"I am a 21-year-old Arab American. My parents immigrated to the US with my dad’s brothers and sisters twenty-six years ago. My parents and most of their relatives are conservative Muslims. I’d like to be able to live freely from my parents and family, but I worry about what my coming out will mean for my siblings, as well as how my family will be received by the local Muslim community. I rely on my family for shelter and subsequently transportation as I am a college student. Got any advice?"
- Question submitted by hella-feic and answered by Aaminah Khan as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
As a queer Muslim blogger, I get a lot of questions like this. They make me so sad, but more than that, they make me angry. I am angry that you are scared of your family and your community. I am angry that you have to be scared. I am angry that your ability to live your life – your amazing, potential-filled, young, exciting life – is contingent upon you hiding who you are. I am angry for you and for the dozens of other people who have written to me with questions like this. But I learned quite a while ago that my anger doesn’t do much and that practical advice is far more helpful, so here goes.
The first thing to know is that you are not alone. There are queer Muslims the world over, even in conservative countries like the one from which your parents emigrated so long ago. You’re in the US, so you’re in luck! There are LGBT-friendly mosques and religious communities around the country. Muslims for Progressive Values is a great place to start. They have a fantastic resource page for LGBT+ Muslims that I link to people very often. Reading about other Muslims like me was one thing that made me feel a lot more hopeful, so maybe it will help you.
About your family: this, like any coming-out situation, is delicate. When I came out to my mother, she was initially very upset. She is also a pretty conservative Muslim, and we differ in opinion on lots of issues. Here’s the important thing, though: she did eventually come around, and your family might as well! Lots of Muslims, even very conservative ones, can be made to see that love is more important than judgement. Talk to your family about LGBT+ issues if you feel safe doing so. Sound them out subtly and see what they say. You might find that they’re more accepting than you realize. You said “most” of your relatives are conservative. Find the ones who aren’t. I have a few cousins who call me “little sister” and treat me like one of the pack even though I’m out. Maybe you’ll find a few familial allies of your own in time.
Now, what to do if you realize coming out to your family and community would be unsafe? This is the hard part, and unfortunately, it’s the most likely possibility. Bigotry and intolerance run deep in a lot of communities, and one person can’t change that alone. So find a safe space – that might be an LGBT shelter, a friend’s house, whatever. Find that space and be ready to run to it if necessary. When my father kicked me out for dating a Christian, I was able to go to my mother’s family for help. Maybe you have a cousin who would let you sleep on their couch, or a friend with a spare room. Start making those emergency exit plans now, because you never know when you’ll need them.
It seems daunting, doesn’t it? When I left home I had about ten dollars to my name, an old laptop and a phone that barely worked. Sometimes you get thrown in the deep end. I’m here to tell you that it’s survivable. There are safe spaces and you will find them. You will never be entirely out of options.
You’re worried about how the community will take it. Unfortunately, that’s not something you or your family can control. Some people will be good about it and some won’t. Learn to smile and change the subject. People in my local Muslim community still talk about me behind my back. My mother is far more bothered by it than I am. If they won’t stand by you, they’re not really your community. Find the people that will – in meatspace or online – and stick with them instead. Remember that you don’t need their approval – you just need to be able to live in peace.
How do you carve out a little peace in your life? Find places where you can be yourself. If you live in a small town, staying semi-closeted can be hard, so look into online spaces. (I was out to my closest online friends long before I dared say a word to anyone else.) If you attend college away from home, it’ll be easier to be out without anyone unsafe finding out about it. Even if you’re not, I found when I was a college student that I could get up to all kinds of shenanigans without my parents knowing a thing. Join every campus extra-curricular you can and make a bunch of friends. You’ll feel less alone and you’ll end up having a lot of fun! If your parents are the “you need to focus on your studies” type, join a study group instead, or create one. And find a queer-friendly counsellor or doctor you can talk to. My doctor has been a literal life-saver – having someone I can vent to in a non-judgmental environment is really and truly invaluable.
I hope this was helpful – to you and to the many, many people going through what you’re going through. Remember: you are not alone, and Allah willing, youwill survive this. It will be hard, and sometimes it will feel impossible, but I have faith in you.
Allah loves you just as you are. So do I. So do many Muslims all around the world. We’re here for you. You don’t have to do this on your own.
May Allah bless you and guide you well, wherever your path may lead.
Also check out our resource list specifically for LGBTQ Muslim youth, curated as a part of Longest Days, Sacred Nights!