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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 identify as a queer woman and am now dating a straight man for the first time since coming out. He honors me completely yet does not know much about LGBTQ life - he wants to learn and become an advocate. Any advice on showing him what’s up? Ideas on how I can keep expressing and opening up about my queerness in a new female-male relationship?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Aaminah Khan as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Aaminah Says:

I’ve always wondered – how do straight virgins know they’re straight?

When I first came out as bisexual, a gay friend told me I wasn’t really bi because I’d never had sex with a woman. I was in a relationship with a straight guy at the time, and we were very definitely monogamous, so it wasn’t like I’d had the chance to experiment, but I was still reasonably sure that I was, as they say, hella freakin’ queer.

Before I came out and before I had sex, people assumed I was straight. I’d never slept with a dude before, nor even so much as held hands with one (barring an awkward misunderstanding with a friend when I was 18). So how did people know I was straight?

The answer, of course, is that we live in a society that is cisheteronormative, and that people assume you’re cisgender and hetero until proven otherwise. What really sucks about that is that when we’re open and honest with our identities, the burden of proof is somehow on us.

You’ve asked two questions here. You want to know how you can help your parter become a better ally, and you want to explore and hold onto your queer identity even though you’re in a relationship that people outside are going to read as straight. As a lady in a similar situation (happily married to a very cool and very understanding straight dude), maybe I can help a little.

Your first question about education is a really easy one to answer. Your guy sounds like he’s willing to put in the work. I would start by pointing him in the direction of some 101-style articles on LGBT+ activism. Try to aim for stuff that’s trans-friendly and non-binary-friendly. I don’t have any particular favourite sites, but I ran through my bookmarks and found a few links you might find helpful. I actually wrote an article about bisexual erasure and biphobia that I think is a good starting point. This Bisexual 101 pamphlet by PFLAG is pretty solid as well. The Bisexual Resource Centre has a whole lot of links to handy resources that your partner might find useful. And if you want to expand his education beyond the “LGB” of “LGBT”, here’s my favourite article about being a transgender woman as well as my favourite Trans 101 post.

Why am I linking to articles about trans identities and issues when you asked me about bisexuality and biphobia? Partly because these identities can intersect, and partly because I’m sure you want your guy to be the best advocate possible. Understanding the full spectrum of not only sexualities but genders is vital to being a true advocate.

The other part of education is changing the everyday conversation you have about queerness. I’m sure your partner has already eradicated slurs like “that’s so gay” from his vocabulary, but you can help him become more aware of his biases by gently redirecting conversations that become problematic. I have to do this with straight friends all the time, and if they’re well-intentioned, they’re generally glad to be corrected. (If you try this and your partner gets defensive and refuses to change, that’s a red flag – but by the sounds of it, I don’t think that’ll be a problem for you.)

Now for your second question. How can you keep being an awesome queer lady in your straight-seeming relationship?

This is something I’ve definitely struggled with in the past. My last relationship ended partly because my partner just wasn’t able to come to terms with the fact that I am attracted to multiple genders. There are a lot of myths surrounding bisexuality that make it hard for us to perform and live our identities without criticism and hate being directed at us. But if your partner wants to understand and make this work, I think you’re at least starting in the right place.

I guess my best advice is to be open and honest. Talk to him about how you feel. Use lots of “I” and “me” statements so he doesn’t feel like he’s somehow failing you by being a dude (lots of guys get defensive, perhaps out of a feeling of inadequacy – centering the conversation on your feelings can help mitigate that). Talk about ladies or non-binary people you find attractive. Be as open as you’re comfortable being about your past relationships and attractions. If he reacts poorly at first, ask him where his negative feelings are coming from and see if you can’t work through them together. I think that in time he’ll come to accept that your queerness is a part of your identity just like your womanhood is, and that it doesn’t affect the relationship between the two of you in any way.

There are other options for exploring relationships with people of different genders, of course. If you’re not strictly into monogamy, there’s plenty of room for safe sexual exploration with other consenting adults. If that’s something you think your partner might be open to considering, why not discuss it with him? Even if you never end up acting out such plans, talking openly about those kinds of desires is a healthy and productive thing to do.

By the sounds of it, you’re in a great relationship with a cool dude who wants to love you and support you. I think you’re going to do just fine. Keep communicating, educating and just living openly and honestly. Either you’ll get the love and support you need, or you won’t – though I think that in your case, the former is far more likely. Either way, however, you’ll be living true to yourself and ultimately a happier person for it.

Best of luck!

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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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