Performance artist Daaimah Mubashshir balances respect for herself with respect for her family traditions in DiverseWorks’ ‘Come as You Are: Houston!’
by Joyce Gabiola (Photo by Tracy Flynn)
From a quiet Chicago coffeehouse, Texas-born writer and performance artist Daaimah Mubashshir discusses her undefinable self, her work in progress, and growing up queer and Muslim.
But first, her theory on who killed J.R.—I mean Jenny. “I’m not a flaming bitch,” says Mubashshir, comparing herself to The L Word’s most despised character. “On some levels I identified with Jenny, and on other levels, I was repulsed.” In response to my accusation that Mubashshir herself is responsible for Jenny’s death, she says, “I think suicide makes the most sense based on what they gave us. What happened, Aileen [Chaiken, The L Word’s creator]? Why did you go that way?”
Mubashshir is preparing for her upcoming performance in DiverseWorks’ showcase, Come as You Are: Houston! on September 17 and 18. “I’m in the action of writing and in the action of bringing those words to the movement and the movement to the words,” shares Mubashshir, co-founder of Houston’s Queer Arts Collective (QuAC), a multi-gendered, multi-ethnic performing arts collective from the late ’90s. “Come as You Are is a way to come home, bringing all my pieces from Houston together to let it be born there.”
Blake Smith and Grayson Jacobs of DiverseWorks contacted Mubashshir about Come as You Are. “They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get [a bunch of] people from QuAC to participate?’” Of the former QuACkers, joining Mubashshir is Michael Harren, who is currently based in Brooklyn. “[QuAC] was a group of 20-somethings, so I think everyone just grew into themselves,” she remarks about the troupe’s short-lived existence. “People just grew up. Chicago pulled me away, which is bittersweet, because I loved QuAC.”
Although Mubashshir relocated to pursue formal studies in performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she considers Houston to be her artistic home. She has deep connections to the places in our culturally rich city that exude artistic energy—namely Brasil, the Menil Collection, Rothko Chapel, and, of course, DiverseWorks, which was introduced to her early on. The nonprofit arts center helped to foster her talent and allowed her to creatively express herself as a queer kid trying to find balance within her Muslim family.
In her quest toward gaining a sense of self, Mubashshir came out while still in high school at Jones Vanguard, an honors program tucked away in a ›
neighborhood near Hobby Airport. Upon realizing her queerness and coming out, she confessed she felt awkward and strange while spending time in the corner of the library reading—often avoiding people in general. Discovering her creative ability, Mubashshir attributes her first artistic endeavor to her ninth-grade English teacher, who explained how people come to like reading poetry. “I knew I was a writer,” she recalls.
Observing her talent, another teacher recommended that Mubashshir explore DiverseWorks. “I think they started smelling the queer,” quips Mubashshir. “DiverseWorks is where I was going to find my people . . . because I was not going to find them in the ’hood.” She started volunteering at DiverseWorks. “Loris Bradley just scooped me up. She, I must say, is one of those people that was the glue that made a lot of things make sense for me. I’m very grateful for that. There was all this crazy energy I didn’t know what to do with.”
Mubashshir seems to have a better grip on crazy energy these days. She is in tune to herself and her audience. “I think of the audience as a being with whom I’m having a conversation. Sometimes I have to put the audience way out of my brain. I think it’s very important. My work is not just about me at all. Just like an insurance salesman, they’re not doing the numbers by themselves. It’s the same for me; I’m just using a different language. This is my work, and I believe the people around me are a part of that, because I’m talking about being a human being. It’s much like a relationship. Where there’s love, there’s hate—and all sorts of things going on.”
Perhaps the most important relationship we have growing up is the one we share with our parents. We tend to crave their approval. Although Mubashshir’s family has seen and is supportive of her video work, they have not seen her on stage. “The Islamic in me, and the queer—we’re trying to figure out if [any mention of my family is] going to be in the show.”
Although her family is accepting of her being queer, they had a hard time at first. “I grew up in a very strict Sunni Muslim household. I came out in this way that was demanding. That’s what I knew at the time. Sometimes you have to be confrontational. I brought a lot of angst to the table, and a lot of times, I wasn’t kind. Moving to Chicago, branching out, growing up in art school, and being in the city really showed me that coming out of the closet wasn’t indicative of who I actually am. And so I’ve made peace with all of this.”
Mubashshir was able to have a relationship with her father for eight years, which “was full of love,” before he passed away. “Having unconditional love fostered me faster than my demanding they accept me,” she says. Mubashshir’s mother is willing to come to the show, but “if there’ll be things that are racy, we’ll probably tape it so she can see it later. I want to do things on her terms sometimes.”
When anyone ever attempts to engage Mubashshir in conversation about how her spirituality informs her sexuality, and vice versa, she shoots them down. She describes her Come as You Are performance as “a return to investigating the spirituality of Islam. In order to be queer, I stepped away from being Muslim. This performance is opening the door to finally having this conversation.”
So come as you are, Houston. The door is wide open.
Come as You Are: Houston!
Come as You Are is a national project, originally created and produced by The Theater Offensive in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and inspired by the Stonewall Riots. The purpose is to entertain, of course, but more specifically it aims to explore queer sex and sexuality with regard to diversity and morality.
A handful of individual artists and performance troupes are featured in the two-day showcase at DiverseWorks, including:
• The Gendermyn, Houston’s very own gender-bending performance troupe in existence since 2006, as always, reconstructs traditional notions of gender and sexuality and makes you go Hmm. . . .Through performance, the G-myn advocate for social justice. They are comedic, clever, sometimes acrobatic, and 100 percent entertaining.
• Michael Harren, an actor, writer, and musician based in Brooklyn, shares a story of two sexual encounters through spoken word, video, and original music.
• Artist Daniel-kayne and singer/songwriter Michael Clay performs a duet entitled Infinite Love, a romantic tragedy of two men who fall in love and are torn apart by war.
• Artist Julia Claire Wallace gives the audience the opportunity to be applauded for their sexual achievements as part of her performance piece, Be F–king Proud of Yourself. —J.G.
What: Come As You Are: Houston!
When: September 17 & 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway
Tickets: $5 (713/335-3445)
Joyce Gabiola is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.