Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen by Amrou Al-Kadhi

As part of my Pride Month reading this year, I tried to pick up books that would help me learn about the diverse experiences of LGBTQ+ people beyond the margins of white, cisgender America. Amrou Al-Kadhi [they/them] expertly does just so in their memoir, Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen. This lavish and raw autobiography renders a refreshing peek into the life of a queer Iraqi-British Muslim drag queen- an intersectional identity that demands the careful and nuanced representation Al-Kadhi offers in their memoir. 

In their beautifully written story, Al-Kadhi, or Glamrou as they are known on stage, is a stunning example of the self-expression and self-exploration drag allows. Raised in a socially-conservative, religious household, Al-Kadhi was instilled early on with a torturously rigid sense of shame and self worth. Their journey outlines the beauty and freedom they experienced as a child, as well as the connection they felt to their mother and the world she created for them. “My mother’s middle east was one I felt safe in,” they lovingly recall. 

As they grew through their adolescence, though, they became painfully aware of the Middle East and Islam’s perspective on homosexuality and gender-noncomformity. It would take years of cultural healing and rediscovery for Al-Kadhi to feel connected to their family, heritage, and religion. While simultaneously mending the pain of the past and celebrating a mergence of femininity and faith, it was ultimately through drag that they finally felt at home in both their queerness and their culture. 

Unicorn is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Beyond Al-Kadhi’s personal narrative of self-acceptance and perseverance, the story is heavy with complex understanding of how culture and faith belong to a people, not an individual. Al-Kadhi’s revelations of gender, sexuality, and belonging are inspiring and beautifully rendered. 

I would sincerely recommend this to anyone hoping to immerse themselves in a piece of nonfiction, at the heart of which is a story of the human search for acceptance and home.  

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson is the memoir of a young woman who makes the life-changing decision to abandon atheism and convert to Islam.  After being offered a teaching position at the Language School, Wilson moves to Cairo, Egypt, where she experiences what it is really like to be a Muslim woman in a Middle Eastern country.  Here she quickly discovers that she must learn all over again how to do simple things like greet someone and shop for groceries.  Her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Omar, who defies the stereotypes of Muslim men she has always heard about.  As Omar teaches Willow how to get by in this new environment, the two fall in love and embark upon a new journey where two cultures come together and learn to relate to one another.

I absolutely loved this book.  I was a Religion major in college, so I had a little background knowledge of Islam, but I learned so much more about it from reading an actual Muslim woman’s perspective.  It was incredibly enlightening to learn about what it’s like for a real Muslim woman in the Middle East, rather than just focusing on the often sad images we see on the news.  Despite being in a place so different from where we live, the story is still relatable, and the author takes care to always explain Arabic words and cultural concepts to the reader.  If you’re interested in learning about about Islam but want something that reads like a novel rather than a textbook, I highly recommend The Butterfly Mosque.