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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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"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.

***

Click through to read more about Mahdia and our other contributors!

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