Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
LGBTQIA+ Gender & Identity Music Pop Culture

How Janelle Monae’s ‘Dirty Computer’ helped me come out to the world

Let me tell you the story of how Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer literally helped me come out. 

“[Redacted] takes her straight (unless you have something to tell me) friends to Pride.” 

When I saw the name of the group chat my best friend had added me to organize a group of us “straight friends” to accompany her to Pride the summer after my sophomore year of college, I knew I had a decision to make.

I had first thought that I was maybe bisexual in late middle school or early high school – but I hadn’t had an oh shit, I’m definitely queer moment until I was surrounded by people who were openly queer and comfortable in who they were in college. Even then, I’d only said the words out loud once or twice, preferring to stay in the safer space of being a slightly too enthusiastic “ally” to the queer community on campus.

I knew I had a decision to make.

After mulling it over, I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and typed out a message to my friend: “Lol ok so…” 

It was one of the best decisions I’ve made – having someone else to talk to about being both queer and Asian helped me find power in the intersection of my identities instead of conflict. Coming out to the rest of my close friends was easier after that. But I still wasn’t out out, and definitely not to the Muslim community. I had loosely toyed with the idea of coming out around graduation but hadn’t given it much actual thought.

That changed after I met Mohammed Ramzan, a fellow student who started as a freshman at Northwestern my junior year. Mohammed was loving, exuberant, intensely curious, and proudly Muslim. He was the first openly queer Muslim I’d met, and I found myself wondering why I was so afraid.

Being Muslim and being queer weren’t just not contradictory identities – they were complementary. They gave him a level of empathy for the oppressed and motivation to answer Qur’anic calls to strive for justice that was unparalleled. When he was taken from us in a rowing accident after just a few short months of our knowing him, I promised myself – for Mohammed, for myself, for my community – I was committing to coming out.

“Serendipity” is a funny word. It’s also exactly what I felt was at play when, in the spring of my senior year, just before my self-imposed deadline, Janelle Monáe dropped her iconic “emotion picture” album, Dirty Computer.

Monáe’s music had hinted at her queerness for quite some time, but her unabashedly sweet crooning about the raw power of vaginas on the album in songs like “Pynk” and “Django Jane” and her “Make Me Feel” video celebrating bisexuality left no room for questions.

I cried my eyes out watching Dirty Computer. Seeing Monáe boldly proclaim her Blackness and her queerness gave me the jolt I was waiting for. Listening to “Crazy, Classic, Life,” it felt like the burden of the many hyphens in my identity was weighing on me. Seeing friends I hadn’t come out to yet losing it over the energy of the album further pushed that weight damn near the verge of exploding out of my throat.

I finally did the thing and slipped my bisexuality in the middle of a Facebook post about my upcoming thesis poster presentation about a month after the album’s release.

Later that summer, I went to Monáe’s Chicago show, feeling immeasurably affirmed as she once again reiterated her messages of queerness being a central code in our makeup, and the pride we should take in being “dirty computers” in a country with leadership dead-set on viewing our identities as a “virus.”

Two years later, I once again find myself on a precipice.

I thought of Mohammed again and his firm belief that Allah makes no mistakes. No computer viruses, no mistakes – I came home and came out to a few cousins, and eventually my sisters.

Two years later, I once again find myself on a precipice.

I’m out to all the most meaningful people in my life, except for a few notable ones, including my parents. I sit next to them every night as we watch the news and listen to how our government is once again attacking the LGBTQIA+ community, which is particularly dangerous for my trans loved ones.

I talk to my dad about how we’re in the middle of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting BIPOC, as the Black community rises up across the country to dismantle white supremacist institutions that have no regard for the humanity of queer people, in particular Black trans folks.

And I know that even as I have these conversations with my parents – who have been understanding and accepting of every point I’ve made so far – that I am not being entirely truthful because I am treating these discussions as hypotheticals, rather than as personal to me.

I’m, as Monáe sings, “So Afraid” – of hurting them, of losing them. But I’m also afraid now, more than anything else, of not honoring them by being my full self with them. I owe that to them more in this political moment than ever before.

So this strange yet momentous Pride – what was meant to be my fifth as a proudly queer, clinically depressed, Bangladeshi-Muslim-American woman – I’m removing the final layer of my privacy settings and publicly stating for the record: I am bisexual.

And I’m ready to fight for my communities and those of my loved ones.

I’m listening to Dirty Computer while I’m writing, actually – it’s taken four and a half loops through it to figure out exactly what I’ve been trying to say and how I want to say it because I’ve never fully taken ownership of my identity and written something about it with my name on it.

It’s terrifying because I know as soon as my editors hit “Publish” on this piece, it’s going to be out there, and there’s not really any going back from it.

I’m also afraid now, more than anything else, of not honoring them by being my full self with them.

But I also think that’s exactly what this moment in history needs more of: No more going back, just reckoning and honesty and difficult conversations, over and over, until we build anew. We’ll make mistakes – many of them.

But as Monáe herself says: “We need to go through this. Together… I’m going to make you empathize with dirty computers all around the world.”

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!


Why does the #resistance hate femmes?

In a recent appearance perhaps doomed for casual bigotry on Real Time with [known racist and Islamophobe] Bill Maher, Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proudly announces a one-liner For The People. “[Trump] really is the rare combination of an 8-year-old boy—” Kerry redirects his rib, “I mean, he’s got the maturity of an 8-year-old boy, with the insecurity of an 8-year-old girl.”

It seems a simple thing, to mock the erratic behavior of hormone-addled teenagers. Everyone’s heard: boys are wild when they’re young, but girls are more difficult as teenagers. Girls grow boobs and hips, they hysterically discover blood and inner aches pulsing from their new awkward, pimpling limbs. Girls peel away from their parents to chase boys, who hurt their feelings and send them right back their homes in sobbing fits of rage. Girls cut up their T-shirts and hike their dresses up past ‘the fingertip!’ rule. Girls are so, wicked.

Maher, perhaps sensing the potential pushback from his long-aggrieved SJWs, adds, “A ‘mean girl!’” The “mean girl”—a stereotype turned into cultural fact. The pervasive idea of exclusive groups of young girls just looking to inflict pain and fuck boys, creates a window of opportunity from those who hate women and love vulnerable targets. If people actually cared about the cruelty of children, perhaps they would look to address the conditions girls have to grow up under: predation and sexual assault, pedophilic beauty standards that uplift youth, hypersexualization of minorities, life under the ceaseless stress of poverty, the prescribed all-day workday for Millenial and Gen X children, homophobia, depression, anxiety. Perhaps, especially in the case of John Kerry, one might express even the slightest opposition against state murder—the bombing of young girls and women abroad.

The list goes on, but instead the ‘mean girl,’ the silly and crying and utterly unimportant teenager—she is who progressives refer to in their quest to humorously deride Trump.

Teenage girls shouldn’t need to be defended, because there’s nothing wrong with simply aging to 11 years old and (surprise!) continuing to age through adolescence and into adulthood. Numerous responses to Kerry’s not-so-unique comment have pointed out that teenage girls are easy targets, that girls are insecure because of bro-y demonstrations of toxic masculinity like Kerry’s, that teen girls are difficult because their worlds are difficult.

Kerry’s comment is completely normal, because sexism and patriarchy are normal. Even as the #resistance announce and re-announce their opposition to the Trump administration, they reinforce those same systems. One day, “Red Maiden” protests decry Brett Kavanaugh’s personal and professional abuse of women. The next, young girls—who are on their ways to becoming women (if they don’t wither in a constant battle against the world first)—are the butt of a former U.S. official’s joke, on a primetime television show that apparently still runs despite its host’s delight in the n-word. (Why does Bill Maher still have an HBO show?)

“Love Trumps Hate,” but hate is pretty popular. Issues of patriarchy transcend claims to ‘liberal’ or ‘Trump,’ neoliberalism and leftism. Literally any viral tweet criticizing Trump, or even the Right more generally, will lead one to meme after meme of Trump with lipstick, Trump kissing Jeff Sessions, Kavanaugh staring dreamy-eyed at Trump, the progressive favorite—Putin and Trump being girlie and fondling each other. NYT even ran a Bill Plympton animation depicting a hyperfeminine, teen romance-inspired romance between the American and Russian oligarchs, the joke being…being gay. John Paul Brammer points out that this punchline is not even remotely as subversive as liberals appear to believe. Such humor not only reinscribes existing stigma, but is an unapologetic demonstration of stigma.

Emasculation as a strategy against powerful bigots, particularly when employed by other powerful bigots, is only a theater of liberal smarm. With the unfortunate side effect of punching down on queerness and femininity. Trump is not a teen girl, or a child at all. Donald Trump is a 72-year-old wealthy white man, acting like most other wealthy white men. Trump is a direct participant in structural violence against women—undocumented women, low-income women, sick women, queer women, minority women. And so are the so-called #resistance in nearly every attempt to undermine him.

Progressives not being so ‘progressive’ is more of the same. This is what matters: an active commitment to destroying gender hierarchies and protecting queerness— in all of its poor or black or brown or trans or nonbinary or femme facets. Not your stupid, terrible jokes.

Love Life Stories

I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 22 years old

A few months ago, I caught up with a friend I’ve known since I was a teenager. As part of my stream of life updates, I mentioned that I now identify as queer. “Shocker,” they said, straight-faced. “You finally figured out what we’ve all known for years.”

My friend had a point. It should come as a shock to approximately no one that I’m into folks of all genders. I do have short hair, after all. My closest friends since I was thirteen have all been queer or trans. I’ve always identified with and cared about representations of queer women in the media. 

And I’m pretty sure my older brother has known forever. His phone conversations with me in high school always involved the question “So, made out with any cute boys lately?…Or girls! I don’t know!”

Still, it took me until I was about 24 to start calling myself queer. 

In spite of everything, I didn’t feel like I was “queer enough.” Even as I sit down to write this article, part of me doesn’t feel like my personal experience is enough to represent my community. After all, the first girl I ever slept with once accused me of being a “gay tease.” 

She later apologized for making me feel like I needed to prove my queerness to her, but I still think about that experience. Exactly which part of me kissing her and telling her I liked her made her think I was falsely leading her on? It must have just been the fact that before her, I’d only ever been with cis dudes. 

I didn’t have my first kiss with anyone until I was almost 22, but that didn’t stop me from telling people I was straight, or from having people accept my “straightness” at face value. Why is queerness something that we feel like we need to prove?

No one ever asks straight women how long they’ve known they liked men.

There’s a period of discovering and adjusting to new sexual or romantic feelings for every sexual orientation, whether it’s “oh crap I suddenly don’t think boys are gross” or “everybody wants to kiss their best friend, right???”

For me, that period of discovery came a little later than it does for many people. Part of me always knew I liked girls, but another part of me still had heteronormative ideas about what my romantic trajectory should look like. Having lots of queer friends throughout my life and reading plenty of queer theory didn’t stop me from internalizing false narratives. Societal norms told me my feelings for girls and other genders were secondary to my feelings for dudes, and parts of the queer community made me feel like there was only one way to be queer.

I finally decided to start calling myself queer after I started hanging out with a new group of friends who all identified as lesbians. My friend would introduce me to them by saying things like, “This is Hannah. Can you believe she’s straight?”

Every time she said that I felt something itch inside me. I knew that “straight” didn’t describe me, and part of me wanted to correct her. At the same time, I knew my experience was completely different from the other members of that group and I felt like the words “queer” or “bisexual” weren’t mine to use.

For a while, I thought I’d just say I was “not straight.”

I was afraid to date girls because I was afraid of just what that girl would eventually say about me. I was afraid of leading people on. I was also nervous to come out to my queer friends after all these years of them thinking of me as “the straight one.” That fear turned out to be unwarranted.

My best friend from high school who had recently come out as a trans man simply said, “I’d just like to point out the irony that you turn out to be queer and I turn out to be straight.”

Now I know it was silly to wait this long to come out.

The word “queer” encompasses anyone whose sexual orientation or gender identity falls outside of traditional heteronormativity. If that applies to you, then you’re queer. You don’t need to look a certain way, act a certain way, behave in a certain way, or prove your identity to anyone. you are enough.

Music Pop Culture

Losing Prince meant losing a part of me

The news broke yesterday that the inimitable Prince Rogers Nelson has passed. Prince has been a major influence not only on our music, art, and pop culture, but on my personal life as well. And as I sit to write this piece, I feel at a loss for words in a major way – maybe moreso than I can ever recall feeling, because how does one describe the indescribable?

Prince defied labels.
Prince when you try and put him in a box

My phone was dead for a few hours and when I turned it back on, I had several notifications that friends had posted to my Facebook timeline asking if I was alright. I wasn’t really sure what that was all about until I looked in my newsfeed and saw the first post announcing his death. In all honesty, as perverse as it may sound, my initial knee-jerk reaction to the news was happiness for him. I was happy that he’d shaken off this mortal coil, so ill-equipped to contain such a massive and undefinable force, and gone on to join the infinite. He was really too cool for all of us anyways. But as the shock faded, a sadness accompanied by a feeling of physical illness set in.

,And I didn’t think I’d ever feel this distraught over the death of someone I didn’t know, but I sort of feel lost and a little apprehensive about where we’re going to go from here.

[bctt tweet=”I’m not cool because you make me cool. You know what cool is because I’m showing it to you. I don’t need you, but you definitely need me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

To say that Prince was ‘cool’ is kind of an unforgivable understatement – rather, he was coolness itself. He embodied, constantly redefined, and pushed the concept forward and outward into the ever-expanding. I remember being a kid in the backseat of my parents’ car, singing along to “Little Red Corvette” and feeling alive and really powerful. Not that I understood the context of the lyrics in any way – but it exuded a confidence that I needed to tap into. He was so entirely secure (at least in his public persona) that his effortless and tangible coolness quite clearly expressed a sentiment along the lines of “I’m not cool because you make me cool. You know what cool is because I’m showing it to you. I don’t need you, but you definitely need me.” I remember seeing him on MTV, earrings, lace, and eyeliner and seeing a human that refused to let others define them – and knowing that I was going that way, too. I remember as a slightly older kid, watching tears stream down my then 42-year-old mother’s face as she listened to “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and understanding his ability to instill the confidence he moved through the world with into others, his power to undermine and rewrite mainstream definitions of beauty, sexiness, and vitality.

[bctt tweet=”To say that Prince was ‘cool’ is kind of an unforgivable understatement – rather, he was coolness itself. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

The era of Prince and the Revolution represented a non-binary future that we so sorely need to continue to work towards, and a sexuality so liberated and powerful that it, as a friend said yesterday, “can only be described as queer” even for a kid who didn’t know anything about the concept of queerness yet. In the early 90s, he reminded us of his refusal and inability to be defined in binary terms by changing his name to the unpronounceable symbol later to become known as “Love Symbol#2.”

[bctt tweet=”The era of Prince and the Revolution represented a non-binary future.” username=”wearethetempest”]

His confidence and palpable sex appeal were only exceeded by his musical virtuosity. He reportedly could play at least 27 instruments, as evidenced by his having played all 27 on his debut album (released when he was just 20-years-old). His songwriting was so prolific, it’s said that there exists enough unreleased material in the vaults of Paisley Park to give us a new album each year for the next 100 years. He is widely, and justly, regarded as one of the top-ranking artists of all time and consistently thought of as revolutionary in his art. And on top of that, he wrote hit after hit for other artists. Remember Sinead O’Connor and her anthem “Nothing Compares to You”? Yea, that was written by the one and only Prince. I know I ought to find comfort in the thought of further musical genius from his brilliant mind coming to us, but I can’t help feeling anxious that there will be copyright wars and infringement on his personal wishes and privacy. If it is the case that there is more material to be released, I hope that it is only done so in light of what he wanted.

[bctt tweet=”He is widely, and justly, regarded as one of the top-ranking artists of all time ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Anyone who ever had the great good fortune to witness one of his concerts could probably tell you that it felt at least a little bit like attending a religious service. His music wasn’t just music, it was a spiritual endeavor. And let’s not forget that he could throw the shadiest shade that’s ever been thrown. I hope that, as we muddle through our grief and low-grade terror over the gaping hole his loss has created, we don’t make the mistake of asking ourselves, “Who will take his place?” Because the answer to this always has been and always will be, “No one can.” My heart goes out to his family and friends and to all the fans who are reeling from this loss. Rest in Power, you bad motherfucka.