Sahq: Queer Femme Futures 

Mejdulene B. Shomali
Mejdulene B. Shomali is a Queer Palestinian poet and Associate Professor in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County.

Mejdulene B. Shomali is a Queer Palestinian poet and Associate Professor in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. 

As part of the last installment of the Spring AADS Speaker Series on March 1, 2024, Shomali presented “Sahq: Queer Femme Futures.” 

Named after the last chapter of her recently published 2023 book, Between Banat, “Sahq: Queer Femme Futures,” seeks to study literature, film and art by and for Arab women to locate queer Arab women and imagine queer Arab futures.  

Shomali began the talk first by “bringing Palestine into the room…today is the 147 day of the genocide campaign against the Palestinian people [with] 30,000 dead, 69,000 wounded, and 8,000 missing and/or presumed dead.” Shomali urged the audience to join the Free Palestine movement through education, direct action, and participation in the Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“Consider your own relationship to genocide,” Shomali ended, “I assure you, our lives are entangled.” 

Shomali then transitioned into her talk by foregrounding the discourses that Arab women have to confront including Orientalism that renders Arab women as always silenced and Arab heteronationalism that links queer identity to Westernization and an inauthentic Arab identity. These discourses render queer Arab identity illegible. 

Queer Arab women at times “do not identify as a Lesbian, may not have coming out stories like in the West and may be in same-sex relationships but don’t name it as such,” Shomali named.  

The inscrutability of the Queer Arab women is where her talk and Between Banat powerfully intervened to locate queer Arab histories, presence, and futurity. 

Shomali first named Queer Arab Critique as a methodology that is distinct from Western articulations of sexuality and that challenges Arab national paradigms and stereotypical modes between women. In its wake, it offers evidence of queer Arab histories by operating in what Shomali called the between: “Between bodies, nations, languages, [Queer Arab Critique] posits Arabness and Queerness as transnational subjects.”   

Queer Arab Critique is not just about positing queer histories and epistemologies for queer subjects. Queer Arab Critique is meant to destabilize the use of identity in nationalist discourses itself, starting with the use of Arab. 

Shomali at length discussed how Queer Arab Critique renders Arab identity as a relational quality, not fixed or essential. Arab identity is always shaped by “Arabic language, geography, and cultural practices and relations between Arab and non-Arab nations,” Shomali said. Shomali detached Arab identity from state identities, enabling Arabness for those who are stateless and whose Arabness stretches across multiple kinds of orders. 

Overall, the talk attempted to intervene “in discourses that obfuscates queer Arab histories and identities and offers strategies to make possible queer Arab futures,” according to Shomali.    

Questions following the event were evocative; audience members asked the utility of masculinity in queer futurity and the limits of a creation of a Queer Arab archive. 

The most urgent of questions, however, came from an undergraduate student, “I know you began this talk foregrounding how we can organize and support ending this genocide and for Palestine liberation but I want to ask, what has supported you the most in this time? What would you say to queer Arab students who are struggling to see a future when there is a genocide happening?” 

Shomali was firm in her response. “Of course care work matters [like] offering to clean their [Palestinian's] house or cooking food or giving them their favorite meal…but I’ll take advocacy and activism over a meal any day,” Shomali concluded.