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"I am queer and Muslim, and I am overwhelmed by how to move forward, especially right now, days before our presidential inauguration. I am scared, and I don't know how to help myself, and how to help my communities."

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Aaminah Khan Says:

I, too, am queer and Muslim, which is another way of saying that there aren’t many places where I feel like I belong. The US, and especially the deep South, had already felt hostile to me pre-election. In the state of Louisiana, where I lived for two and a half years, police were still arresting people under our (unconstitutional) anti-sodomy laws as recently as 2014. I’m out online and almost everywhere else – but while I lived in the US, I wasn’t out at work, because I lived in one of 28 US states that still allow employers to fire people for being gay. The local attitude toward Muslims was similarly horrifying; anti-Muslim rhetoric played on FOX News everywhere from hospital waiting rooms to chain restaurants. Pre-election, I had already felt an overwhelming pressure to try to hide the aspects of my identity that might get me fired, ostracised or worse; I didn’t talk about my religion or cultural heritage often, and I kept any relationships I had with people other than men quiet. I thought that by doing this, I could keep myself safe, even if it did make me feel like a coward a lot of time.

Post-election, even that didn’t feel like enough to keep me safe any more.

The reports of hate crimes had already started filtering in on social media as I got to work the morning after the election. Many of my students were from the Middle East, and I wondered how many of them would have to bear the brunt of this newly-validated bigotry in the coming weeks. I had flashbacks to my own experiences after 9/11, when people had screamed obscenities at my family and me from their cars, thrown things at our house and vandalised the local mosque – but this time would be worse, because not only did people feel like they had an excuse to attack anyone who looked sufficiently foreign, they had a President-Elect who would and did back them up when they did. It was difficult to look my students in the eye and tell them everything was going to be all right when I didn’t believe it myself, so I didn’t. Instead, I told them to be safe, and prayed that they would be. I felt powerless to do anything else.

I didn’t voice my other fears to them – that this would mean the end for marriage equality, for LGBT workforce protections, that this would mean that people I knew and loved would be hurt, even killed, by people who now felt like they had a presidential mandate to rid the country of queer and trans people. I kept quiet because I knew that while my students – just like many people of colour around the country – feared for their futures in Trump’s America, a lot of them were also conservatives who didn’t particularly like queer or trans people any more than Trump voters did. It felt like even more cowardice, but as I’ve told many young LGBT people of faith in the past, being out and proud should never come before one’s personal safety and security. Choosing when and where to be out, just like choosing when and where to be openly religious, is part of the series of tough personal decisions we have to make in order to ensure our continued survival.

Navigating the dual identities of religiousness and queerness often feels like walking a tightrope. How much do you tell your family about your sexuality? How much do you tell your friends about your religion? It’s a precarious balancing act, and post-election, the wind is picking up and someone’s started shaking the rope; keeping that balance is getting harder and harder. Do I seek comfort in my faith, knowing that many members of my community couldn’t care less if trans people are denied healthcare or gay people are denied inheritance and marriage rights, or do I organise more actively with my fellow queer and trans people, knowing that they see my religious identity as an offensive eccentricity at best and a harmful liability at worst? Neither community feels like home, because both of them implicitly reject or disapprove of at least one part of me – and what is home, if not a place where all of you belongs?

Internally, I am entirely at peace with being both queer and Muslim, and I am lucky enough to know a small community of similar LGBT people of faith around the world on whom I can rely for comfort and support. But there are too few of us, and we are spread very, very thin – and sometimes, talking to friends on the other side of the world doesn’t feel like enough. I want to be able to share in the grief, mourning and consolation happening in the communities around me – want to be at the mosque, at the gay bar, offering strength and support of my own to people I love, people like me. But I don’t know how to without compromising at least one part of myself, and every time I have to do that – every time I have to hide my relationships with women or pretend I’m not really that religious – it hurts, both because I feel like I’m being forced to lie to people I love, and because I feel like I’m lying to myself. I don’t think there’s any easy solution to that problem.

So here’s what I suggest to young queer and trans people of faith who write to me for advice: be out where you can, find allies where you can, do the work you feel capable of doing – but most of all, don’t be ashamed to put your safety first. These days, I try not to beat myself up too much for needing to compromise, for not talking about girls with my mother’s friends and not praying audibly in public. When I have the energy for it, I try to do work that bridges the gulf between LGBT and faith communities – writing pieces like this one, participating in workshops and dialogues about the intersections between queerness and religion, talking about LGBT issues with my students – but sometimes I don’t have the energy, and I’m slowly learning that that’s okay. No one person can do it all at once. Sometimes I need to retreat and lick my wounds for a while, and sometimes I need to bite my tongue to ensure my personal safety. I won’t pretend it feels good, but it keeps me alive to fight another day.

The good news is that we’re not in this fight alone. Around the world, LGBT people of faith are making strides bringing their communities together, and each time an imam comes out or a priest speaks up for marriage equality, it makes it easier for us to start having those conversations with our loved ones. When I feel particularly alone in this struggle, I think of my friends and loved ones around the world who are doing this work with me – speaking in mosques; starting interfaith and LGBT dialogues; writing radical and inclusive reinterpretations of faith; attending pride marches in their hijabs, unapologetic. They are sources of strength and encouragement both at the times when I feel capable of confronting community prejudices head-on and the times when I know I need to stay silent. They provide a framework for having tough conversations with loved ones as well as a reminder that the conversations are worth having.

I don’t spend every moment of every day working or fighting because that’s not sustainable, but when I do, it’s with the knowledge that I am part of a new kind of community, one that is global and growing, a community with whom I can stand in proud solidarity. In short, by working to navigate the spaces between queerness and faith, I have finally found the place where I belong.

Learn more about Aaminah Khan here on our contributors page, and follow her on Twitter! So much gratitude to Arlan Hamilton, who sponsored this post as a part of our ongoing POC Writers’ Fund initiative.

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“I’m having a hard time with the idea of going home this holiday. Over the last year I have seen many family members & friends posting in support of Tr•mp, and I feel really disappointed/disgusted/betrayed by the people I once considered to be some of the best humans I know. Do you have any advice on how to look past this election & find a way to respect them again? They view themselves as such champions for what is right, but i’m having a hard time regarding them as even decent human beings.”

Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Oh, Anonymous. This is a question that has been chewing at my insides for the past few weeks: will my relationship with my extended family who supported the ideals of this man ever be the same again?

I am not sure if I am writing you advice too early in my own processing, or if this is actually the best time to tell you how I feel… but right now I do not believe that I will ever feel the same about those close to me who helped usher in this incredibly dangerous administration. It doesn’t mean I do not love them, but it does mean that I cannot go back to how things were before. While that saddens me deeply, I think that it is also vital to approaching the work we have ahead of us. We cannot put the comfort and ease of dismissing these realities ahead of standing up for what is right, and what is necessary. We cannot dismiss what has happened. And, in my opinion we should not, and can not, put this election behind us. It is very much ahead of us, and it must stay in our line of sight, as painful as that can often be.

You sound like you usually approach things similarly to how I always have: by ensuring that my family knows I love and respect them despite our differences. By keeping the peace. By hoping on hope that my extension of these comforts would slowly help better position them to fight for my equality and the equality of others. And, while there is beauty to patience, love, and respecting difference, the differences that we are discussing directly impact the equality, safety, and lives of millions of human beings. I do not believe that we can or should extend them these comforts any longer.

This holiday season, I urge you to first take all of that compassion that you have in your beautiful bones, and direct it inward. Take care of you. Just like they say in airplane safety messages, you must put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Here is a list of self-care tips that I put together in the wake of the election. Use them today, tomorrow, and all through the holidays. Center yourself. Breathe.

If taking care of yourself is step one, then extending our collective attention, compassion, outreach, and action toward LGBTQ communities, brown, black, and Muslim communities, Jewish communities, disabled and immigrant communities is step two. What this means is that, if conversations come up between you and your family members about this election, you can either choose not to engage (because you are saving those efforts to work directly for and with those communities!), or you can answer in ways that will lift these communities up. For example, if they say something like, “Well, I love you and care about you and I think marriage equality will be safe,” a short response might be: “I didn’t only vote for myself or for marriage equality. While there are direct threats to the LGTBQ community in this administration, I do not only center those concerns. I want all people to be treated equally in this country, and for all people to be safe and respected. That has not been our reality for a very long time, and my focus is and always will be on fighting for an administration and a country that will center those concerns.”

If your family responds to these sentiments by asking open, honest questions – if they seem as though they genuinely want to understand more about what you are saying – then acknowledge that and tell them that you would be happy to send them more reading materials, and more of your thoughts, after the holidays. I say this because I know the weight I feel in my center right now, and despite being quite a fighter, I know that I need to get through the immediacy of the holiday season, and to continue that engagement with my family on my own terms, and at my own pace. My order of business is: first, keeping myself standing, second, using that energy to lift up lgbtq and other marginalized communities, and third, using what is left to engage with those close to me who do not understand the consequences of their actions.

If, dearest Anonymous, they are “champions of what is right” as they say they are (and as, I know, you wish for them to be), then they will challenge themselves to do better, starting right now. There is an incredible essay called “If You Voted For Him” by John Pavlovitz that I urge you to share with your family at some point in your collective journey together. It outlines exactly how anyone who champions equality should be acting right now, regardless of who they voted for on November 8th.

It is okay to feel the way you are feeling right now; it is imperative. Take hope from those of us around you are facing the very same mountain this holiday season, and let us lean on each other as much as possible. Watch this livestream that I did last week, which addresses this question and many others specific to post-election holidays. We have to take things one step at a time, dear Anonymous. You can love them through this, that I do believe, and they can love you back… but things are different. It is hard, but important, to allow that new reality to exist, and to respond accordingly.

All my love to you.

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"Yesterday"
thoughts & reflection
by Kristin Russo

Yesterday I woke up after a night of tears, and saw dozens of emails and donations in support of my work with LGBTQIA youth.

Yesterday I wore my Nasty Woman t-shirt to the coffeeshop, and a black man came up to me to tell me he wanted to get one for himself and his son. I told him I would always fight for him.

Yesterday my mom called me in tears. She said she felt alone. She said she loved me. She told me I used to watch The Smurfs as a little kid, and I would look at her and say, “Look, mom, they are all holding hands. That is how you know they are gonna win.”

Yesterday I went to therapy.

Yesterday I blocked family members on social media.

Yesterday I cried. I held my wife, Jenny, close. I cried more.

Yesterday I did a livestream to create space for others in our community who were scared. We talked. We shared resources. Jenny sang The Rainbow Connection.

Yesterday I worked and I worked and I worked and I worked.

Yesterday I recorded a voice memo in an attempt to comfort a six-year-old who had woken up crying, and who asked his two moms how we could let a bad man be our president.

Yesterday I recognized and acknowledged my privilege as a white, cisgender woman.

Yesterday I feared for my brown, black, disabled, immigrant, undocumented, and Muslim friends. My trans friends. My friends who are survivors of sexual assault. My friends.

Yesterday was November 9, 2016.

Today I will fight. Tomorrow I will fight.

I will never, ever stop fighting.

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