Pass this on – it’s useful information for people who want to help the citizens of Ferguson.
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I very much enjoyed writing this piece for Life of a Muslim Feminist. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, too.
Aaminah Khan (jaythenerdkid) is a writer, activist and refugee support worker living in North Queensland. She writes about intersectional feminism and her experiences as a queer Muslim on Twitter and at her blog. Her other interests include popular culture, football, fashion and video games. Her mother will probably never stop embarrassing her by bragging about her in front of all of her friends.
My mother is a devout Muslim, and I believe she embodies many of the noblest qualities of a mumin – she is kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving, gracious, and loves Allah with all her heart. She supports me and the rest of her children in all of our endeavours, and although she’s never been particularly thrilled about my bisexuality, she’s never loved me any less because of it. She covers her hair with a hijab and wears only long-sleeved shirts and refuses to make plans…
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I am good at making friends, but I’m not very good at keeping them. There’s something about me that is intensely frightened of intimate contact, some combination of trust issues and introversion that leads me to be suspicious of anyone who gets too close. When people get close to me, I get scared. I try to make them run. I try to make them abandon me so that I can tell myself what I’ve always told myself – that I am not good enough or deserving enough to have friends.
Some people refuse to run. I don’t know why they refuse. I don’t know why they want to stay around me. But I know I’m very grateful, because even though I’m scared of people getting close to me, I think I’d be more afraid to be alone.
This is a blog post about the people who stayed and why I love them.
I first met PJ Harlow in October of 2010. I had just decided to defer a semester due to my health. I spent a lot of time caged up at home, unwilling or unable to get out of bed and barely able to interact with people when I did. I was in a failing relationship (though I didn’t realise that at the time). I don’t remember much about that period of my life except a kind of blank numbness. Nothing and nobody could get through to me. It wasn’t self-pity or angst – I had just forgotten how my ability to relate to people worked.
PJ waltzed into my life as though none of that was true and helped break me out of the prison I’d built myself.
We were very alike – always the cleverest person in the room (in our own opinions), dry, sardonic, inquisitive, emotionally stunted. We came from similar backgrounds. We’d had people hurt us and leave us. Talking to PJ was like talking to a version of myself. Finally, someone understood what it was like to be me – and once he understood, he didn’t turn away in revulsion the way most people did. We became very close friends. We developed feelings for each other and pretended we hadn’t. Talking to PJ became the one thing I looked forward to every day. I would stay up until three in the morning watching movies with him; he would stay up until three in the morning just because I needed someone to talk to. He liked to pretend he was only friends with me because I was a puzzle he wanted to solve. I liked to pretend I was only friends with him because he was a good flirt. We both knew better, we just didn’t want to admit it.
Eventually, circumstances forced our hands – my relationship failed as it had been destined to do, and he was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to catch me. We realised what all of our friends already knew about us – that we’d been growing closer for months, that we were always going to end up together, that it was just a matter of time. He asked me to be his girlfriend on the 7th of June, 2011. We’ve been together ever since. PJ has been there for me through countless breakdowns, through my decision to leave medical school, through several roller coaster rides (both metaphorical and literal) and not once has he faltered or decided I was too much to handle. He is clever and compassionate and loving and witty and funny and kind. He makes me a better person. He makes me want to be a better person. He makes me want to be my best self – not just for his sake, but for mine. He is both my partner and my best friend and I love him more than anyone else alive.
I’ve always called my mother “Mummy”. I’m twenty-four years old now and I still do it, much to the amusement of some of my friends. Growing up, she was the most loving and attentive mother one could ask for. She read to me every day. She made origami jumping frogs with me. She learned all the songs from Sesame Street and Play School and sang them with me. She stayed up late at night working on projects with me. She encouraged me to write and to make music. She was at every public speech I ever gave, smiling encouragingly at me every time I caught her eye. Through the fog of voices – some of them my own – telling me I wasn’t good enough, she was the one person who always told me that I was.
Things have not always been perfect between us. We’ve hurt each other a lot. But we’ve always come back to each other, and over the past four years, our relationship has grown stronger and stronger. I trust Mummy implicitly. I come to her for advice when I don’t know who else to turn to. She makes my favourite comfort foods when I’m sick and drops everything for me when I need her. She still treats me like her baby girl, even though I’m a grown adult who never listens to her advice the first time around and makes all kinds of embarrassing mistakes because of it. She’s never stopped looking out for me and probably never will. She’s funny and much cleverer than she thinks she is and impossible not to love (the only person I’ve ever met who dislikes her is my father, and I consider his dislike a very good reason to like someone on its own). She never stops having time or energy for me even when she doesn’t have time or energy for myself. Other people have great mothers. I have my Mummy. She’s the greatest and kindest and most beautiful woman in the world.
Ethan is a rugby player who’s built like a brick wall, nearly breaks my ribs each time he hugs me and just happens to be gloriously, flamboyantly bisexual. I’ve known Ethan since he was in high school, though we couldn’t stand each other all that much back then. I don’t know if I changed or if he did or we both did, but at some point – I’m not sure when – he went from being a friend of my brother’s to the guy sitting on my bedroom floor watching Scrubs with me, pretending we weren’t getting teary-eyed during the really feels-inducing bits. Ethan is my favourite shopping partner, my number one gossip buddy and my brother in everything but blood. He’s lifted me out of some of the darkest holes I’ve ever fallen into and let me lean on him when I’ve felt like I couldn’t stand on my own.
I’ve never met someone who cares as whole-heartedly and deeply about people as Ethan. He will fight to the death for what’s right no matter what happens to be on the line. He likes to hide it behind a façade of gruff jokes and pop culture references, but he cares about the rights of people he’s never met and never will meet just because they’re human and deserve love and compassion and dignity and justice. There’s nobody I’d rather have by my side during any kind of fight, be it against internet trolls or the zombie apocalypse. He’s not just my rock – he’s everyone’s, no matter what it costs him. (Oh, and Cathy Brennan hates him, which I feel is a fairly glowing recommendation by itself.)
I went to med school with Jordan’s older brother, Curtis – nice guy, glorious beard, likes rugby and drinking and video games, now an amazing doctor. Jordan and I meeting was initially a side-effect of that acquaintance, but over time, each of us figured out that we needed the other, and we became friends. Jordan and I don’t talk enough, which is my fault for being a bad friend, but every moment I get to spend with her is a precious one. She is brilliant and neurotic and about to be a doctor, and I can’t think of very many people with whom I’d more willingly trust my life. She is quick to laugh, quicker to love and is the kind of person who has a little room in her heart for everyone. I’m very glad she’s found room in there even for a misfit like me.
Jordan is also very patient, which is a useful quality in anyone who wants to stick around me, because I tend to try people’s patience a lot. She’s suffered through endless meltdowns and tantrums from me with nothing but grace and love and kindness and has always been waiting for me on the other end with a hug and a reminder that she loves me. (I don’t know why, but I’m grateful that she does.) Not only is she going to be a fantastic doctor – she’s one of the greatest friends a girl could ask for.
The first reason I like Amy is that she reminds me of a way cooler version of me, which is terribly egotistical on my part but true nonetheless. Amy is clever and charming and the life of the party, and unlike in my case, none of those things are fake or put on – they’re just who she is. I first met Amy in high school, though we didn’t become friends until later. She loves wigs and eccentric fashion and colourful patterned tights and movies with Robert Downey Jr and cult films and dancing and art. She is generous and always fun to be around and knows how to bring out the brightness in people even when they can’t do it themselves.
The second reason I like Amy is that no matter what, she never stops being positive. In the entire time I’ve known her, she has never stopped being a bright light not just in my own life, but in the lives of everyone lucky enough to know her and call her a friend. She’s one of the people I’ll miss the most when I leave to move to America, not just because of all the coffee dates and shopping trips and movies and gossip sessions, but because very few people can make me feel happy to be in the moment like Amy does. Sometimes, all that matters is enjoying the company of the people you’re with. I’m very grateful to her for having taught me that.
For some reason, Carly has never stopped having faith in my ability to be a good person. You will have to ask her why this is the case, because I personally have no clue. Whenever I feel like I have nothing to give the world, Carly reminds me that I do. She’s endlessly optimistic about humanity’s potential, a cheerleader in ripped tights and bright green hair and quirky necklaces she put together herself, standing by the sidelines when I’m down by six with five minutes left in the final quarter and reminding me that it’s not over until it’s over and that I still have time to make the play.
I don’t think Carly realises how inspiring a person she is. I wish she would, because she’s one of the reasons I’m still here today. She’s quiet and quirky and a very talented artist and doesn’t draw much attention to herself even though she deserves every bit she gets and then some. She’s eccentric in the most absolutely delightful way. She never tries to tell me things are all right when they aren’t but she never gives up on helping me remember that they’ll be all right again. I am incredibly envious of her travelling hoodie and wish I had even a fraction of her talent with a paintbrush. Most of all, I’m very glad to have met her and gladder still that she seems to be happy to have met me too.
I don’t know how to describe Sasha, except as one of the people who made me realise who I am. When I met hir, zie had bright blue hair and a dry, wicked sense of humour. Sadly, the blue hair is lost to history, but the sense of humour remains. Very few people can make me laugh out loud like Sasha can. It’s equally true that very few people can make me question myself like Sasha can. I first realised I was queer thanks to hir (not sure if I’ve ever told hir that – if not, hey, probably should have told you this personally, sorry you had to find out along with everyone else!). Zie has broadened my horizons in so many, many ways – by introducing me to hir faith and teaching me new ways of engaging with the universe, by introducing me to queerness and trans identities and helping me to discover my own, by sending me mixtapes of ELO and No Doubt and daring me to write some of the most bizarre fan fiction of my life to date.
Sasha is also one of the most compassionate and loving people I know. Zie is not only an amazing listener, but the kind of person who helps one realise things they never knew about themselves. Perhaps the best word for hir is “wise”, which is not something one says about everyone who plays Pokemon games for hours on end and writes AU crackfic about political personalities. But in this case, it most certainly applies.
I have an older half-sister, but I’ve never met her. Growing up, I always felt a bit short-changed in that respect. I wanted someone who would be to me what I tried to be to my baby sisters – a source of advice, someone to cry and giggle to about crushes, someone who would tell me things I needed to hear but didn’t want to listen to, someone older and wiser than me who’d seen more of the world than I had and would help steer me clear of the potholes. As it turned out, I met Lila some time in 2008, and she’s been all of those things and more to me ever since.
Despite all of the things she’s been through – and there have been a lot – Lila continues to live life with a zeal and vigour that truly inspires me. When my parents were first divorced and I felt like I had nobody to care for me, she stepped in and made sure I had someone to catch me when I fell. She’s forty-mumble years old, looks thirty-five at the most and seems to have the perpetual energy and zest for all of life’s joys of a woman half her age. She’s been at various times a surrogate mother, a big sister, someone to giggle over crushes with (I’ll never forget our time at the Sylvester McCoy Appreciation Society!), a shoulder to cry on and pretty much everything else I could have ever asked for in a friend. We haven’t met yet, but I can’t wait for the day we do. Is there a Guinness World Record for greatest hug ever? I think we’ll probably break it.
I met Deb during a LiveJournal friendathon in 2008. From the outset, she was witty, warm and kind – the sort of person you want to spend time with just because she makes the world seem brighter. Along with Lila (the two are old friends), she took me under her wing when my parents were first divorced, and without the two of them guiding me and helping raise me, I’m not sure I’d still be here today. Deb is the kind of person you can talk to for hours. She loves travel, thrill rides, sports, Top Gear and movies starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She has faced adversity that would make many people buckle under the pressure and not only survived, but done so with a vengeance. I met her once for dinner in Orlando in 2011, and it was one of the very best nights of my entire life. I could have stayed at that restaurant until dawn just talking about everything and nothing and not even noticed the time go by. (As it was, the management very politely showed us the door after letting us stay a fair amount past closing time.)
The thing I admire about Deb the most is her courage. She doesn’t pretend that she’s always okay when she’s not, but she never stops fighting. I don’t know how she does it, but her example has inspired me to try to do the same. She is incredibly brave and fierce and loving and sends Christmas cards that make me cry my eyes out every single year. I love her like a sister and I’m so incredibly grateful to have had her in my life. One of the things I’m looking forward to the most about my impending move overseas is the chance to see her again, to experience that light in my life at least one more time.
These are the people who have never run. They are not the only friends I’ve ever had, nor are theirs the only friendships for which I’m grateful. But of all the people in my life, they’re the ones who’ve stayed, even through the really bad things (and there have been some really bad things), the ones who’ve reminded me that maybe my existence isn’t a lost cause. I don’t know why they love me so much and I certainly don’t deserve them in the slightest, but I am so, so grateful for them nonetheless. I’m not great at expressing my emotions (you know, mental illness and emotional underdevelopment and all that), but I hope that they’ll read this and understand at least a little bit of how much they mean to me. But in case I haven’t been clear enough, I’ll try to sum it up concisely: they mean the world to me, and then some. They are my reasons to keep going when I don’t have any others. They’re the bright lights on a road that is very dark and very, very scary sometimes. I love them all to bits and I always will.
I’m not in the UK, but if you are and you’re in the area, please consider showing solidarity with our sisters of colour who could really use your support.
You may have noticed the recent surge in racist fascist behaviour, both on our streets and in our government (I say may cos you don’t seem to talk about it much) and wondered what you can do to help your non-white sisters, seeing as they are more often than not targeted by those boneheaded thugs cos of the whole patriarchal power and control dynamic thing. I know how much it bothers you when the government cuts funding to crucial services for women or forces women into taking less well paid and infrequent work owing to public sector redundancies and I commend your struggle to ensure we don’t turn the clocks back to Victorian times. I know I got a little snarky about Jane Austen but I sort of got the intention behind it and would have been a little more charitable if you at least tried to understand my perspective.
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No proper update today – I’m visiting my beautiful friends Ethan (@shakasangoma) and Jordan (@jordanstn) for the weekend. It’s been ages since I last saw them and we’ve been having a blast catching up. The wonderful Tristan (@twistieman) and Amy (@sun_doll) are here too. Currently chilling in a pretty comfy hotel room with everyone, trawling Grindr and tweeting together. I’ll be back with a proper blog tomorrow, but for now, I hope you’re all safe, well and happy. Love you! ❤
Hi. I’m Jay. This is my life.
When I was a little girl, my parents wanted me to be a doctor when I grew up. No matter what far-fetched career dreams I thought up for myself, they always had an answer that grounded my future firmly in the medical field. I wanted to be a teacher – I could teach medical students. I wanted to be a computer programmer – I could program medical technology. I wanted to be an engineer like my father – I could create new diagnostic machines. There was always a way in which my ambitions could be redirected to be more in line with their ambitions for me.
What I wanted to be before any of those things, and after all of those things, and even after four years in medical school culminating in a very dramatic exit, was a writer. And no, I did not want to write medical textbooks.
This is me. I’m twenty-three years old. I’m Muslim, for a given definition of “Muslim” that does not line up with any scholar’s but lines up rather well with the way I see the universe. I suffer from bipolar disorder and need three different kinds of medication in order to function. I’m bisexual, maybe pansexual. I call myself “queer” because it’s the only label that doesn’t feel like a label. I’ve been in a committed relationship with a wonderful man named PJ for more than two years now, and I think I’m going to marry him some day. I’m named after both of my grandmothers. I was a feminist until I decided feminism didn’t have any room in it for women like me or my friends, at which point I decided “intersectionalist” was a cooler word anyway. I was raised in a white society by migrant parents. I work with refugees and volunteer when I have time. I rant on Twitter a lot. I am a lot of things to a lot of people.
But “writer” is the label on my soul.
The problem with being all of these things to all of these people is that I don’t get much time to write any more. There’s always something I need to do. There’s always someone who needs me. It’s very tiresome being needed, I’ve found. I’m pulled a million different ways, and my soul – the thing with “writer” scribbled all over it in my messy, flourished handwriting – is pulled with me. It is an uncomfortable feeling, rather like being forced through a cheese grater, with each resulting shredded piece being handed to someone else.
So I have made myself a resolution. From now until the end of this year, I am going to write a blog post every day. Sometimes I will write long blog posts, and sometimes I will write short ones. Sometimes I will write about the things that make me happy, and sometimes I will write about the things that make me angry and hurt and sad. Sometimes I will write like the words are being revealed to me and I am but a conduit, and sometimes I will write as though the act is like walking across broken glass. But I will write something every day until the end of this year. I will take all the little shredded parts of my soul and piece them back together so that you can see the label that says “writer” – written in pens purloined from my father’s desk by my five-year-old self, in glitter gel pen by my thirteen-year-old self, then in fountain pen by teenage me at two o’clock in the morning, then in a neat, nondescript typeface by the me I am today, the me that only ever writes things on computers because typing is faster than writing – once more.
My hope is that this will make me feel more whole. My hope is that it will encourage me to focus on other writing projects long left untouched – the novel I barely started, the fan fiction I used to love to write, the letters I hardly ever pen any more. Mostly, my hope is that I might find the soul I seem to have lost somewhere in between ranting on Twitter and volunteering and working and being all of these things to all of these people. My hope is that I might, perhaps, reveal some of that soul to all of you, that you may come to know me just a little better.
For now, this is me – a writer coming back after a long hiatus, hoping to find the light that used to guide her, the spark that used to drive her, the fire that warmed her when the world seemed lonely and cold. I welcome you to join me on this journey, wherever it’s headed (for if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I don’t know where I’m going). I hope to entertain, engage and maybe even educate you. But mostly, I hope to find myself again. I’ve been lost a long time. It would be nice to find my way home at last.