair skinned, or had colored eyes, or lived in suburbs with white folks, or at least had white friends that ‘accepted’ your friendship. Shit, it ran so deep for so many people I knew including myself. The process of loving my black and understanding WHY I hated it in the first place – why I was angry about it in the first place – was the biggest and hardest journey of them all. Harder than anything. It made loving my “homosexuality” a much smaller but partnered hurdle.
What is your cultural background and how has it influenced your queer identity(s)?
I was raised in this hybridity of Sunni Islam and Black American culture in Brooklyn and Long Island New York. This multiple of faces but no true features and identity life. This colorful but no rainbow sort of existence. We listened to Tupac and Lauryn Hill and Destiny’s Child but also nasheeds and made salah and wore hijab while playing ball or skateboarding. Reciting surahs in my head while cussin’ a nigga out…though of course we weren’t allowed to say “nigga” or “stupid” or “shut up”, lol. This being Black but not feeling Black enough ran deep. When I started to realize my sexual attraction to girls and women, those layers added on to this feeling of isolation and otherness and I knew like HELL I was not going to be gay! Haha. Though I would like to say I grew up in a pretty liberal house, Islamically my upbringing was pretty conservative in many ways…at least for my current tastes. I knew that there was no place for me in my neighborhood or community to be gay. Just no. So I was closeted and full of rage for a long time. In high school was when I started to connect the experience of islamaphobia to homophobia, which ultimately opened emotional doors for healing in a way.
What is your love style (i.e. monogamous, poly, solo, etc.) and how do relationships take shape for you?
I was [in] a poly-hopeful, free-spirited, open-lover type of living for a short stint but am currently monogamous in my relationship. When you fall madly in love with someone, there is no space for splicing in other people or taking on any of their shit. And when I say “you”, I mean me.
How have your experiences with family impacted you? How have you created family for yourself?
I love my family a lot. My family was my greatest love and heartbreak. They taught me how to not love my children, siblings, or any intentional family I create or build with others. I am speaking about my immediate family, not my wonderful grandparents who have continued to hold me down and teach me love, nor other relatives I was not directly raised with. That’s all I’ll say on that.
What role has spirituality/religion played in your life?
Religion: a defining but fucked up role. It’s a love/hate thing. I aim to be and remain in touch with the energy and spirit of my ancestors, the natural world and my own light. The rest is a boxing ring.
How do you experience everyday life as a queer Black person?
It’s sexy, I like it. Really, this is the most love I’ve ever felt for myself and all of my different layers the world actively tries to silence and destroy. I experience it with love, fear, sadness, hope, sexiness. In so many different ways, I am getting better and better at knowing how to survive…I just hope that’s a good thing? The police hostility and being watched in stores and horrible service and bouts of depression from hateful language and violence I see and feel US experiencing…is managed with this ever growing pride of love for me and Black people. And poor people. And people without degrees. And Black Trans women. And even musicians who can’t sing, lol.
What I’m saying is…I hit the ceiling of fake peace and came back rageful, still empty. Still hating myself when I had sung these songs of peace and love and still got treated like shit. Still saw my people bad-mouthed by the same white liberals who bathed me in praise and bought my albums. Now I am accepting the shoes I’ve been born into and I will do all the fucking work I need to in them. And love them. Because they fit my perfect queer black feet. Now my experience of me, in the world, is better because now — I love my people. They are me and so I love myself. Finally.
What do you consider to be your personal and/or professional successes?
Let me say first that I used to measure my success by the number of white folks who believed in my music and supported my message. Legit. I seriously once thought to myself, “Yay! They finally understand my feelings, my pain around racism & sexism & police violence. Now they see that my love is valid and my hurt is valid. I am human, see?” This wasn’t intentional but it was definitely happening inside.
Now I measure my success by how much I love my people and love myself; how much music I put out in hopes of spreading love and positive rageful awakening and social consciousness to all types of people. I measure by how much this love grows because THAT is what changes hearts. Love.
No, not the cliché bullshit love I’ve been told to feel for those who hate me or show apathy to the distress of oppressed people, but the love of people who have been hated. Who I have hated. Love for the young lesbian Laila who hated herself and wanted to die because of it. Every young black child across the world facing the battle of self-hate because of systemic racism and imperialist, white-supremacist patriarchy. I will continue to tour and jam and write for it. I’ve turned my energy more inward and hope that people, white or black, will still feel me. This is who I am and it’s all I’ve got. I am living my success.
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