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These trans exes went on national TV to air their dirty laundry and help queer kids being ‘vilified’

Reiss Smith March 15, 2020
Eating With My Ex: Claudia and Asifa Lahore air their dirty laundry on TV

Claudia and Asifa Lahore have recently gone into business together with their jewellery line, Exotic Jewels. (Claudia and Asifa Lahore)

Asifa Lahore is Britain’s first Muslim drag queen, a trans woman, and one of the most prominent queer Asians in the country. Claudia Lahore is a make-up artist, jewellery designer, fellow drag performer and Asifa’s ex.

The once-couple recently went on the BBC Three show Eating With My Ex to, as Claudia puts it, “air their dirty laundry”.

At the time of filming Eating With My Ex, Claudia was early on in her journey of coming out as a trans woman, something she told Asifa about at the dinner table.

Over a three-course meal, the pair discussed how they helped each other survive years of homophobic bullying at school, and how their brief romance developed into a life-long friendship – one that both say has become even more open and intimate since the Eating With My Ex episode aired.

After giving the nation an insight into their lives, PinkNews caught up with Claudia and Asifa as they took a moment to reflect on their journeys together.

Asifa: It was my idea to go on Eating With My Ex. There were a lot of questions that remained unanswered from when we first were together at secondary school. Since then we’ve forged a friendship that’s lasted 23 years, I consider you my soul mate and best friend, but there were things that I wanted to address.

Claudia: I hadn’t planned to go on national television to discuss my trans identity. But 2019 was the year people were discussing it more and more.

I just thought while I was sat there – I kid you not, it was between the prawn dish and the main course – that I thought I can do this. I will do this.

Asifa: I’ll be honest, I was really surpassed that you came out during filming because it was so early on in your journey. And I thought it was a very brave thing to do.”

Claudia: I hadn’t planned to pronounce my trans identity to the world, but of course I’ve always known. I can pinpoint it back to when I was four years old. I didn’t have the words for it until I was 12 and Dana International won Eurovision [Dana, a trans woman, won the competition in 1998].

But for various reasons, my gender identity was pushed back for many years. We went to an all boys school, and because we were quite effeminate, we were vilified. When you have a school of 400 boys calling you gay, you start to believe, OK I am a boy. I am effeminate. I like boys. So perhaps I am gay.

Asifa: Because we’re both from minority communities – I’m British Asian, Claudia is from a Portuguese-speaking community – it’s not like we could we could have gone back home and told our parents about it, that would have opened up a whole can of worms.

Claudia: Every time I’d open my mouth in class, the room would erupt with “batty boy, chi chi man”. We were threatened with stabbings, we were victims of physical abuse. The teachers would do nothing, but we couldn’t tell our families what was happening. So we suffered in silence.

Had our teachers been able to support us and say, ‘No you shouldn’t’ be bullied, no, this isn’t right’, I don’t think I would have struggled for as long as I did.

Asifa: We were very much victims of Section 28. It held us back from living our authentic lives for many years after we’d left school.

Claudia: We suffered in silence. Had our teachers been able to support us and say, ‘No you shouldn’t’ t be bullied, no, this isn’t right”, I don’t think I would have struggled for as long as I did. There was a huge element of shame and I worried after our experiences, if I accepted my true identity as a trans woman would I live a life of constant harassment?

When we filmed the show, the school protests were happening in places like Birmingham, and there was this feeling of history repeating itself.

Asifa: I think we really would have benefited from the LGBT-inclusive curriculum that’s coming in. In the Muslim-Asian community two things are really highly valued: education and your faith, your culture. Had I known through education that it was OK to be different, it was OK to identify how you want to identify, that there were different family structures, then I could have been bolder in coming out as a queer Muslim much, much earlier.

Claudia: I remember going to college and university and having this sense of, OK I’m gay, but what am I? By this point we weren’t really talking, and when I look back at it I think this is where my gender dysphoria really started to kick in. I was every single gay in the village people, I would go to lectures in feather boas, as Pocahontas, I felt I had to try on every glove to see what fitted.

Asifa: I used to think I was the only queer Muslim in the entire world. It’s only when I met other people like myself that I realised there are thousands and millions more of us. Racism is rife within the LGBT+ scene, as is anti-faith rhetoric.

One of the reasons we wanted to do the show was to show that being queer isn’t just about being a twinky little white boy.

People have different experiences of being LGBT+, there are so many intersections of queer identities. But for us, in our first experiences on the scene we felt we had to diminish our cultures.

Claudia: We are so privileged to live in a time where we’re able to discuss things like gender norms not working for people. I really hope that GRA [Gender Recognition Act] reforms do come into law and that non-binary people are acknowledged by law. And all trans people know their own bodies, we shouldn’t have to provide a medical certificate to say, ‘This is who I am’. It’s an element of freedom.

We are all very different but the thing that links us together is our differences. We need to create a level playing field where everyone can be free to express themselves without fear of retribution, for being too gay, not gay enough, too trans or not trans enough.

I’m not saying let’s hold hands down Old Compton Street, but let’s be kind to each other. It’s great that people like myself and Asifa can go on television and share our story, but it needs to permeate through society so that people realise these are experiences that aren’y just shared by two trans women. They are experiences experienced by many. It’s this sort of chance that can prevent Section 28 from happening again.

Eating With My Ex season 2 is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. Asifa and Claudia Lahore’s Exotic Jewels can be found here.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

More: Asifa Lahore, Claudia Lahore, Eating With My Ex, GRA Reform, Section 28

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