Muslim. Queer. Invisible but still here.
Lately, being Queer and Muslim has felt contradictory, no matter how strongly I relate with both of these aspects of my identity. I’m first generation, the daughter of two South Asian immigrants. From an early age, my grandmother ensured I was properly educated on my deen—my religion. She made sure I went to Sunday school throughout early adolescence. She taught me how to pray, and how to fast. She taught me about our religion’s history and all of the basic tenets of Islam.
The Islam I grew up learning about is a very existential religion. Life is a test and you are judged on the choices that you make—based upon a totality of circumstances. Regardless of what scripture says, no human being has the authority to impose rules onto any other human being.
In high school, I was the most religious person in my immediate family. And while I identified as heterosexual for most of my life, I never felt a sense of dissonance between being Muslim, and being an advocate for LGBT rights. A preacher’s daughter, my nemesis throughout high school once tried to convince me that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I never found religion compelling enough to be anti-gay. Every religion that spoke out against homosexuality also condemns hate and discrimination.
I was an angst-ridden teenager, filled with righteous indignation in the face of injustice. Whether through written word or spoken word, I challenged discriminatory attitudes on impulse. Homosexuality was never really mentioned in my Islamic studies growing up, and only became a topic of conversation in my family after I became involved in LGBT advocacy work.
My extended family has, in the past, expressed their reservations with homosexuality. I was unapologetically defiant and would often challenge their discomfort by suggesting I was questioning my sexuality. If I had the same political analysis at 16 that I have now, I would have taken a moment to reflect on my privilege; while many of my friends were closeted, I felt safe enough to claim this identity as mine because at the end of the day, I could go back to being straight.
I came into my queer identity a few years back—and no—I haven’t been hiding in the proverbial closet. Sexuality is fluid, it can change over time. For most of my life I have been heterosexual—and no—I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I wasn’t straight. I became familiar with the word “queer” during undergrad. This word, once a pejorative, had been reclaimed by the LGBT community to encompass all folks of varying sexual orientations and gender identities.
To some, the word queer indicates the capability of attraction to others regardless of gender identity. This concept of “hearts, not parts” really resonated with me. I began to notice my romantic interests expanding beyond heterosexual cisgender males. I’ve been a happier, more genuine person in my romantic relationships and more honest in what attracts me to connect with other beings.
I live in the shadows of this intersection—as someone who is Femme, and someone who does not look Muslim enough to be racially profiled. This invisibility is a double-edged sword. My passing privilege shelters me. It has allowed me to exist in spaces without the fear of being directly targeted by either homophobia or islamophobia. At the same time, the dark can be an isolating place. I feel the hardship of making my identity known and finding community to love on and mourn with—especially in recent times where brown queer bodies have been brutalized.
The Orlando massacre left me with an amalgam of emotion. I felt a deep sense of pain for all the lives lost and I felt an intense sense of guilt because the shooter was identified as Muslim. And I felt numb, as if being Queer and being Muslim was inherently impossible. I felt shut down and struggled to find validity in how I was feeling.
Later that evening, I attended a candlelight vigil at Oscar Grant Plaza with my loved ones. That night, we cried together as a community and shared stories about our own struggles with violence and hate. We held each other close and created a safe space amongst ourselves. Community was our saving grace.