This participant identifies as an Arab American, raised Muslim lesbian
So, let me preface this by saying that I’m not fully “out” yet. I grew up in a culturally mixed home. My mom is white, raised Catholic, and my dad is Lebanese and Muslim. My dad doesn’t know, because if he takes it poorly as I can only expect him to, then all my fiscal security is gone. Let me stress that for our specific community, and perhaps other communities, coming out is not necessarily safe, so we should not be stressing that as the end-all, be-all.
Coming out to me means that I can one day live without editing myself or compromising my identity in any given space. It isn’t just in a sexuality narrative, or in regards to my gender, but in regards to my culture as well. I want to be out as Queer, Arab, and Agender. Because of homonationalism, identifying as all these things at once is a radical act.
Let me also make the distinction between being Middle Eastern and being Muslim. The two, obviously, are not one and the same. My upbringing as a young Muslim girl and as a Middle Eastern girl are intertwined however, because of the cultural influence religion had on my dad/local community. That being said, I can reconcile individually all my identities together. Of course being queer and Muslim can work in the same way that any faith and queer identity can work. It’s about your direct connection to Allah. That has never been a true ‘realization’ to me. But belonging to a community of Muslims while openly identifying as queer? That needs a little more work…
Honestly… it’s a process. Of course on an individual level I can say that I follow the faith of Islam, though I don’t belong to any one religion. I guess I’d say I’m more culturally Muslim than spiritually. But attending a mosque as openly queer? That isn’t necessarily a safe option at this point in time in any space. We have queer Muslim spaces, of course, though those are somewhat hard to tap into. But to have a blending of sexual or gender identity under that faith? It kind of is like in Christianity. There are churches that you can attend as a queer person, even though that specific church is not a ‘queer’ church, and it is still a safe space.
Your connection to Allah is personal, and you never have to give that up to be true to your sexuality or gender. You can have both, in peace. Just be safe, know your situation, and don’t think that the only way to be queer is to have rainbows flying as you only listen to Neil Patrick Harris podcasts. Don’t get caught up in homonationalism. And find comfort in any small community you may find. My friends who are also queer and Muslim have truly saved me, even without them knowing it.
This participant identifies as a Syrian pansexual woman
Coming out for me wasn’t as abrupt of a process as it is for some. I felt the need to “explore” before I could comfortably identify as bisexual, and then it took some education for me to realize that I am actually pansexual. I have a little bit of Swedish, German, and Italian blood in the mix with my Syrian genes.
As a Syrian pansexual girl, I have to say I am both blessed and cursed. It is often assumed in new social settings that I am just a straight girl. With my pansexual identity not being so obvious, I’ve heard gay-bashing remarks and discriminatory slurs get thrown around WAY too often, simply because nobody realizes they are personally offending me and my identity.
Most people would guess that I am either Italian, Latina, or I’ve even had people tell me that I look Hawaiian, but nobody ever guessed that I’m Middle-Eastern. People will openly explain their views on Syrians and how they wish to ban them from ever entering this country, meanwhile they are speaking directly to a Syrian. I rarely contain the secret of my heritage, so when I enlighten them that I am actually Syrian, the most common response is “Ha ha oh, so you’re a terrorist?” Whether they are joking or not, terrorism is far from any subject that should ever be joked about. These identities have taught me how un-perfect the world actually is, and has given me a fire inside to end discrimination as a whole.
For me, the struggles of my two identities have consistently been separate from one another. Never have I been targeted by someone for identifying as both pansexual and Syrian; it’s always either been one or the other. Personally, the discrimination against my queer side has been much more prevalent than the discrimination against my Middle-Eastern side.
If I could give any advice to individuals who fall in either the LGBTQ community, the Muslim/Islamic/Middle-Eastern community, or both, it would be to not let anybody hold you back. Not from reaching your goals, not from pursuing your love life, not from expressing yourself, and most importantly, not from happiness. You have an inner strength and a self-love that YOU need to bring forward, especially during the toughest of times. If you ever feel defeated, it’s ok to cry. After all, we are just human. But come back from that sadness with a bang of confidence, even if you have to fake it until you make it. You are not alone in your struggles and at the end of every dark tunnel is a light.
This participant identifies as a Sunni Muslim, cisgender, queer woman
Growing up I went to an Islamic school for most of K-8th grade and I was taught a correlation between LGBTQ folk, thieves, adulterers, and on occasion murders. Being told that certain natural disasters that occurred were because God was punishing the lewd activities of sinners like “homosexuals”, this is aside from the story of Lut.
I haven’t come out to many people. I have tried coming out by making little jokes about my identity under my breath in hopes that someone who was paying attention would catch on. But also hoping they wouldn’t catch on until I was ready for someone to. One day one of my friends did catch on. It was purely accidental and probably one of the most anxiety filled moments I have had for a while. He is a new friend of mine who is Muslim and straight. We had a conversation about it afterwards and he became my best friend after that. I was able to be a lot more myself around everyone else because he gave me the confidence to do so and that was really important to me. It surprised me because I wasn’t expecting that from a straight, Muslim man.
My parents taught me to treat everyone with kindness, but they never let me watch Ellen Degeneres and they would get uncomfortable if we watched Modern Family in the house. They would say, “Why do I have to see that?” My dad is a scholar of Islam. He still believes we need to be fixed by therapy and that it is not an innate thing. He once stated that he thinks it’s a rebellion against something. I was raised in a really “progressive”, for lack of a better term, area in Northern California and a lot of my friends in high school were bisexual. I believed that I was just an ally, so I pushed past a lot of what I was taught when I was younger, mostly seeing humanity in people and through the eyes of my post 9/11 Muslim struggle empathy.
At this point in my life, it’s only been a couple of years since I’ve processed being queer. And most of the time I haven’t really allowed myself to process the two as one entity. But the more I have, the harder it has been on myself because I thought for the most part I was alone but the best part of it is that I am not. I’m not alone at all. I’ve found that some of my friends that I grew up with whether they were close friends or acquaintances, friends I had at the mosque or school, or new people I’ve met recently, are also in this weird in between place where they are either half here or half there. But with each other we are able to be whole.
I now understand that it’s hard to get past all of what is being pushed upon us by the cultural judgements by everyone we know. But you aren’t alone and this is important. So, so important. There are so many of us. Muslim, non-Muslim. And it is important to focus on the fact that we as Muslims believe that allah says Be and we become. Aside from everyone and everything Allah is the most merciful and all knowing and nothing is without allah.
My biggest struggle is finding a space for myself in either of the bubbles. One is dominated by cis gay white men and is usually riddled with islamophobic or anti-religious sentiments in general. Establishing yourself as a religious queer is frowned upon. Most online LGBTQ spaces are filled with people who think that to be “fully queer” you must reject your hateful religion. And on the other side of this is the bubble dominated by cishet men and women who are in denial about the fact that queer folks exist at all within their group. They are in denial about the fact that they deny that homophobia exists within our culture as if we don’t teach it in our sermons and in our homes and schools.
This participant identifies as a Muslim trans woman who follows Islam
Growing up in Indonesia, the number one country where Islam is the fastest growing religion, my parents did not have to explain to me their anti-queerness for me to understand the ill stigma that came with it. Therefore I never got to experiment with my gender identity and did not know I was trans until college. I like to think that when I was little, I suppressed the heavy desire for womanhood through trauma and denial passed down by family. That’s why when I came out, I had to regain control of my story. It took me years to realize that I had the power all along, but of course under circumstances like financial dependency and desire for love via blood relation, I had no choice but to stay silent until I was out of the house.
I attended my first Islam/LGBTQ intersection session this past month at the Philly Trans Health Conference. It is such an underground community because there is an anti-LGBTQ shame in Islam and vice versa for islamophobia. I was surrounded by so many Muslim queers when I realized that yes, I could truly have a relationship with Allah, fully as myself, without hiding key parts of me.
My advice to people struggling with these identities would be to not feel guilty if you feel as though you are compromising one over the other. You are human and need to break things down one by one. Take your time. When you feel like you’re falling apart, you’re really falling into place.
This interview was conducted by Lisa Warner with permission to publish by all participants. All responses have been kept anonymous.
Lisa Warner is a recent graduate from the University at Albany and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She is a 2016 Summer Fellow for Campus Pride.