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"My partner is Muslim, and though she has told her family she is a lesbian and has moved out, she is struggling with not having told her family she is seeing me. How can I support her when she says she feels like she is living a “double life” and help her tell her family?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Family is hard. We can tackle that bit in a moment, but before we talk about parents, I want to bring something else up. Family can be messy and complicated, and feeling like you can’t reconcile two intimate parts of who you are (pitting religion and identity against each other) can be especially painful. But. It’s important to remember that if you’re here for your partner and close enough to be living together, you’re her family too.

There are two sides to a double life. We can strategize ways to help your partner reconcile her identity with her family, but there’s a part of this that you have much more control over. LGBTQ Muslim identity doesn’t begin and end with our relationships to our birth family. If your partner feels like she’s living a double life as a lesbian and a Muslim, here’s a question you might want to ask yourself: “How am I making room for my partner’s Muslim identity in our relationship?”

We don’t leave our faith and our culture behind when we move out of our parents’ house. It follows us everywhere. For a lot of Muslims who are also LGBTQ, it feels impossible to “be both”—and this isn’t just because of hostility to gender and sexual minorities in the masjid. The difficulty reconciling our identities with our faith is also (maybe just as much) because of hostility toward Muslims in LGBTQ spaces. People like to create a narrative with a monolithic, oppressive Islam on one side and an inclusive, accepting secular society on the other, and never the two shall meet. Queer and trans Muslims are sort of caught in the middle, vying for acceptance from our families and our chosen communities at the same time.* Fostering an LGBTQ movement that is inclusive to people of faith is, in my opinion, a critically important goal we should have for today’s generation of activists. It starts with us.

When it comes right down to it, you can’t change a dang thing about your partner’s family. Maybe it’s better to focus on the thing that you CAN do—help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity within your relationship.So how can you help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity? I fielded this question to my ever-inspiring WLW** Muslimah fam in the groupchat and there was one thing that really stuck out: educate yourself.

Learn about the experiences of Muslims in the West. About our cultures and traditions.*** Don’t come from a place of judgment—realize that just because a tradition may be a little different doesn’t mean it’s backwards or oppressive. In this age of The War on Terror, many people are quick to look at Islam through a very skewed lens. Don’t let those little Islamophobic gremlins get in the way of learning the truth about what is ultimately a very diverse, dynamic, and fulfilling faith practice. More than just learning, find a way to practice together. Do you know how friggin’ FUN Ramadan can be? Sure, it gets strenuous at times, but fasting and feasting together can create an opportunity for strong, lasting relationship-building (kissing a person with fasting breath can be an exercise in true love, and you really come to understand who a person is at her core when you first experience her hangry 15-minutes-til-maghrib face).

Understanding the faith may help you understand your partner a little better. Find a way to ask her, what can I do to help you feel fulfilled in this part of your life? Talk with her about what you can both do to make her faith as much a part of your family as anything else.

~~~

Now. Dealing with parents. Alright. One of the most frustrating parts about this whole being alive thing is this: the things in our life that require time to get better are usually the situations where it feels like time is the hardest thing to give. When it comes to dealing with our parents, sometimes the best thing for growth and understanding between family is a little bit of space and a little bit of time.

Now, I’m an old lady so I have a little bit of perspective. I came out to my parents ten years ago. There were arguments. There were tears. In all honesty, there were a few bad years between us. And those years where we were estranged from each other? They hurt like hell. But I didn’t give up.

The strategy I took with my parents is one I come back to again and again when dealing with difficult people or stressful interactions in my life and activism: prove them wrong by living well. When things get tough, just live the best life you can. Let them see just how good the truth looks on you. As time went on and the overt tension began to ease between us, we began to talk, and with conversation we found a way to come together from a place of respect and understanding. They knew how unhappy and afraid I was in the closet. They could see how healthy, fulfilled, and whole I felt when I was able to be open with myself and the world. They came to understand how the person in front of them now was happy and confident and nothing at all like the depressed, anxious teenage wreck who left the house at 18. After some hard conversations, eventually my parents came around to understand I was still their child, and we still loved each other, and we could use that as a jumping-off point to understand each other. My personal relationship with my parents isn’t perfect, but it’s stronger than it has ever been and comes from a place of mutual respect and understanding. It took time and work, but it’s worth it.

~~~

So what can you do right now? Be there for your partner, no matter how those hard conversations go with her parents. Come from a place of compassion and understanding, and let her know you’ll be there to support her (all of her—Islam and all) no matter how things turn out. If it goes poorly and family relationships get even more strained than they are now, then do what we do best: Prove them wrong by living well. Time can be the greatest healer of all. Insha’allah****, love and understanding win out in the end.

~~~

* — To learn more about LGBTQIA+ Muslims (most importantly, how awesome we are) there are a lot of great resources online but a great place to start is at the website for MASGD (Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity). If you’re on Tumblr, a great place to start is at this Queer Muslim Masterpost.

** — WLW = “women who love women”

*** — It’s important to recognize that there is no universalized Muslim culture. Muslims come from all cultures and countries of the globe

***  —- “Insha’allah” translates to something like “if Allah wills” and will often follow whenever a Muslim makes plans or is talking about things in the future.

***

Mahdia Lynn is a writer, feminist critic and activist living on the stolen and colonized land currently recognized as the United States of America. When she isn’t working as as coordinator of the Transgender Muslim Support Network or helping organize the annual LGBTQ Muslim Retreat, she is a chef and comic nerd who enjoys eating pizza and taking naps. She has a website with previously published work and runs a sorta-messily curated tumblr if you want to check in on what she’s up to.

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“I grew up in a Muslim household. I’ve recently come to terms with being trans, and while I want to stay connected to my faith, I’m not sure how to reconcile my identity as a trans person with my identity as a Muslim.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Mash’allah! What a blessing, to be Muslim and trans. Islam is such a beautiful and dynamic faith. And! Trans people are friggin’ awesome. Being a TRANS MUSLIM!? This is awesome. You are awesome. Yes.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course. Holding on to your faith while being “different” can be a real struggle—and being trans is a pretty big “different” to deal with. The highly normative, gender segregated culture that is so common can make navigating Muslim spaces a minefield of gender feels. And while a lot of people in the community are more accommodating and accepting of trans people than you’d think, it’s often the bigots who yell the loudest.

That doesn’t mean Islam as a whole is unaccepting of transgender people. In fact, multiple well-respected scholars have ruled in favor of transgender people’s rights (like the Grand Mufti Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy of Al-Azhar, the oldest Islamic university in the world, who ruled in favor of modern transgender pioneer Sally Mursi in 1992) and many governments have followed suit (like when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan provided a “third gender” option on legal documentation in 2009 or how the Islamic Republic of Iran provides financial and legal support for its citizens undergoing transition ever since 1987). While the language we use to describe ourselves may change over time, gender variant people have existed since well before the time of the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and Islam is a dynamic and diverse faith that makes room for all its followers—cis and trans alike.

Here are some strategies that have worked for Muslims like us: A lot of people choose to avoid the masjid* during the early stages of transition. Some start visiting a new mosque, making it easier to use the washroom without being clocked from that one nosy aunt who’s known you from birth. Still a great number of people—trans and cis—have begun creating our own spaces out of exhaustion and frustration with the heteronormativity of it all. LGBTQ friendly, gender-equal, and trans affirming Muslim space is becoming more and more accessible every day—if you’re near any kind of major city (or even some less-than-major ones), chances are there’s a family of queer & trans Muslims meeting up for coffee or having a potluck this Friday. If you can’t find a real-world community quite yet, the el-Tawhid Unity Mosque in Toronto Skypes its jummah services every Friday.

One of the many blessings of my life is that I have a great deal of transgender Muslim family to help field questions like this. Sitting back with such lovely friends last week I asked, “If you could give advice to a Muslim just coming to terms with being trans, what would you say?” It sparked a great conversation—inspiring and engaging, much like most of the conversations I have with such family—but it was what my gender-nonspecific-sibling Fatima said which sums everything up better than I ever could:

“Allah(SWT) doesn’t make mistakes and as such you are not a mistake. Your knowing in yourself is leagues more honest and mature, with wisdom and intelligence, than the things society says/thinks/enforces. Trust in yourself and Allah and make room for the process to learn yourself even though it may be long and confusing and sometimes painful.”

Our faith does not belong to the bigots. Whatever happens and wherever your path leads, there is family to have your back and provide support. The way society divides and stresses it can seem like there’s nobody else on the planet like you. But we’re here. Getting by in our own quiet ways, living out Islam as best we can.

~

A glossary for some Muslim-y jargon used here:

– “Mash’allah” is a phrase that means something like “Allah has willed it,” used to express gratitude or happiness at a person or happening.

– “masjid” is another name for a mosque, or Islamic community center.

– After the name of the Prophet Muhammad, out of respect Muslims often use the acronym “S.A.W.”, a shortening of the salawat, which translates to something like “may Allah grant peace and honor upon him and his family.” Similarly, after the name of God we can use the acronym “s.w.t.” which translates to “Glory to God, the Exalted.”

– FUN FACT! The world “Allah” is just a literal Arabic translation of “God”—the same one Christians, Jews, and Baha’i pray to, to name a few faiths in the diverse dynamic family of monotheistic religions.

***

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"Hi guys! I am getting married to my beautiful fiancee in 3 weeks! I couldn’t be happier. The only problem is that my dad refuses to attend the wedding. He welcomes my fiancee in his home and treats her well, but due to his strong religious convictions (and pastor’s advice), he does not intend to be there. (My fiancee is a lesbian priest, by the way… it’s made for some interesting discussion with dad) I’ve more or less accepted that it’s his burden to bear, but what would you ladies say to him?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

Honestly, I wouldn’t say anything to him. I don’t have good words when it comes to religion because I find it nearly impossible to comprehend having faith in something/anything that would tell you where the line was when showing support for the ones you love. That doesn’t make sense to me. The whole point of having faith is to believe in something bigger than you so that you can shoulder some of the doubt and hurt and find strength, forgiveness, and love where you didn’t think possible. Having faith in something is about loving without judgment, being kind to everyone around you and recognizing that on some level we are all the same little beetlebugs trying to make it in the world.

I would instead tell you that I think he is making a mistake. I think he will realize he’s missing something that I’m sure he’s looked forward to for your entire life and it doesn’t even makes sense because he loves your partner and celebrates your love for your partner. If he doesn’t support gay marriage, he doesn’t support it and you will have a much happier and fulfilled day if he is not there to tell you that he doesn’t support it.

Getting married is about tax breaks, picking your kids up from the doctor with no probs, and making a commitment to someone in front of everyone you love. For some, “everyone you love” includes a higher power. For others, “everyone you love” includes just your partner and your best friend as a witness. For others, “everyone you love” means your entire family (all 63 cousins included). The one thing all these scenarios have in common is that the folks who show up are the folks who love and support you and want to bear witness to this fucking cool thing you’re doing. Get married, share that day with the people who want to lift you up on their shoulders and say “fuck yea, you two are meant to be, this rules!”

Kristin Says:

I agree with a lot of what Dannielle has said, but I also carry a very specific set of convictions and beliefs when it comes to this very, very complicated situation. Last August I got married, and several of my relatives — relatives who love me immensely and who open their home and hearts to me and Jenny (my wife) — did not attend for religious reasons.

A few weeks after Jenny and I got engaged, I sent an email to my extended family, knowing that for some of them the wedding would create a very hard question in their lives: Do the thing that they were told was right and good with their higher power, or do the thing that meant supporting someone they loved. My email told them that I understood whichever way their hearts took them, and that my wedding was a celebration of a partnership with someone that I loved. It was a celebration in which I wanted to have only those people who could feel at peace while seeing us exchange vows. I told them that I knew, regardless of their presence, that they loved me.

Many people didn’t understand how I could say such a thing and truly mean it — because in most of our minds if you love someone, THAT is the thing that trumps all else. The common line of logic is: if you choose not to be a part of a beautiful moment in my life, how can you even say that you truly love me or truly support me? In my mind and in my heart, however, I truly believe the two experiences can co-exist; I think that you can love someone and simultaneously believe that your decisions are informed by more than just that love alone.

It is going to be painful to not have your father there. It was painful for me not to have some of my aunts and cousins with me — and those weren’t even my immediate family members. However, what I would say to your dad, if anything, is that you will miss him and that you wish that you could be together on this incredible day, but that you want to keep him close. See if he would want to come to the reception if you are having one — a couple of my family members felt that they couldn’t be there for the ceremony itself, but wanted to celebrate at the reception.

Now, I will tell you this: most of this makes absolutely no sense to me. I don’t understand the world the way my aunts and cousins understand it, and I certainly don’t understand why attending a reception is okay but seeing the ceremony is not… but I feel I don’t need to understand that fully. I know that the people who were not in attendance love me. Fiercely. As much as they love every other member of my family. That is how your father loves you.

This world is a fucking crazy place, and our brains are shaped by so many factors that it is impossible to ever truly know how someone else experiences things. Your father’s attendance is not a marker of his love for you. It will hurt, but I think that telling him that you know he loves you, telling him that he will be in your heart on your wedding day, and staying close to him as much as you can through this very tricky time (for both of you, by the way — no matter what he says this is not an easy decision for him either) is the path that holds the most clarity and the most love.

As a person who has gone through this, my heart is very much with you — and I know your wedding day is going to be fucking incredible. xo

***
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"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.

Aaminah Says:

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.

– Aaminah.

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