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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.

Also check out our resource list specifically for LGBTQ Muslim youth, curated as a part of Longest Days, Sacred Nights!

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“how can I surely know I am gay? like everyone is saying that they have known it since they were little kids, but can you figure out later that you somehow happen to love women? I told my mother about my feelings because I believed that she would help me with it but she said to me that, she knew me and I cant like women because I didnt obviously like girls when I was a little kid. does it really make sense? I am really confused, I dont think I am faking my feelings but what if she is right?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Your mom is wrong.

Want to know how I know? I know because I am pretty flippin’ gay (specifically a queer bisexual cisgender lady married to a queer cisgender lady, if you really want to know the particulars), and I didn’t have any awareness whatsoever of being anything except tiny Kristin Russo when I was tiny Kristin Russo.

When I was 4 ½ I met a boy named Peter and he was 4 ½ too, and I thought that was the most lovely thing I had ever heard and so we told our parents we were boyfriend and girlfriend and then wrote each other pen-pal letters for a few years. In middle school I had real, heart-stopping crushes on boys and I also adored my very best friend in the whole wide world who was a girl. When she moved from New York to Ohio it was as though all of our limbs were being ripped from our bodies. You know?! In tenth grade I kissed some girls on “dares,” and was like “Oooooh boy, I sure don’t think I am gay… that was a GRAND EXPERIMENT, though!” Then, when I was a senior in high school I kissed one more girl and I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach and I was like “OH WAIT OH SHOOT OH MY I AM SO GAY FOR THIS GIRL AHHHH.”

You can read some of what happened after that when it came to coming out to my family here, but my larger point is that while I can go back and see some deep connections that I made with other girls (like my BFF in middle school) and perhaps overlay some “Oh maybe I should have known something then” logic… I didn’t know then. I didn’t know at all! I wasn’t sitting up at night thinking, “Oh but if only my BFF would kiss me someday, wouldn’t that be swell?!” I didn’t want to kiss her! I just wanted to be her very best friend forever!!

Some people know from a young age, sure. They feel different, they have crushes that are clear, and they might do things that make their parents or family think, “She is gonna be gay.” (Which SPOILER ALERT is pretty problematic bc you cannot tell a person’s sexuality by watching their behavior alone, duh.) Some people might be able to say, “Well, my name is Tina and I am a lesbian, I have known forever, it is clear as day,” and then slap a big rainbow sticker on their laptop. That is super great for Tina! GO TINA.

However, there are a whole ton of people who, like me (and you!), navigate through our sexuality in a more complicated (and sometimes confusing) manner. You might not ever feel like you know who you will be forever, and that is okay. You might not feel like you know exactly how you feel right now, and that is also okay. What you are saying is that you might find girls attractive, and you don’t have a label for those feelings yet. THAT. IS. OKAY. That is great! That means you know something super rad about yourself, and it means that maybe you will explore those feelings with people as time goes on. That exploration might teach you even more about yourself – what you like, what you don’t – and help you in better understanding your identity.

You aren’t faking your feelings. If you were smushing down those feelings and not talking about them or acknowledging them at all, that would be really tricky, and might make you “fake” certain feelings (like forcing yourself to date a boy so you don’t have to think so much about your crushes on girls, for example). If you are curious or interested or super into the idea of dating a girl someday, that isn’t fake! Even if you someday date a girl or kiss a girl and think, “Welp, I didn’t like that after all,” those feelings still weren’t fake!! They were just feelings that changed over time.

It is okay to tell your mom you don’t have a word for yourself yet (and that you might not ever). It is okay to tell your mom that not all gay people “always knew” who they were. It is okay to tell your mom that what you need right now is her support and love as you work to understand yourself better, and that you would really love to keep an open dialogue with her as you figure things out more.

Here is a video where I talk a bit more about my own journey with my sexuality, and here is another video I made with my own mom about our coming out process together.

Coming out to ourselves and other people can be really confusing sometimes, and that is totally, completely okay.

All my love to you and your mom, and I hope 2017 brings you a whole bunch of new questions, new answers, and maybe even a girlfriend WHO KNOWS.

xo

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“Last night was one of the worst in my life. I’d been wearing a binder for about a week or so off and on because I was having really bad dysphoria and dressing more masculinely is the only way to relieve it sometimes. I was in no way out to my parents that I was transgender and I didn’t want to be. They cornered me last night and wouldn’t leave until I came out and then tried to make me feel bad for doing so. What should I do now? I never wanted to come out.”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Mal Blum Says:

First, I’m sorry this happened and especially that it happened like this. I don’t need to tell anyone that coming out to parents can be difficult to begin with, and should never be forced. On top of that, physical dysphoria can feel intensely personal and vulnerable (especially if you are still figuring out how it manifests in your body, and what eases it). To have it confronted and dragged into conversation like this and forcing you to explain yourself is truly awful.

This shouldn’t have happened and (this part is really important, if you don’t read any other part of this, please read this) it isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong and they are wrong right now.

I say this because I know that when you feel vulnerable about something like this, it can be easy to internalize the things the people around you (especially authority figures) say about it. If they confront you in an aggressive way, if they make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed, there may be a part of you that is thinking “this is my fault, I made this uncomfortable situation, if I wasn’t trans this wouldn’t be happening, etc. etc.” – Here is where I am going to say it again, and hope that you believe me: if they caused you to feel uncomfortable in this situation, they are wrong in this situation. You are not responsible for this happening and are not at fault. Okay? So if you don’t believe that little voice inside of your gut that is telling you it isn’t your fault, then you can believe me, a stranger on the internet. Okay, so now that we have that covered, there is that question of what to do now…

Without knowing more about your situation, it’s a matter of what you have access to now. First is finding support to lean on. Do you have a supportive friend who knows what’s going on? Do you have access to a trustworthy counselor or therapist, if your parents aren’t supportive in helping you access that, maybe through school? I know some might not, and the plight of sticking it out and cohabitating with your parents can seem dire – I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention as a resource for someone to talk to about what you’re going through that The Trevor Project has a free 24/7 line (866-488-7386) or 3-9pm E.T. online chat. You can also reach the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.

Second, I want to encourage you to let yourself cope in whatever ways work for you. Is there anything that makes you feel better, or takes you out of your head, even if only marginally, even if only for a few minutes? Music, books, video games, memes, maybe this e-care package from Everyone Is Gay, whatever it is, I want to tell you that it’s okay. My opinion is as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, whatever you need to do to help yourself cope is okay.

Third, be as kind to yourself as you would be to somebody else going through the same thing (and there are other people going through this, if it helps, you are not alone). This is an important one. Try not to say mean things to yourself. Remember to be patient with yourself. Be a good friend to yourself. You deserve that.

This last bit is only for if you are anxious about the long term. I don’t know your parents, or your relationship with them. I do know that your relationship with your parents may grow and change. On my best days, I believe that people have a tremendous capacity for change. Part of my first “coming out” process involved an intervention-style “family meeting” where I was confronted, shamed and told awful things that I internalized, including the position that if I were “the gay kid” I would be responsible for my youngest sibling (my ally in the family) being bullied and assaulted on my account.

As an adult, I know that is wrong. It is not okay to put that responsibility on a child’s shoulders, it is not okay to aggressively confront your child about their gender or sexuality, or use derogatory language to get your point across. As a child, I think I knew that somewhere, but I didn’t totally believe it. I hope that you believe it.

I also don’t know if it helps, but I am close with my parents now. I kept them at arms length at times, and I did a lot of work once I was out of their house. I learned to assert boundaries, I learned to express myself and feel more valid in my opinions, thoughts, feelings and needs. I am still learning. That same sibling was really helpful in coming out to them about gender stuff over the last two years, and they have clearly grown a lot and I am glad to be close with them now. There were times I never could have imagined it 12 years ago, but a lot can change.

That said, if your parents are not the type to grow and change with you, if they are unwilling or unable, if they continue to be harmful or abusive, I don’t think you owe them anything, including a relationship.  Either way, you don’t have to figure it out today, all you have to do right now is focus on being kind and patient with yourself and surviving the best way you can.

Sending hugs, I hope you’re okay,
Mal

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How do i come out to my family as bisexual with actions instead of words because I'm to scared to say it.

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

1. Rousing family game of Scrabble (you won’t get any points on “I am Bisexual,” but I think they’ll get the point.)

2. Gift them This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, cross out “GAY” in sharpie marker and write “BI” and then circle all of the related advice questions inside of the book (spoiler: this is also a book for parents of bi kids). Bonus Points: Wrap it in newspaper clippings about famous bisexuals.

3. Wear this shirt to dinner:

4. OMG BAKE A CAKE:

5. Write them a letter. This one doesn’t really have a JOKE component, I just think it is a great way to come out as anything because it gives you the space to say exactly what you want, and gives them the space to digest and process the information. Ya know?!

6. Gather them together for a morning breathing session (it’ll be great, it’ll be grand) where you show them this GIF & explain how calming it can be to the central nervous system:

After they do that a few times, “accidentally” close that GIF to reveal this one:

Then, shrug and shout I AM BISEXUAL and do 16 jumping jacks. It will give you such a great story…

I HOPE THIS HAS HELPED.
You can also check out all theeeeese posts on coming out! Boom.

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"I’m a trans woman, and in the wake of the election I’m finding it hard to be hopeful. Any advice?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mey Rude Says:

Hey, honestly, I’m in that same scary, hopeless boat as you. But, the good thing about that is that there are a lot of us here in this boat, and while all of us are afraid of sharks and storms and jellyfish and waves, we’re also all together, and that makes us stronger. And while you and I might be really scared of the water and all the things in it, a lot of the people in the boat are a lot braver than us. A lot of them also have skills we don’t have. Maybe they know how to spot changes in the weather or how to patch up holes in the bottom of the boat. Maybe they know how to fight off dangerous sea creatures. Maybe they even know how to spot land and how to get us there.

Now, I’ve probably strained that metaphor about as far as it will go, but I hope you understand what I’m getting at. You’re not alone, we’re not alone, and we never will be. We’ll always have each other. A lot of trans women, and trans people of all kinds, are going to be banding together more now than we have in decades, because, honestly, the danger that faces us is greater than is has been since the days of Reagan and the AIDS crisis. Let me tell you something, though, when we come together, we are powerful as heck. We started the Stonewall Riots, that means the LGBTQ movement as we know it is because of us. We changed the way people look at gender and fashion and language. Shade, werk, yaas, read, all of that was us (and when I say “us” I mean specifically Black and Latina trans women in this case). Culture would not be the same without us. We are revolutionary, radical and resilient.

What’s more than that – and this is really good news – is that we have all of our allies. We have the people who love us and are willing to sacrifice in order to protect us. We have people who are fighting tooth and nail for us, and they’re not going to let this ship go down no matter what (there I am with that metaphor again). They’re already donating their time and effort and money to places like the Trans Lifeline, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Transgender Law Center in order to help us out. They’re already helping us to change our names and our documents, they’re offering us shelter in case we lose our homes, they’re offering us love and community and protection.

Also, to be completely honest, maybe my words won’t give you hope. I understand that. I’ve had a lot of hopeless days since the election. But even when I’m feeling hopeless I’m going to keep fighting until I get that hope back, and so are a lot of other people. And if you can’t have hope right now, that’s okay, the rest of us will hope for you. Soon enough of us will be fighting (whether we have hope or not) that we’ll make things better and it will be easier to be hopeful. This is something I believe with all my heart and know with all my soul.

Until then, though, it’s not going to be easy. I don’t want to give you unrealistic expectations for the next four or eight years. But I’m fine giving you hope, because no matter how small hope is, it isn’t unrealistic. It can’t be. It’s hope, and hope is literally magic. I told you I was done with the metaphors and I am. When I say that it’s magic I mean very literally that hope makes things that should be impossible possible. It changes lives and it changes the world. And so while it seems like these next four years are going to be impossible, as long as we have each other, as long as we have our allies and as long as at least some of us have hope, we’re going to keep on fighting and keep on moving forward.

If you’re feeling hopeless enough that you want to hurt yourself, please reach out to someone. You can call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 in the US or (877) 330-6366 in Canada, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or the general National Suicide Prevention Hotline for the US at 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project also has text and chat lines.

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