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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 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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"We're getting married! Kristin -- you've shared in passing several times that you and Jenny invited people to your wedding that may be uncomfortable coming, saying no hard feelings if they opted not to come. Could you elaborate? Got any tips or things you would have done differently? How, in the world, does one actually have that conversation, especially with people you talk to infrequently?"

- Question submitted by anonymous

Kristin Says:

Oh my gosh first of all congratulaaaaaaations! You’re getting married! Woo!

You are correct, I sent an email out to all of my relatives (on my mom’s side) after Jenny and I got engaged. I come from a pretty Catholic extended family, and my feeling on the matter was that I did not want anyone at our wedding who would either feel uncomfortable or who didn’t want to be there! Our wedding day was a celebration of our LOVE, you know?

I am going to share the whole dang letter with you, because I think that it might help a bit with what you are pondering. Here is what I sent:

Hello to my wonderful family.

Did you know that there are 63 of us now?! I saw Grandma a few days ago and she was ready as always with her family facts and data.

I am writing this to all 62 of you (even the babies!), because I love you and I know how much love we all have for each other.

It is safe to assume that our family telephone chain has alerted you all to the fact that I am engaged to get married to my girlfriend of almost three years. Many of you have met Jenny somewhere along the journey, and during that time she has come to occupy a space that fills my entire heart. It’s a pretty big heart, too – so filling it up is an impressive feat.

I have a few things to say to all of you lovely people about this future wedding of mine before I get busy (read: get my mom busy) with save-the-dates and other such activities. Here are those things:

#1: I am so very happy. I know how differently we all walk through this life, and I know that we all have varying beliefs when it comes to love and marriage. I also know, however, that my happiness is something that you all value on some level – just as I value yours. So hooray, at the very least, for being happy!!

#2: I know that for some of you, attending my wedding is reflexive, definite, and without hesitation. I know that for others, it is a point of deep thought and reflection as you weigh your faith alongside your value of family. I also know that for some of you, it is completely impossible for you to be present at the ceremony or reception because of your beliefs.

I need all of you to know that – no matter where your heart falls in that spectrum – I love you, and I respect those beliefs.

One of the strongest grounding principals of my own faith is that, if I expect to be respected and valued as a person, I must always extend that respect to those around me. Our family’s deep commitment to faith and family is something that has shaped me, and I hold that so dear. Please know this!

#3 There are a bunch of things about my life that might be confusing, unclear, or unknown to you. That may be something you are completely at peace with – or it might be something that you wish to talk about further. If you have any questions, any thoughts, or any confusion – please, please talk with me! I understand that we all walk this path very differently, and I value the ability we have as human beings to talk about those differences.

So! There we have it – and here is what I would love from all of you:

Send me an email, give me a call, write me a Facebook message, send a text – whatever is easiest and best for you – and let me know how you are feeling about this wedding of mine.

Some responses might look like:

“As long as you force Patrick to lipsync to Grease Lightning, I am so there.”

or

“Honey, I love you, but I know this isn’t something that I can attend.”

or

“Can we talk a little more as I figure out how I feel?”

or

“WILL THERE BE OPEN BAR??”

No matter your response, I won’t ever think that you don’t love me (unless your response is ‘I don’t love you’), and I will always respect and value your beliefs and your place in my life.

Normal save-the-date and invitation activity will commence once I figure out a date and a place, and once I hear from all of you. You can, of course, talk to me on behalf of your families – but I would love to hear from you individually if possible, since we are all so very different.

I love you!

Thanks for reading!

xoxoxoxo

Kristin

 

Now, all of us have very varied and complex relationships with our families, so some of this might really resonate with you, and some of it might not be quite how you want to handle the conversation! I was really, really happy with how this letter was received, and I did have many meaningful, and sometimes super difficult, conversations with my family after I sent this out. Many of them responded with incredible support. Many responded with questions. Some of them let me know that they loved me but they couldn’t be there because of their beliefs.

I felt, at the end of the day, that I had opened the doors to many of them who might otherwise have simply sat in silence or been torn up by conflicting feelings and guilt. I was happier having opened those doors. That was my path, and it certainly does not need to be yours.

Do what feels right to you, and at the center of your focus, put your partnership with this beautiful, amazing person you are soon to marry. Your wedding is about the two of you, and the love and happiness you bring each other.

<3

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“Hi! I’m a (very gay) sophomore in high school. However, I’m not out to anyone other than a few friends in my close circle as I live in a homophobic town. I’ve noticed a very cute girl (that I’m interested in) in the the grade below me, and I am 99% sure she is queer (we’ve only talked twice) but I’m not certain. How do I find out for sure that she likes girls without being invasive and awkward? Also how do I get to know her while dealing with the intense urge to want to mash our faces together.”

-Question Submitted by Anonymous

Carrie Wade Says:

Okay, friend—pull up a chair and let’s pick apart your situation a little, shall we? I actually think you have a lot to be hopeful and happy about here, even if it doesn’t feel that way now.

The first thing that jumped out at me in your question is that you’ve only spoken to this girl twice. I can say without reservation that, regardless of whatever else you decide to do, you need to talk to her more in order to figure any of this out. I’m sure she’s the coolest and gives off an awesome vibe—you wouldn’t be submitting this question otherwise—but there’s only so much you can know about a person from two conversations. How did those come up? Do you have classes or activities together? Did one of you just stroll on up and start chatting? Whatever the case may be, you’ve talked before, so you can talk again. It doesn’t have to be about anything heavy, including whether she likes girls or not. Just get to know her! To me, that strategy is a win-win-win: either the information you’re looking for comes up organically, you learn a lot about a new terrific person, OR it turns out maybe she’s not the best fit for you and these frustrating feelings will just burn themselves right out. That third option is not a loss; even if that’s all that happens, you talked to a girl you thought was cute and got to know more about what you’re looking for in your next person, even if she isn’t it. That’s an invaluable skill you can bring to all the delightful things and people in your future.

Talking to her is also the only way to know for sure whether she is also Very Gay. You can only get the real answer straight (ha) from her. You could theoretically try to find out from other sources, but none of those can ever be trusted as much as the lady in question. Only she knows her feelings for you and for girls in general. So if, in the course of talking (and maybe spending more time together), you feel comfortable enough to start discussing your personal lives, I think it’s okay to do a little detective work. Be respectful of boundaries—don’t push her into a conversation she isn’t on board with—but you can also keep your ears out for things like whether she specifies a pronoun when talking about who she’s interested in. And if you definitively want to turn the conversation in that direction, you could come out to her, even just by mentioning it casually. I wouldn’t recommend that until and unless you build a friendship first—but if you’re 99% sure she’s queer, it seems like you can be reasonably confident that she won’t freak out if you tell her that you are. If you’re right and she is queerly inclined, now she knows that you might be an option; if she’s not, at least it’s acknowledged and you can move forward in a different way.

Build on what you already have while getting to know her: if you have a class together, talk about that. If you’re in a club together, sit near her during the next meeting, and make even just a little small talk before or after. She knows who you are and that’s a huge advantage. And in terms of the face-mashing urge, getting to know her better will either build up those feelings or not (but you can’t know which yet, either way). If you do find your feelings for her growing, it is okay to tell her and see what happens. I know that probably sounds like the most terrifying thing in the world, and that’s because it is; you’re putting yourself out there and hoping for the best. No one knows how to do that gracefully. But as someone who crushed HARD on a straight friend while living in a homophobic town, I can say that even if the prospect of a relationship is a lost cause, telling her can take some weight off your shoulders and help you start to move on. Again, if you’re that sure she’s queer, she probably won’t be bothered knowing that you think she’s very cute. My person was definitely NOT queer, and I knew that, and I had to tell her anyway because I couldn’t let the feelings fester in my gut anymore. Despite being the straightest person I’ve ever met, she took it exceptionally well and it’s still something we laugh about and bond over today, ten years later. It is possible.

Now, I give you all this advice under the assumption that you will feel safe following it. “Homophobic town” can mean many things, and since I don’t know what yours looks like, I want to make clear that if you feel like disclosing any of this will put you in danger, it is also okay not to say anything. No crush, regardless of how awesome, is worth jeopardizing your wellbeing or life over. Obviously I hope that isn’t the case (for so many reasons). But if the danger is too great, you can turn to the awesome friends you already have and talk your way through it with them. They can either help you work up the courage to talk to this girl or give you a safe place to process your feelings with less risk. Lean on your support system—that’s what they’re for!

But of course, personally, I hope you talk to this girl a third, fourth, and fiftieth time and you either end up with another rock solid friend or an adorable girlfriend. You are going to learn a lot about yourself regardless and take some brave steps. That’s a huge win no matter what.

***

Carrie’s body is weird and she’s making that work for her. She lives in Los Angeles, where she does a lot of crossword puzzles and longs for a squished-faced dog. Help her get better at Twitter.

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"Do you know any long-term relationships between bisexual women and lesbians? I keep trying to look things up on the Internet and all I see are articles about bisexual women and long-term relationships with men and while it's the Internet with not the most reliable statistics available, it's been making me feel worse about having the intense feels for this bisexual woman I am dating."

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says

Well, how about me and my wife, for starters…

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Brooklyn Rooftop, 2010 (seven months into dating)

 

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Austin Hotel Bathtub, 2016 (three years after getting married)

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