"Year after year, I have heard people in my family and community condemn "gayness" and everything that is not heteronormative."
This post is a personal one and as a result, I anticipate backlash from some readers - whether explicit or not. For people who know me, I anticipate that it may change the way some of you think of me. So I pre-empt all this by saying that this post does not change me as the person you know thus far. It only provides further insight into who I am.
I can ask you to consider that while reading this but I cannot change your opinions and of that I am aware. I am writing this post because I have come to a point where professionally and personally, I want to be honest about some of my views.
I grew up in a country where Islam was the prominent religion. I come from a Muslim family. My last name is Hassen. Year after year, I have heard people in my family and community condemn "gayness" and everything that is not heteronormative. The word “trans” really wasn't and still isn't in the vocabulary that I hear within those circles but a non cis gender identity is still considered taboo.
I was never comfortable with this prevailing position against people who didn’t identify as heterosexual or weren’t gender conforming. Even as a young kid, I felt that making assumptions about people without knowing them just didn't feel right. As I grew up, I realized that not everyone held these beliefs, but it has been a challenge to connect with others who feel the same way.
The catalyst for this article started with Facebook's "celebrate pride" filter that puts a rainbow over your existing profile photo. People on my news feed were against others supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
As much as corporations try to profit off movements, I struggle with whether it is a net benefit or liability to the LGBTQ+ movement in trying to raise awareness of issues this group faces. Nonetheless, Facebook got on board with putting up rainbows and that's where social media makes things so much more complicated and interesting. I was able to see what people in my networks were posting in different parts of the world.
"I used to think it was impossible to be both Muslim and Queer."
I used to think it was impossible to be both Muslim and Queer. I have since realized that isn't the case. Someone once told me that there are as many different versions of Islam as there are Muslims in the world. And sexual orientation and gender identity come into that mix.
There's an academic word that always comes to mind - intersectionality. Google it. I like this word because it has so much complexity within it and we just cannot simplify the human experience.
My extended family has known that I have worked within the global health area of HIV/AIDS. It was okay as long as I was working with orphans and vulnerable children. They are the innocent. But the others - the sex workers and the injecting drug users are not seen without blame and stigma. So I have walked a fine line with my values, shrugging off comments like "it's a good thing you are educating people about how bad this stuff is." The ‘stuff’ didn't refer to the HIV/AIDS, it referred to the activities that could transmit the virus.
There are people who identify as LGBTQ+ and choose not to disclose. Often, that is necessary. I am thinking particularly of people of colour and people from certain cultures and countries where being yourself is dangerous. Being white and queer is a different experience than being black and queer. Because well, racism. Our racial and sexual identities do not exist independent of one another.
We live in a patriarchal society to the point where we hypersexualize and fantasize about women being together but condemn men who are in love with other men. There are young people on the streets because they didn't have a home that knew the meaning of unconditional love. Sometimes, suicide is involved.
I witnessed an elderly, gay, Muslim man tell a group of young LGBTQ+ Muslims not to worry about grappling with whether or not they would go to hell. He said that Allah (God) is merciful. Instead, his problem was finding another elderly, gay, Muslim man that he was compatible with and could share his life with. Isolation is a real problem which contributes to poor mental health, which is only exacerbated by stigma. The queer Muslim community and their allies is a very underground one.
"What is the point of our gay sons marrying women they can never fully love?"
Why condemn a whole group of people to a life of self-hatred, to always feel that they are never good enough? What is the point of our gay sons marrying women they can never fully love? I am not a mother, and I still cannot imagine placing such a burden on my children.
I have struggled with my multiple identities, a lot. There is a knot in my chest when I think of my friends, my sisters and brothers and all those who struggle with how their sexuality and gender intersects with other parts of themselves. It needs to be made clear that I had these thoughts while growing up in the United Arab Emirates. These are not newfangled ideas that are simply a product of my "Western" environment. My culture and my religion follow me everywhere I go, but now, I feel privileged to be in a position where I can engage critically with these issues and feel relatively safe while doing so.
To those who are feeling conflicted with their multiple identities, I can't speak for you and I don't want to. But I want you to know that there are other view points out there and that you are not alone, because I've realized myself how important it is to know that you are not alone. You have the strength inside you.
You don't need me to tell you that it is okay to be Muslim and Queer. You know it.
You don't need me to tell you that you will figure out a way to make it work. You know you will.
You don't need me to tell you that there are people who will love you for who you are. You believe it.
About the author: Public health thinker interested in social justice and health equity. I am continuously learning and growing and I find that writing helps me sort through the beautiful mess that is life.
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