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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 20yo and recently found ur channel, where the vid w/ your mom really struck a chord.In the last yr, I've realized i am bisexual.My family is devoutly catholic, and so while i don't like the idea of them not knowing, i'm not really counting on a positive reaction(many think bi=slutty) Its really encouraging to hear you talk about working things out with your mom, but overwhelming to imagine doing that w/ my whole family to the point where I'm not even sure if it's worth it and idk what to do."

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin says:

Hi, hi, hi.

Listen, I totally understand what you’re saying, and I want to be clear: my mom and I are in a pretty great place right now with my sexuality, but there were years where it felt overwhelming and super, super hard. To be honest, during many of the years that I was first going through the coming-out process with my family, I (unknowingly) closed myself off to a lot of the things that were happening; I think our bodies go into self-protection mode when we are around things that hurt us. I would often avoid conversations that might intersect with my sexuality, or, even more so, I would cloak myself in anger and spent years raging against the heterosexual-machine.*

I have the benefit of being able to now LOOK BACK at that time in my life and view it from a distance. I have the benefit of being able to sit down with my mom and reflect on those years that were super, super hard. I came out in 1998, and my mom and I made this video in 2016 – almost twenty years of work span in between.

Now, I do not say any of this to discourage you, Anonymous. As a matter of fact, I say it to encourage you, and to hopefully better inform and prepare you for what (might) lie ahead. My family – and especially my extended family – is incredibly Catholic. My mom, over time, has been able to integrate her love for me with her faith. That is an integration that took a lot of time, a lot of conversation, a lot of patience, and some serious, overwhelming hurt (for both of us). My extended family has done varying levels of that same integration (for both me and my wife as a matter of fact), but we still bump into places that are difficult, and I think we always will.

One thing I never bump into anymore, though, is the avoidance of speaking my truth. I no longer apologize for who I am, and I don’t to hesitate or avoid my truths when I am around my family. They know who I am, they know the work that I do, and most of us have chosen to focus on the things that we know to be true: we love each other, we have differing beliefs in certain places, and we have the same beliefs in many others.

Yes, my Catholic family can still tangle together my life and their beliefs in ways that hurt, but moreso than anything else they have chosen to center their actions and their words around LOVE. And as well they should! My understanding of Catholicism, Christianity, and most religions, is that love and community are core tenets of the larger structure. Those supports of love and community helped to bring my mom and I to where we are today, and I can say the same for many of my aunts and cousins, too.

I encourage you to take your process one step at a time. You don’t have to come out to your whole family all at once (and maybe give the people you do come out to a copy of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids so that they understand that they aren’t to go telling everyone before you’re ready, not to mention gaining a whole bunch of other important knowledge!). Prepare yourself as best you can, which generally means surrounding yourself with supportive friends and online communities – places you can turn to when your family is processing in ways that hurt you.

Our website for parents is also a really great resource to offer them as you do come out (we have a whole section on religion!), and when things are feeling low, spend some time in this playlist of the best lipsycing that Dannielle and I ever did… that’s exactly what it’s for.

xo, Kristin

*Technically, I suppose I am still raging against the heterosexual machine…

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“Is it possible to be queer and Christian? It feels like those two identities are constantly in conflict in my life, but they both mean a lot to me :/”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Alyse Knorr Says:

Short answer: Of COURSE it’s possible to be both queer and Christian! Not only because you can be any damn thing you want to be in this world, but because these two particular identities actually go together like peanut butter and jelly or Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo or whatever other metaphor you prefer. Before we go any further, let me first say that I am a queer, Christian-identifying human, and so, as with anything religious, everything I say here will come from my own personal interpretation of Christianity. Everyone’s experience of their faith will be different, just as everyone’s experience of their gender and sexuality is different. So take that with a grain of salt and pepper. Or Dany and Drogo. Or whatever.

For a long, long time, I, too, felt like I could not be both queer and Christian–that I had to choose one or the other, and that never in a million years could those two identities coincide. And to be fair, there are certainly reasons why you and I and many others have felt this way–reasons that probably have a lot to do with our own unique experiences in our church upbringings and in our views of the role that some Christians play in debates over LGBTQ rights.

It’s easy to forget that, in the end, your faith–just like your gender and sexuality–is your own and no one else’s. No one can tell you what to think or do or what not to think or do when it comes to your faith. The key is to follow your heart and your gut and do what makes you happy. For some, that means opening themselves up to spiritual experiences through things like meditation, chanting, purposeful walking, you name it. For others, those spiritual experiences are made more meaningful, or occur more frequently, when governed by a set of ritual practices and/or occurring within a community. That, to me, is the difference between being spiritual and being religious. Religion is about practice and community.

For me, Christianity provides a useful framework within which to experience my spirituality, as well as a moral system to guide my actions. It’s the faith tradition I was raised in, and its rituals, central text, and emphasis on service work all resonate with me. Other Christians are drawn to worship, and still others to prayer. There are many ways of being a Christian, and I don’t just mean denominations! When you look past common stereotypes of “religious people” and Christians, you’ll see that you can be a religious skeptical scientist, a religious feminist, a brilliant religious pop star, or, yeah, a religious queer person.

As you point out, this identity is not without conflict. In some parts of the country it can be hard to find a welcoming church, or a welcoming church where you’re not the only queer person. And the history and political activism of certain Christian groups can feel deeply unsettling and can be difficult to look past. In the end, it’s totally fine to ask critical questions about your faith and your religion, because religion–any religion–can cause harm. But again, your faith is your own, and you can practice it in creative ways. For instance, I have never been that into all the language and iconography that represents God as an old bearded white man. So I like to use other language in my prayers and conceptualizations: God as a holy spirit, a comforting presence, the universe in all its complexities, or even a sacred mother. When I read passages in the Bible about how women must be subservient to men, I interpret them in their historical context, like the rule about not wearing clothing woven from two types of material (Leviticus 19:19).

So what do I mean, then, about how a Christian and a queer identity can actually complement each other in powerful ways? For starters, I didn’t identify as a Christian until after I came out. Growing up, I didn’t relate to my family’s religion at all, but after I came out and started to know myself better, I felt more in touch with the universe and more interested in big-picture questions about how to live a good life and help others. In an effort to continue to understand myself better, I looked back at the Bible and was totally shocked at what I found there.

Christianity, I discovered, is not a religion of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” It’s a religion of radical kindness, peace, and inclusion. The New Testament, and the gospels in particular, are all about loving your neighbor, loving your neighbor some more, and, just for a change of pace, loving your neighbor. “Yeah, yeah,” you’re thinking, “That’s the easy stuff. The hard things are going to church and reading the Bible and doing all those things that queer people aren’t allowed to do. The hard parts are those religious parts.” I would argue, though, that this is totally not the case. First of all, these central tenets of the faith are the hard parts–and not just because I’ve had neighbors who gave me bed bugs and kept me up all night with crying babies. Loving your neighbor no matter what is incredibly hard. Letting go of anxiety and putting your faith into the greater universe is incredibly hard. Living your life in service of others is incredibly hard. But Christianity challenges me to do all of this every day, 24 hours a day. My faith presents me with this challenge, and my faith provides me with the tools to meet it. My faith provides me with comfort when I face hardships in my life, including hardships related specifically to my female or queer identities. My faith offers me the promise of justice when I’m the victim, and the promise of grace when I’m the perpetrator–when I screw up, as we all inevitably do.

So that’s my experience–but you will have your own totally unique journey as a queer Christian, and it’s going to be awesome. The great news is that if you want to practice Christianity as a queer individual in a community of accepting and affirming people, there are an overwhelming number of opportunities to do so. Do you have a certain denomination in mind–perhaps the denomination you were raised in? If so, hop online and find a nearby church of that denomination that’s welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ congregants. Lots of denominations have special names for such churches, such as the More Light Presbyterians, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the Open and Affirming United Church of Christ, and Integrity Believe Out Loud Episcopalians. If you don’t have a specific denomination in mind, or you’re looking for something new or specifically gay-focused, try the Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination specifically for LGBTQ congregants. I went to an MCC church and Bible study for awhile after I came out and absolutely loved it.

Finally, seek out classes (especially at the college level), books, and online resources to help you in your quest to negotiate your queer and Christian identities. Personally, I found most helpful the works of Christian scholar Marcus Borg, as well as articles on feminist readings of the Bible. Find someone you trust and talk to them about your journey. Be patient with yourself and follow your heart–I wish you the best of luck!

***
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I'm A Gay Christian

by Alyse Knorr

I never expected that coming out would bring me closer to my faith, but that’s exactly what happened.

Despite (or maybe because of) my very religious upbringing in the Deep South, I could never quite “click” with Christianity. I went to a massive megachurch on Sundays, then a tiny rural youth group on Wednesday nights (because a girl I had a crush on attended), and I felt like a fraud in both environments. I didn’t weep during The Passion of the Christ like the other kids, and my heart was never warmed by the full baptisms on the Jumbotron screen above the rock concert worship stage.

I felt disillusioned by all of the historical injustices Christianity had helped perpetrate, while at the same time, I was terrified of going to hell. Over and over I “recommitted” to Jesus, hoping to feel something. But all I felt were confusing “impure thoughts” that haunted me during morning worship, surrounded on all sides by thousands of reverent born-again Christians who I just knew would soon discover the fact that I wasn’t really one of them.

Even though I couldn’t connect with Christianity, I still felt fascinated by the essential mysteries of creation, human consciousness, and the afterlife. I would have checked the “spiritual, not religious” box throughout most of college and graduate school. I equated “religion” with dogma and hate, and “spirituality” with freedom and open-mindedness. Still, I longed for the ritual, symbolism, and community of church. I wanted the daily practice of religion. I understand the world through words, and I wanted a text to refer to again and again for its beauty and metaphor.

After I came out, things started falling into place. I talked to a friend’s mother, who was a pastor, about alternate names for God. Instead of using the patriarchal term “Father,” I could use Holy Parent, Protector, Guardian, or Timeless One. I started reading the Bible and actually enjoying it. It helped to read the text with its historical context in mind, and through a heavily metaphorical lens. Truth is not necessarily fact, and vice versa.

I talked to my partner about her experiences growing up Presbyterian— the quietness of her religion, its emphasis on service and community. She asked if I wanted to go to church with her, and I was skeptical, to say the least. So we went to a Metropolitan Community Church (a Protestant denomination with an LGBTQ outreach emphasis) and my whole world changed. Families of all types sat in the pews. Inclusive language filled the hymnbooks. Loving gay couples lined up to take communion together and then pray with one of the ministers, arms locked around each other in a tight circle. For the first time, I took communion. The whole experience moved me to tears.

Soon after, I started attending a Bible study at MCC and learned more about what it meant to be a gay Christian. These men and women viewed Jesus as a protector, a champion of the weak, the Other, the outcast. They admired the Bible’s female heroes, and emphasized that there is more love and kindness in the Bible than hatred or dogma.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them I go to church, like being Christian and being gay are not compatible. I understand the misconception. But coming out is the reason I began re-exploring Christianity. Coming out helped me finally accept and love my real self. There were no more secrets or shame, no more lying or fear. I finally felt like I knew myself, and that meant I could open up to even more love and connectedness, this time through the framework of religion.

I’m still learning what Christianity means to me, and trying to determine how to live at peace with its troubled history. For me, it is deeply satisfying to reclaim the religion used to oppress and terrify me as a younger person. And the good news is that things are changing very, very quickly, with more and more churches of all kinds welcoming gay members, marrying gay couples, and ordaining gay clergy.

***
This story was excerpted from This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014). Learn more about our writers, and help support their work, here on Patreon!

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