Photography winner of the 2021 Writing in the Margins contest


Three years later, the same tea brews on the stovetop. Smells of cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves flow through the house. The news plays on the TV, an endless loop of the latest updates on the pandemic. There are oranges. Oranges served on an endless platter, reminding me of the orange orchards we own in Pakistan. Endless whispers infiltrate the walls, echoing the privacy of a home and the privacy of a mind.

Three years after leaving my family’s home and leaving the double life I was living as a closeted queer Muslim teen, I moved back. During this time, I found myself experiencing many conflicting emotions that I couldn’t begin to express or dissect for myself.

I photographed myself in various areas of the house in black and white and wrote quotes and added drawings over them. Words that have been spoken to me hundreds of times, and the responses I’ve endlessly repeated to myself. “What would people say?” – “logh kya kahenge” – quietly ricochets off the walls every time a misstep occurs. Constantly being confronted with my queerness as a sin. In one of the images I have Surat Lot, a passage from the Qur’an, written on my palms with henna. This passage is often quoted to me in the comments to my online posts as a means for some Muslims to justify their homophobia. In other images, I showcase more intimate occasions of alienation: seeking a small moment of peace in the privacy of a washroom and still not finding it, or the feeling of guilt for not spending enough time with my parents.

With this series, I explore how my relationship with religion, family, and my own queer identity has grown and has manifested in the atmosphere of our home. These self-portraits reflect my journey into navigating and understanding an environment I am no longer familiar with.

This photo-essay was the winner of the photography category of our 11th annual Writing in the Margins contest, judged by Jeff Bierk. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) for this year’s contest. 

Bisma Jay is a queer multimedia artist based in Toronto. Their work aims to create more positive representation of queer and trans South Asians living in the diaspora. In their spare time they like to make videos for TikTok, paint, and take endless self-portraits.

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