Community + Activism / Finding Community

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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 14 years old, gay, and my dad is in the military so we move around a lot. How do I deal with having to come out over and over again?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Shane Billings as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Shane Says:

Dear Over-and-Over-a-Gay:

The coming out process has actually been on my mind quite a bit recently. I’ve noticed that, even ten years after I started coming out myself, it can still be a challenging task. You’re not alone.

The sort-of-bad news is that coming out is rarely a one-stop shop. And by “rarely” I mean sometimes Olympians like Tom Daley date Oscar-winners, then come out with a viral video, so…. if you can pull it off, there’s that option.

But, silver lining! The coming outs can be whatever you want them to be, and can happen however you want them to happen. You have the added challenge of moving around military-family style, which can be exhausting every time you have to rehash your personal intro. But if you add a little creativity to coming out, it can alleviate the anxiety that usually goes hand in hand with being vulnerable around new people.

For example, you could set up a Secrets Booth, where people come to trade secrets with you. That way, you level the playing field when it comes to disclosing personal information. There’s also the right-off-the-bat approach, which goes something like…

“Bonjour, I’m Shane and also gay, smell ya later!”

If you’re inclined towards the written word, some of my closest friends have had positive experiences in writing coming out e-mails. You can preface with something like, “I’m figuring out the best way to do this, so here goes….” Writing letters, e-mails, or private messages gives you the literary freedom and control to articulate yourself the precise way you want.

You’re also totally justified in saying, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” if your sexuality comes up, or you’d rather come out after you get to know people a tad better.

If you let it, coming out can become an ongoing skill and a helpful tool, rather than a burden. My big picture advice: within safety and reason, come out as often as you can. Say it to the mirror, sing it underwater, write it on a bathroom stall. Make prank calls and say, “Hello, I’m gay. Have a wonderful day, sir or ma’am.”

Don’t pass up an opportunity to be courageous, even by yourself. You are an extremely important figure in the big gay narrative. Stories like yours, that demonstrate continuous courage, those are the stories that inspire others to do the same, to be themselves.

It’s an enormous responsibility and a fabulous privilege. Your coming out helps build a safer community, by outnumbering the fears that keep us in the closet. It doesn’t have to be HIGH KICKS and GLITTER every time. But every time a gay kid comes out, a drag queen gets her wigs. Let that comforting thought be the wind beneath your wings.

***

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“Hi, I’m intersex, but I’ve never met another intersex person before. Where is everyone?! I want to meet another intersex person so much. Where do I find them?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hi, Anonymous!  This is a great question – I don’t think I’ve ever met another intersex person that didn’t share these sentiments.  I remember dreaming about what it would be like to meet another intersex person as a kid, wondering where they all were, wondering when it would happen. When I finally did meet an out intersex person for the first time, I felt like my heart and my life exploded in the best of all possible ways.    I had been told for years and years by doctors, my family, society at large that I had to keep my body and myself a secret, that other people wouldn’t understand, that I had to try my best to be “normal” at all costs.  To finally meet someone that not only understood but VALIDATED my intersex self? Was nothing less than life-changing. I count that as one of many turning-points in my life.  Meeting other intersex people is important and great, and I hope that you can connect with some fantastic intersex folks soon!

That being said, WE ARE NOT AN EASY BUNCH TO FIND out in the world nowadays.  That shame and secrecy I referenced just a moment ago is still the party line that a lot of intersex kids are given – and what a lot of intersex teens and adults stick to because 1) there aren’t a ton of models out there showing closeted intersex people that you can come out and live a fulfilling life and it will be okay, and 2) the medicalization most of us undergo and the intersexphobia we feel in society is a deterrent to coming out when most of us are still closeted. Intersex people looking to connect have historically had a difficult time doing so.  Furthermore, doctors have not been helpful for putting intersex kids and families in contact with one another, at least in part because of patient confidentiality agreements.

But one giant thing has changed since the dark ages of the 1980’s when I was born, that’s helping intersex people find one another today:  THE POWER OF THE INTERNET.  There has been, like, approx. eleventy billion articles and thinkpieces on how the internet has changed social landscapes, in ways that are argued to be either awesomesauce or awfulsauce #makinwordsup #fakewordfriday #justgowithit  #awfulsauceyum??  In this particular case, the internet has been enormously helpful in enabling intersex people to connect with one another – both online and in real life.  In short:  THE INTERNET IS RIDICULOUSLY HELPFUL, DO YOU KNOW, WHY DON’T YOU LOG ON NOW #dialupnoises #ughlikeyouknowwhatthosearenow #speakingofthe80s #halpimdecrepit

There are multiple ways you can search for awesome, out intersex people to connect with.  You can search the #intersex hashtag on social media, like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook or Google search terms like “intersex organization” or “intersex activist.”  (You may not care if the wonderful intersex people you wanna connect with are activists/affiliates of an intersex organization or not, but these are nevertheless starting points to meet other intersex people!)  Follow some intersex folks and orgs that advocate for intersex human rights and/or provide support for intersex folks.  If you find some people or groups you think you like, check em out online and learn more.  Check out some stuff they’ve written.  Subscribe to a newsletter.  See if they host a chatroom, forum, or closed Facebook group you can join, where intersex people can talk with one another.  (These exist out there, with some that are specific for people with a particular intersex variation.)  See if the intersex folks or orgs you like give talks or workshops, or take part in or host (bi-)annual meetings you’d like to attend, AND THEN GO!  Going to a real-life event is a great way to meet intersex people in person!  You have the opportunity to not only meet awesome intersex folks who live far away but you can keep up with through the wonders of text message, Gchat, and Skype, but you may also find intersex people you like that live near you! And now you’re straight-up hanging out with intersex people, ALL BECAUSE YOU SEARCHED A HASHTAG ON THE INTERNETS, man are you good!

A further note:  if you don’t have a lot of $$$, that’s not necessarily a problem – you can still totally go to an event!  Many talks and workshops are free or donation-based for participants, and big annual meetings – which do cost money, and are hosted in different places that require travel – sometimes offer scholarships to help those in need attend. See what’s in your area or close-by, and what seems worth saving up for, traveling to, and applying for scholarships to attend.

FIRE UP YR SEARCH ENGINES, Anonymous, and go find some friends!  <3

***

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“I’m starting college in September and I decided to live in a single this year because I’m just starting to transition. I’m worried about living alone and missing out on the social scene. I know I want a roommate in the future, but how should I go about finding one and talking to them about my identity?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Liam Says:

Let me start out by saying how excited I am for you! Congratulations to you for making the tough choice to room in a single and not let the FOMO get the best of you. You deserve this time to focus on all the changes in your life—transitioning into college life as well as your gender identity— and trust that friends will come.

First and foremost, when you talk about your identity with folks at school, be patient with yourself. You are new at this. You will make mistakes. Sometimes you will wait too long to tell people, other times you will say something sooner than you wished. Especially when you are meeting new people.

But part of the goal of college is for you to meet new people, of all sorts. You will, I’m sure, be one of, if not the, first trans person many of your classmates have met. And they will, likely be one of, if not the, first _____ (insert any type of person) you have met.

To that point, in order to make sure you don’t miss out on the social scene: make yourself do things. Living in a single room and transitioning, it’s natural to isolate yourself a bit—so just be aware of that and stay plugged into events at school, attend club meetings, try things out. Make a calendar and get yourself out there.

As far as finding a roommate next year, I would recommend trying to live with someone you feel comfortable with—this might mean someone from the queer community, or it might mean finding someone who is super into Dr. Who and likes to silly-dance to old Ke$ha songs while cleaning the floor.

The biggest thing to remember is that your unique needs as a trans person are of equal worth (if not greater) than any other preferences you may have.

When I first roomed with someone in college, a randomly assigned cisgender straight woman, I was nervous my identity and the correlating needs I had would be taken less seriously than, say, her allergies. I was pleasantly surprised when, after I came out, she suggested we come up with roommate policies to address my concerns.

For a while, this included a blanket policy against nudity (dysmorphia was rough), scheduling time for us each to be alone in the room privately (a.k.a. when I would take my binder off and sit in front of a fan), and a policy limiting room-visitors to those who were pre-screened as non-transphobic. (Yes, in case you are wondering, this person was the best and we are tight to this day).

Your room or apartment is your home, and you deserve to feel totally comfortable. For me, that meant being out to everyone who walked in the door. For you, that could mean being stealth, or not talking about this aspect of who you are unless you feel safe and know your roommate is cool. Whatever it is, you deserve it, and you should find a roommate who will respect your needs.

This year is a really good time for you to figure out your boundaries, and find someone who you like and think is a good fit. Trust me, it is easier to figure it out on your own and let someone now than to try and figure it out with another person.

But this same principle relates to making friends in college more generally. An absolute base-line is that the person not be transphobic, but good friends will support and love you, and be extra tender and listen harder to your needs relating to being trans.

Recently, I was in that time period where a cool acquaintance was becoming a friend. You will be experiencing this a lot, once you are in school. This person seemed really cool— though she identified as straight and cisgender, I was able to talk with her about being trans and it was not weird.

Then, one day, as often happens when you are trans (even after you transition, wait and see!) someone did something transphobic. It was one of those micro-aggressions that typically roll off my back, but for whatever reason, on this day, it was too much. I had a lunch date with this new friend, though, and sat picking quietly at my lunch when she asked, “You seem upset, what’s up?”

I told her what happened, and not dispassionately. She nodded, shook her head, and said “what in the actual f“ when appropriate. And, as you’d think, it felt much better to have talked to someone. Most of all though, it felt good to know my friend was as cool as she seemed.

“Thanks for letting me talk about this stuff,” I said, suddenly embarrassed and looking down at my feet while we walked back from lunch “And like, being an ally or whatever.”

She scoffed and raised her eyebrows. “I don’t need a title,” she said, cocking her head at me, “I’m not doing anything, I am just not being an actual pile of garbage.” I laughed, but she turned and looked at me dead in the eye, “That’s pretty much the absolute least you deserve.”

And that is how I knew she was not just a friend, but a good friend.

In school, you will meet many cool acquaintances, friends, and if you’re lucky, some good friends. But remember that your trans identity is not a negative, and that you deserve to be listened to and respected. As you meet more people, look for the ones who treat you that way—those who do so without fail, and without you having to ask—and keep them close to you through college and beyond. These people also tend to make very good roommates.

Good luck and have a great first semester!

***

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“Hi! Do you have any advice on dating and being involved in the LGBT community while sober? I recently began my coming out journey and am looking for more ways to be involved and seek community, but so many events are centered around alcohol or bars and I don’t drink. I appreciate any advice you have! Thanks!”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

I do have advice! I do!

Let’s do this in two parts, shall we? The dating part, and the being involved part. COOL GREAT LIFT OFF:

Getting involved in the larger community without alcohol is totally possible, and means that you will open up really badass avenues into community-based efforts toward change and awareness. Some of the best humans in my life have come from doing volunteer work with queer and trans organizations. Look up local places in your area, or events that are coming up that may need an extra hand or two. Seek out an internship if you have the time! If you have a few friends who want to join you in the volunteer effort, awesome, and if not, full steam ahead bc your NEW friends will be there waiting.

If you’re like COOL KRISTIN THANKS BUT, I DON’T REALLY WANNA VOLUNTEER, sigh, okay, I will give you a few more tips (but like, you should at least try the above suggestion).  Try to host a meet-up in your area! Autostraddle is home to hosting many-a-meet-up, so check those out, take some notes, and either join one in your area or start one of your own! Also, use dating apps to make friends! PEOPLE TOTALLY DO IT. If there are other people in your area who are like, ‘Man, I would love to just get a goddamn coffee and talk about my complicated feelings on Roxanne Gay’s latest essay,’ and they see your profile and it says, ‘Looking for a friend or seven who will get coffee with me and talk about the complicated words of Roxanne Gay,’ they will LOSE THEIR MIND and MESSAGE YOU and you will HAVE COFFEE AND TALK. (Or if you’re on Long Island you’ll have cawfee and tawk.)

Getting involved in dating without alcohol is a matter of honesty, and believing that your sober self is fucking awesome. My very dear friend was a social drinker her whole life, and then she broke up with her (social drinker) girlfriend and began online dating. The first THREE people she dated were sober. Totally sober. She was like, ‘wow, this is kind of amazing, I actually don’t like drinking every time I go out,’ and she now BARELY drinks at all (and she isn’t even with a sober human, she just enjoys sobriety!). Be clear that you don’t drink. Ask for first dates to happen at amazing coffeeshops or bookstores or local parks! You owning your sober-ness will bring people into your life who connect with you and who aren’t desperate to make their dating life hinge on alcohol. And, truthfully, although I am a social drinker myself, I think that finding that quality in a person you date is very, very important regardless of whether your sober or not.

I hope this helps!

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