Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen

Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen

by Amrou Al-Kadhi

4 out of 5

Synopsis
From a god-fearing Muslim boy enraptured with their mother, to a vocal, queer drag queen estranged from their family, this is a heart-breaking and hilarious memoir about the author’s fight to be true to themself

My name is Amrou Al-Kadhi – by day. By night, I am Glamrou, an empowered, fearless and acerbic drag queen who wears seven-inch heels and says the things that nobody else dares to.

Growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, it didn’t take long for me to realise I was different. When I was ten years old, I announced to my family that I was in love with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The resultant fallout might best be described as something like the Iraqi version of Jerry Springer: The Opera. And that was just the beginning.

This is the story of how I got from there to here: about my teenage obsession with marine biology, and how fluid aquatic life helped me understand my non-binary gender identity; about my two-year scholarship at Eton college, during which I wondered if I could forge a new identity as a British aristocrat (spoiler alert: it didn’t work); about discovering the transformative powers of drag while at university (and how I very nearly lost my mind after I left); and about how, after years of rage towards it, I finally began to understand Islam in a new, queer way.

Most of all, this is a book about my mother. It’s the journey of how we lost and found each other, about forgiveness, understanding, hope – and the life-long search for belonging.



Review
Before he ever dreams of performing drag, Amrou has to survive the isolating life of being different.

I received a free copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.


This follows the story of Amrou, a boy who was born in the UK, raised in Iraq, before going to school in London, and can't understand why he doesn't fit in with his father and twin brother, in the strict gender identities imposed by the Muslim community.

Amrou would rather spend time with his glamorous mother, and is entranced by how only art can overcome the normal gender expectations.
Growing up, he has to internalise his gender dysphoria, and attraction to other boys, as it has been made clear that being different is a sin, and he will bring great unhappiness to Allah and his family. This is all compounded by his painfully-self-destructive OCD and anxiety. No matter the outward appearance, of an obedient Muslim son, or a out-and-proud gay man; inwardly there is constant punishment and guilt and doubt.

Amrou's unflinching autobiography is written by someone who is clearly intelligent, and with a good sense of humour. He explains quantum physics and aquarium care with the same openness and ease as Ru Paul and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Even as he makes his way and starts to establish his own identity as a gay man and drag sensation, Amrou admits that he isn't perfect. He makes mistakes along the way, sometime hurting friends, but mostly hurting himself.

Despite being judged constantly by everyone around him, Amrou rarely judges others. He accepts their prejudices, the varying levels of racism and homophobic comments. Perhaps because he doesn't know any better, after being brought up to think that he is the faulty individual; or because these people are just people. They are flawed, ignorant, and rude, but they aren't bad;people. It's a very sorry reflection on what is still socially-accepted, in the modern UK.


I don't read many memoirs, but I enjoyed this one.

The author isn't a fabulously smooth writer, and their stories do jump about a bit. It's not always the easiest book to delve into, but I liked how it was styled as Amrou telling the stories of his life with self-deprecation and humour, despite the depressing content.

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