Stand-up comedian, writer and comedy producer Sadia Azmat has just published Sex Bomb, her memoir focusing on the complicated relationship between sex and being a hijab-wearing Muslim woman. The book is funny, informative, thought-provoking, poignant and many other positive adjectives. It delivers a frank and deeply honest perspective on religion, sexuality, mental health, what it's like to enter the British comedy circuit as someone who isn't a privileged white male, and other topics. Here, we talk to Sadia to find out more...
Hi Sadia. You've written a book!
Sex Bomb is my life story! It tells the story of everything I've inadvertently learned along the way about life, love and comedy - in the absence of any real teachers or people to talk to about a lot of this.
It takes a look at life when you feel like you're different or facing things alone but these are actually experiences that everybody goes through in life that we are usually not prepared for.
As I've always been really curious and eager, it's a book I wish I had access to when I was younger, to help prepare me for the real world. It also talks about my different identities as a British, Asian Muslim and also how the world views me from a much needed first-hand account - as so often the narrative about female Muslims comes third hand.
At what point did you come up with the title?
I could not ignore how the narrative about everyday Muslim life was stolen by the so-called war on terrorism, and so the title Sex Bomb pretty much chose itself, before I even got the book deal. It perfectly encapsulates many meanings: how being open about sex can be a bit of a bombshell within certain fringes of society, how sometimes sex bombing (like love bombing) can have the opposite of the desired effect, and also telling filthy jokes on stage of course!
I've always been interested in the themes of dating and relationships and for so long it has felt like this hasn't been covered in a way that I can relate to. Most women have men falling over for them and that just has never been the case for me. I don't want a guy falling over me but I also don't want to be treated as if a guy knows me before we've even spoken or to be prejudged as is so often the case. I feel like Sex Bomb has given me much needed catharsis by allowing me put some of my experiences out there from my perspective.
You talk in detail about this in the book, but could you explain a little here about why sex and sexuality is so rarely discussed in Muslim families/culture?
I have always felt pretty open about sex so this is a tricky question as I don't want to speak on behalf of others.
From a personal perspective, without the medium of comedy I can understand how it isn't straightforward to feel comfortable being open about some of the themes covered.
I didn't have conversations about sex at home, but my parents wouldn't have had these either, and neither would theirs.
It can be really hard to talk about things when they are sensitive and leave you open to being vulnerable and I don't think anyone should feel a pressure to do so, because ironically society does create a pressure to seem clued up on most of these things from a very young age. It can lead people to behave uncharacteristically if they feel they don't live up to some of these notions which I think can be quite damaging.
The main thing is to feel comfortable about defining sex and sexuality for ourselves first and foremost. I am hoping that my book serves as an opportunity to help people who either don't know who or how to talk about these things feel seen, and so less alone.
It's also important to add that knowing who you can feel safe to discuss these topics with is also not easy and should be selected wisely. So often people may or appear to mean well but this doesn't mean that they will necessarily understand you or even give good advice. It's really hard knowing who to turn to if you feel like you might be judged or this could lead to gossipmongering.
Given you are talking about such topics openly in your book, how do you think Sex Bomb will be received by the Muslim community?
My comedy tends to be divisive and it may be that this book appeals to some more than others depending where they are with things. I understand that some may find it surprising, as everyone is on a journey of their own I really don't feel like it is a reflection on me - especially if people choose not to read it before making an assessment.
You've laid out your love life for all to read in an incredibly open, honest and complete way. It's meant including, for example, the admission you returned to a toxic relationship. Did it feel vulnerable to expose all?
I felt like it was important to show the whole of my journey given that it is a memoir. I wanted to chart the rise and fall of that particular relationship and, in doing so, it really highlighted that the most toxic relationship I was in was with myself. It's easy to see that looking back, but I didn't notice it at the time. I'm hoping it will help readers see the importance of being good to yourself.
You've talked about friends and family in this book, including touching on tough subjects like your mum's mental health battles. Have you run the chapters by those people in advance of publication?
My best friend Monty, who means a great deal to me, read my book before it was published. First of all, she is very busy, and so it meant so much to me that she spent the time to do so. She said that she felt that I had been my most honest self in the book and it had shown her another layer of me.
As a comedy website, the chapters in which you talk about starting out on the UK stand-up circuit we found particularly interesting. They demonstrate how tough it is to become established, especially if you're not a white middle class man...
As I mention in the book, it's hard for me to be disparaging to white men in comedy given they are the ones who have made the industry most accessible to me in many ways!
I was really excited about depicting this because I really love stand-up comedy and I'm hoping it will show a side of it that people outside of the industry rarely see.
We were shocked to read this sentence in the book: "I went to several gigs where specifically female comedians ignored me". You suggest this is because female acts feel threatened by each other?
There was even a movie about Mean Girls! Comedy isn't the same as another job like being an office worker where there are certain rules on how you treat your colleagues. There is no HR and certainly no vetting process.
Anyone off the street can do comedy - like at an open mic - and what I wanted to make clear was how much nobody owes anyone anything, not even so much as a greeting, especially in this game. Don't go into it hoping everyone wants to be your friend because that is definitely not going to happen!
That's also why, when someone does extend an act of kindness, it means so much more because, people are often burning the candle at both ends, and they have most likely done it out of being a genuine person rather than in the workplace settings where it's because of their job and they have to be professional.
After years of hard work, it looks like you're reaching a happy point now with comedy? Your podcast No Country For Young Women has won awards, you're producing BBC comedy shows like DMs Are Open, and getting to perform at some lovely gigs?
I am definitely feeling blessed and grateful for all of the opportunities and the book coming out!
It'd be fair to say that, whilst you wrote the book to be entertaining, the plan is to help improve knowledge of Muslim culture and beliefs and change some attitudes too (both of Muslims and non-Muslims)? Cruel question, but if you had to pick just one outcome from the book, what would you like to change most?
Would love to get laid!
Sex Bomb is out now.
Sadia is a comedian who loves sex. She is also a hijab-wearing Muslim woman. The two are in a lifelong relationship, but it's complicated.
In this vibrant, funny and conversation-starting memoir, Sadia shows how the different sides of her identity and personality have fought and embraced each other over the course of her life. From being viewed as a 'sister' being a real cock-block, to growing up and being criticised by Muslims and white people alike for speaking out on sex; from her experiences of dating Asian men and white men to her tumultuous relationship with her headscarf, Sadia is unafraid to give you the honest truth. In the end she looks to the future for herself and women alike, what does it mean to be sexually liberated? And can you truly separate the girl from the headscarf?
Sex Bomb is The Wrong Knickers meets It's Not About the Burqa and offers a whole new look at the experiences of a Muslim woman. Crackling with humour and exploding with personality, this is the memoir you do not want to miss.
First published: Thursday 26th May 2022
- Publisher: Headline
- Pages: 288
- Catalogue: 9781472285782
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