Essay: The Queer Feminist Future I Want

On the Inauguration of 3 Women in 2050

Image via BBC

January 20, 2050

Three women are about to be inaugurated.

The women got to know each other in 2015 on a social media app called Twitter after a feminist they followed posted a series of tweets on Born in Flames, an underground queer anarchist feminist film in which women use direct action to fight for women’s rights.

Donya Zaki is sixty and is about to become Egypt’s first woman president.

Areej Mohamed, fifty-five, is about to become Saudi Arabia’s first woman mufti.

Octavia Hernandez, fifty-three, is about to become the first Black trans woman president of the Unity States of America. She is third consecutive woman elected to the White House, having just beaten Chelsea Clinton,70, in a primary. 

Americans had at long last become fed up with political dynasties, and as a reminder of patriarchy’s long shelf life, a seventy-year-old woman was considered too old to be president.

Donya, Areej, and Octavia had all determined that their inaugurations would occur on the same day to honor the solidarity that had kept them going since they first met on Twitter.

Not only was Donya about to become Egypt’s first woman president; she was also openly bisexual and a poet, the perfect antidote to decades of hypermasculine Egyptian politics. Donya had enthusiastically joined the 2011 revolution but was quickly frustrated with how male-centric it had become. She watched in horror as it turned into a game of political musical chairs between the military and the political Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It was the first openly queer feminist revolution in the world and it was glorious.

Her queerness became central to her activism in 2017 when the Egyptian regime under the leadership of former army chief Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in 2017 carried out an unprecedented crackdown on Egypt’s LGBTQ community. The wave of arrests and raids began after gay-pride rainbow flags were flown at a concert by a Lebanese indie-rock band, Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer, Hamed Sinno, was openly gay. The authorities arrested more than 65 people, mostly gay men.

A young woman called Sarah Hegazi was among those arrested, jailed, and tortured. When she died by suicide in exile in 2020, she became a revolutionary icon for Donya and many other queer Egyptians. As dangerous as it was to be out, Donya became part of an increasingly bold queer community that, much like activists in the run up to the 2011 revolution, organized across social media, where they said “we exist” online until they said it offline. They knew revolutions required feet-on-the-ground courage.

In 2018, Donya’s queer feminism found its home in an underground queer anarcho-feminist movement called Sekhmet’s Sisters. Sekhmet was an ancient Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex. As Donya described her: “First she’d kick your head in, then she’d fuck your brains out.” 

Her movement grew until they had cells in every corner of Egypt and were powerful enough to walk into every police station and army barracks and take them over. It was the first openly queer feminist revolution in the world and it was glorious.

Her first presidential decree was to build monuments in every Egyptian city to the Revolutionary Sisters, to honor the courage of women who had exposed the so-called virginity tests the military had subjected them to in March 2011. And a statue for Sarah, of course. 

“First she’d kick your head in, then she’d fuck your brains out.” 

Areej was an atheist but had agreed to accept the post of first woman mufti of Saudi Arabia because she still believed in change from within. When she was seven, one of her cousins, Maha, died in a fire after “morality police” refused to let her and her schoolmates out of their burning school building because the girls weren’t wearing headscarves and abayas that had been obligatory for women and girls in Saudi Arabia in public. Nobody would tell Areej what happened to Maha, but by 2018 she had figured it out and joined Khadija’s Daughters Brigades, an underground radical feminist movement, which social media helped her find and connect with. The movement included Saudi women as well as migrant domestic workers in recognition of the importance of intersectionality everywhere.

In 2018 membership in the underground brigade soared after the favorite son of the new king ordered the detention and torture of women’s rights activists just before he lifted the world’s only ban on women driving. Feminists had long campaigned for the end of not just the driving ban but more importantly the guardianship system, the very foundation of patriarchy in Saudi Arabia by which women are rendered perpetual minors who require the signature of a male guardian to do many basic things.

It was not lost on Areej and her comrades in Khadijah’s Daughters Brigade that it took the murder of a man and not fifteen schoolgirls to get the world’s attention.

For years Khadijah’s Daughters Brigades had been underground and obscure, and were reconciled to forever remaining that way because who cared about women’s rights when the kingdom sat on the world’s largest oil reserves and spent billions on arms from the most powerful country in the world? And then a male journalist who was mildly critical of the Saudi regime after having once been a royal insider was murdered and dismembered at the order of the crown prince, it was believed. And finally the world paid attention.

It was not lost on Areej and her comrades in Khadijah’s Daughters Brigade that it took the murder of a man and not fifteen schoolgirls to get the world’s attention.

The brigade took advantage of the subsequent royal family’s caution and defensiveness to launch determined and increasingly audacious civil disobedience. 

They were emboldened by the Saudi regime’s increasing use of “terrorism courts” to try and convict feminists and their allies. It was a sure sign of just how much the Saudi patriarchy feared feminism. 

Within a few years, Khadijah’s Daughters Brigades had overthrown the Saudi royal family and the zealous clerics who helped bolster them. A parliamentary democracy was established in the kingdom, and the coalition government asked Areej to become mufti because they understood that once Saudi Arabia turned feminist, it would turn every Muslim-majority country upside down.

One of Areej’s first fatwas was to allow women to have multiple spouses—feminism and polyamory at once—not bad.

It was a sure sign of just how much the Saudi patriarchy feared feminism. 

Get 7 Necessary Sins for Women and Girls

Octavia was making history too: she was the first Black trans woman to be elected president. Her  lessons in front-line feminism blossomed thanks both to her friendship with Donya and Areej, through whom she understood how her country’s successive administrations had helped prop up authoritarian regimes, and thanks to what was happening at home.

Her hero was Andrea Jenkins, who made history in 2017 as the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the United States, when she won her race for the Minneapolis City Council.

When she was asked, “Why do women fight feminism?” she would quote Octavia Butler, the author of speculative fiction she was named after: “Drowning people sometimes die fighting their rescuers.”

When Republicans pushed increasing numbers of anti-trans bills across the country, all aimed at maximum cruelty against her community, she determined: the United States of America will have a Black trans woman for president.

Perhaps most radical of all: she abolished prisons, police, and borders, and made the United States of America a sanctuary country for refugees. She had vowed to abolish the military too but that was proving harder for Americans to accept. 

Why so many women presidents in the US? Thank you, Donald Trump and the racist religious zealots who had elected him in 2016. While Donya fought the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Octavia fought the white Christian Brotherhood in the US, which considered women walking incubators whose wombs were more regulated than guns. She was enraged at the white women voters who voted for Trump. Mona Eltahawy, the feminist who Octavia, Donya, and Areej followed, called such women foot soldiers of the patriarchy. 

When she was asked, “Why do women fight feminism?” Octavia would quote Octavia Butler, the author of speculative fiction she was named after: “Drowning people sometimes die fighting their rescuers.”

In 2018 Octavia’s American Muslim friends told her their mosque had been firebombed by a white supremacist. They were lucky—they had left the building just hours earlier. And then Trump banned Muslims from six countries from entering the US.

And then Octavia’s cousins and friends and schoolmates started disappearing because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents picked them up at work, at clinics, at schools, and even in courtrooms where they were testifying against abusive spouses. When she heard that a seven-year-old girl from Guatemala had died of dehydration and shock after she was detained by agents while crossing the border in 2018, Octavia joined a movement to dismantle the fascist service ICE.

At the end of their inaugurations, the three women shouted the same declaration: Fuck the global patriarchy!

The Global Pandemic of 2021 had functioned like a fast forward button on her activism settings. She watched politicians and billionaires claim over and over again that “going back to normal” was the best way to recover. Regression must never be confused for progression, she would often say, and she vowed to fight to ensure that all the injustices of “normal” that had disproportionality ravaged Black, Indigenous, and people of colour as well as elders and disabled people, would be seen as the “abnormal” that benefited only white, wealthy, able men.

One of Octavia’s first decrees was to make public the Harriet Tubman Underground Feminist Railroad. The three friends had launched the network in 2020 to offer feminist aid—be it to whisk away girls in danger of forced marriage or to help those in need of a safe abortion or those who needed shelter from both ICE and abusive men. 

At the end of their inaugurations, the three women shouted the same declaration: Fuck the global patriarchy! Of course.

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Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2105) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. It is now available in Ireland and the UK. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.  

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