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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’ve often found myself asking this question and recently Troye Sivan tweeted about it so I felt like I should ask you guys: If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean? If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it (as an imaginary thing), then how can this coexist with transgenderism?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

First, a disclosure: I have thought about your question every spare moment I have had for over a month. It is a good question, one that people (particularly people who have been aware/accepting of trans identities for a while) ask me pretty often, so I want to answer it as thoroughly as possible.

If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean?

Gender is a social construct. This is a phrase that anyone who’s taken a gender studies class (or looked at the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme) in recent years could parrot back to you. At the same time, trans and gender-nonconforming people have recently become visible in ways we were not before, pushing for equal or sometimes trans-specific rights and resources. When considered together, this presents an obvious question: If gender is constructed, then how can trans be a “real” identity?

Well, there’s a catch. This question assumes that social constructs can’t have deep-reaching effects on the ones who, within the construct, are perceived as “less than” or “other.” Social constructs, more than anything else, govern the way that systems cause violence to marginalized groups. Calling something a social construct doesn’t eliminate its power, or meaningfully address the harms people in the out-group experience.

I don’t feel like gender is only a social construct when I am treated differently because of my gender identity, like when a supervisor advises me to talk less about trans issues to benefit my career, or when a colleague asks me to “explain” Caitlyn Jenner (statements made by well-meaning people who are, for all intents and purposes, allies). Gender itself may be a social construct, but the gender binary has very real consequences—for trans individuals and for cis-women, too. In the patriarchal world we live in, male assigned and identified people experience privilege that female-identified people do not. Transgender people, though, typically experience being outside of and unrecognizable to this gender system—even when we are read as cisgender, we are still subject to harms based on our trans status at any point when we come out or are outed.

But being trans also means digging deep inside yourself and discovering riches beyond telling. It means that, while people may have told you that you were crazy, that this would alienate you from your family, or that you would get yourself killed, you knew yourself, and chose to live as yourself. Being trans means moments of clarity, spiritual awakening, joy, and self-discovery, all in the face of deeply ingrained opposition. It means you led your own uprising, and are now the sovereign of your own nation-state. Being trans is the truest kind of victory, the kind that is won with a great deal of expense. It is indescribable, and these words are clumsy in trying to capture it. My point is, it definitely means something—something very deep, personal, and impossible to explain.

If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it, then how can this coexist with transgenderism?

Transgender identities are complicated and not uniform. They include all kinds of people with all kinds of goals for how gender should evolve and change. So this question I can only answer for myself.

Gender is a multi-faceted word, but I think what you mean here is that one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism [the valuing of cisgender identities through framing gender discussions around cis identities and making trans identities “other”] is working to end the gender binary. In my experience, transgender identities (and learning to respect them) serve to undermine the gender binary!

While the gender binary is a system of oppression that subjugates women and disenfranchises trans people, gender identity is flexible and highly individualized. Ending the gender binary does not mean eradicating gender identities—far from it. It means making space for more of them. Being able to claim your own gender identity is a valuable part of the human experience, and everyone ought to be able to do so without the fear of violence.

There are some who would say we do not need to end the gender binary, but just complicate it more and create space for non-binary identities to be recognized. While personally I believe we can and deserve to go further, complicating the gender binary is certainly the first step towards creating space for all people to live authentic lives—not in spite of their gender identities but because of them.

Until we agree to listen to each other and allow all people to be the experts on their gender identities, the gender binary will persist. So put your gender pronouns in your email signature, teach trans 101 workshops at your school, and most of all, assume less and listen more.

We also need to address access to gender-affirming healthcare and protect against employment discrimination, not to mention protecting trans people’s rights to use the restroom of their choice.

I eagerly prepare for the day when all of us take ownership of our bodies and cast off the yoke of a binary gender system that harms every person—a  day when we are all trans, determining our identities as we see fit, and moving about a spectrum of gender identities rather than clinging to a socially constructed, harmful binary. I should say, though, that while this might be the endgame, being trans has never been about an endgame for me. My trans identity is the exact place where the personal intersects with the political. This is just who I am, and this work is done in the hopes that you, and only you, can get to be just who you are, too.

Your question about fighting cis-sexism through ending the gender binary is an evolving one. Just as the butch community who nursed our community through the AIDS crisis could never have predicted the current prevalence of trans identities at the time, we can’t assume what the future will hold, or how our conceptions of gender and identity will evolve over time. Gender is a product of place, culture, and the economy—consider, for instance, how third-gender people in the Philippines are more and more claiming binary trans identities because of globalization. I’m sure my answer, my identity, and my point of view will seem outdated even a decade from now.

But today at least, to fight the gender binary, we must keep our heads down and work, and allow ourselves to be surprised by what the future holds. I bet the next crop of rainbow children will have brilliant ideas and move our world forward in ways we never could have imagined.

***
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"Is 'uhauling' a bad idea? I hooked up with someone I was casual friends with for the first time just over a week ago, and it was like something clicked. We've been hanging out and/or talking every day and it's just so easy and wonderful and makes me really happy. I really really like her and for the first time feel like I've found something that I really want to become serious and really want to last. But if one of my friends were doing this I'd tell her to cool it and take her time. Thoughts??"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Ooooookay okay okay okay great news: you just answered YOUR OWN QUESTION. Let me help you find it. Ready:

“If one of my friends were doing this I’d tell her to cool it and take her time.” – you, just now, being very wise.

“I’d like to move in with a girl who I made out with for the first time one week ago.” – you, just now, being not-nearly-as-wise.

U-Hauling, so to speak, is a term oft used to describe lesbians who move in together quickly. Now, “quickly” is a relative term (as is “lesbians” wheee), so I can’t really place a judgement on the entire PRACTICE of U-Hauling (and like, let’s be clear, we could probably all have a nice sit-down chat about the roots and usage of the phrase and get a good rousing back and forth going on our related feelings, but for now ADVICE). What I can say to you, Anon, is that ONE WEEK IS TOO FAST FOR GOD’S SAKE. That might even be too fast to be called U-Hauling. Maybe that would be called Rocketshipping. Or something.

You are having a GREAT time. That is GREAT.

How. Ever. This is akin to you discovering you love jelly beans, and then going to the store to buy 100 bags of jellybeans, then painting your room with jelly beans, then buying a jelly bean costume, then composing a song about jelly beans, then renaming yourself jelly bean. Chances are, jelly bean, you’re gonna hate jellybeans reaaaaaallll quick after that spree.

If you love jelly beans so much, just get yourself some jelly beans and sit down on a comfy couch and be like *snacking noises* MMMMMMM I love jelly beans! Applying this to your current situation, you can just sit down on a comfy couch with girl-you-adore and be like *kissing noises* MMMMMM I love girl-you-adore! YOU CAN EVEN CALL HER JELLY BEAN!

My point (I have one!) is that you can enjoy a good thing without having to take all of the steps to commitment-land right this very instance. In fact, you moving in so quickly makes me feel like you’re panicked that it might slip away… and I can’t say this strongly enough: moving in together does not mean you are securing a forever. Hell, marrying someone and even having babies with them doesn’t secure a forever. Nothing secures a forever, which is why falling in love is so terrifying and wonderful all at the same damn time!!

I advise you to enjoy this person. I advise you to feel terrified every minute, and to feel glorious every minute, and to imagine your wonderful castle in the clouds that you will build out of cotton candy some day. I advise you to appreciate the tiny, wonderful parts of not living together now, because once you move in, those tiny, wonderful parts won’t be there anymore! Do you know how much I miss getting ready for a date and showing up and being like BADOW DON’T I LOOK FLY?!?! Now my wife watches me toss clothing all over all the rooms while I hunt for the perfect outfit, or she just gets to hang out with me in sweatpants bc why not?! You’ll get to sweatpant-land, too, don’t worry (and there are parts that are lovely), but enjoy the now while you are in it!!!!!

Breathe in. Breathe out. Unpack your bags. Kiss the girl you love.

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"Hi, I recently went to a Rainbow Youth Night in my local area and saw someone I knew from school. The thing is, they introduced themselves to my friend with a different name than the one they are know by at school(with pronouns they,them). I would love to approach this person and ask which name they'd prefer me using because I'd hate to be calling them something they're not comfortable with, I just don't know what exactly to say. Also I've been working up the courage to ask this person out so.."

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Oh this is great, this is just GREAT.

You see, because you have two lovely, totally awesome questions to ask! Here’s how it’s gonna go:

YOU: Hi, I have two important questions to ask you.

THEM: Cool, I love questions.

YOU: What name do you prefer I use for you?

THEM: Oh! Thanks for asking. I would love it if you called me Todd.

YOU: Awesome. So, Todd, would you like to go on a date with me?

THEM: Did Kristin of Everyone Is Gay tell you how to ask me out, because this is SO ROMANTIC. Yes, yes I would. *heart eyes*

BOTH OF YOU: *in love forever*

~ end scene ~

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“How can I come to terms with the fact that I can’t do it all?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kate Scelsa Says:

Okay, I am going to give both of us this advice at the same time because I am guessing that you and I have a lot in common. I’m going to go ahead and assume that you are an overachiever who is excited about many things and is overloading your schedule and making lists and giving yourself a really specific timeline for when you want to have reached certain achievements.

It’s like I’m talking to myself already.

I’m a writer, but I also have a podcast with my DJ dad (see, you’re talking to the right multi-tasker here). We recently had the cool task of listening to an old interview that my dad got to do with David Bowie (!) in which Bowie said something that I found to be so helpful. He was talking about how, when he was young, he felt all of this urgency to get as much work out as he could as quickly as possible. And that, as he got older, he realized that life was long. “You realize that you have all the time in the world,” said David Bowie.

David Bowie was right! Not everything has to happen RIGHT NOW. Some things can wait. They’ll still be there if you want to come back to them later. The most important thing is to fully commit yourself to what you’re doing in the moment. Maybe even try to (gasp) enjoy it! If you’re doing one thing, but thinking about getting to another thing, or wondering if you’re missing out on a third, you’re not bringing your full self to the beautiful moment of the thing that you’re actually doing!

A really important part of this is actually honoring the fact that you are a person that has a lot of interests and things that you’re enthusiastic about. That is awesome! Some people don’t want to do ANYTHING! And you want to do ALL THE THINGS! It is a beautiful thing to have enthusiasm, to care about things, and to want to experience life in a lot of different ways.

But (and now I’m going to get a little mystical on you here) everything you do isn’t actually about the things you’re doing at all. It’s about you. It’s about the You that you are bringing to it. The experience that you make of it. WHAT you do is less important than THE YOU that’s doing it.

We live in a world of choice, and this can be overwhelming to ALL of us. And it can be paralyzing. It’s not your job to make The Best Choice—because there is no Best Choice to make. It’s your job to stay curious, and to learn about yourself and what makes you tick and how you can best serve that thing. And, if you’re paying attention and bringing your whole heart to the moment, then you are going to learn something about yourself no matter what you’re doing.

If we honor each thing as it comes, and the people who come into our lives and the opportunities that we are given, we can exist in the kind of flow that will bring us to exactly where we’re supposed to be in each moment, where things can happen that we actually couldn’t have even planned. And I promise you that that’s when life gets really interesting.

***

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