A letter to the Muslim girl who found my blog by accident

My dear,

I don’t know you. I don’t think you know me either, because you found my blog by accident whilst Googling something that truly broke my heart:

search term: "i'm a bisexual muslim my mom took away my phone with messages between me and a girl what should i do"

a search term in my blog stats.

I cried when I saw this. I cried because it reminded me so strongly of a time in my life that was very painful and very bleak and during which I had nobody to talk to about the things that were hurting me. I don’t know if you stayed to read my blog or if you clicked the link and decided I didn’t have the answers you were looking for. I don’t know where you are now or what you’re doing or even if you’re safe. But I’m writing this anyway, because once upon a time I felt very lonely and very scared and I didn’t know what to do, and maybe you feel that way too and maybe you might see this and feel a little bit less alone.

I want to tell you a story.

I had my first boyfriend when I was nineteen. He was Christian. I met him in med school. My dad didn’t even let me have male friends, let alone a boyfriend, so I had to keep him a secret. We were engaged within two months (bad idea in hindsight, but I digress). I would talk to him on my mobile using credit the two of us bought with whatever spare cash we could scrounge up. When my dad wasn’t home, sometimes I’d dare to use our landline to call him. We would Skype whenever I was allowed to use the internet, which wasn’t often because my dad was very suspicious and thought I might be talking to boys online. (I guess he was right.)

Anyway, one night my dad found out, and he kicked me out.

It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever gone through in my life. I remember packing as many clothes as I could fit into canvas grocery bags. I remember that my brother tried taking my phone and laptop from me but I fought him until he left me alone (though he broke my glasses during the struggle). I remember thinking to myself, this can’t be happening. It was New Year’s Day, 2010. I was twenty years old. I had never lived away from home in my life. I remember my youngest sister accompanying me to the front gate and tearfully hugging me goodbye because neither of us knew what was going to happen next. I remember that my brother chased me down the pitch-black street in the middle of the night to demand that I give back my house keys so I couldn’t sneak back into my childhood home. I remember passing a family who were out celebrating because it was New Year’s Day and exchanging greetings and being glad it was dark because it meant they couldn’t see me crying. I remember thinking my life was over.

My mother’s house was two blocks away (she and my father divorced in 2008) so I walked there in the hope that even though she and I were somewhat estranged, she would take me in. She wasn’t home, but my grandmother was visiting, and after I tearfully beat at the door for five minutes, she woke up, saw it was me and let me in. I remember breaking down crying in my grandmother’s arms. I remember trying to explain to her what had happened to me. She was very confused because she didn’t speak much English and had trouble understanding me at the best of times, let alone when I was sobbing and incoherent and scared.

(Writing about this now, I feel a shadow of the paralysing terror I felt then, and my breath is catching in my throat. I was so young and scared and alone and I was sure it would never get better.)

My mother got home and I explained things to her and of course she let me stay, because she’s a good woman who loves her children more than she loves following rules. I slept on her couch for the next six months. My father sent me angry text messages, then got my younger siblings to call me and try to guilt me into breaking up with my boyfriend and coming home. Eventually, I wrote him a letter telling him to leave me alone. The phone calls and text messages stopped and that was the last I saw of many of my siblings for months. I remember having nightmares that they had all died and I hadn’t been able to say goodbye. I woke up crying over and over again and I couldn’t tell anyone or call anyone or do anything at all but wait for the terror to pass.

I’m telling you all of this because I know a little bit of what you’re feeling right now. When I came out to my mother as bisexual, she was initially not thrilled. We fought about it. She yelled at me. She cried. She asked if it was a phase. She outed me to people without asking my permission, which infuriated me. Those were a hard few months. I felt even more alone, like I was being rejected by both of my parents, not just the one who’d kicked me out. I wondered if my mother even wanted me, if she wasn’t secretly sick of having me in her house. Over time, we came to an understanding and now we’re very close, but those were hard times for both of us.

I don’t know how old you are or where you live or what your situation is like. Perhaps some of what I’ve written here is resonating with you or perhaps it isn’t. But I wanted you to know – if you’re still here, still reading – that you are not alone. You are not unloved. Being Muslim and bisexual can be so hard and you can feel like the world hates you and I want you to know that I understand that and I’ve been through it and you do not have to be ashamed if you feel scared or lost or like nobody wants you around. I know all of those feelings. But you need to hear this: none of that is true. The world doesn’t hate you. Not even all Muslims hate you. I love you. People like my mother who are loving and kind and accepting love you. People like my Twitter followers who asked me if there was a way we could reach out to you and support you love you.

You are so very loved, my dear. You are so very, very loved. And I know you feel like you’re alone, but you aren’t. We’re here for you – the other misfits, the other people who were told they didn’t belong. We’ve formed our own friendships and our own families and we are so, so ready to be here for you if you would like us to be.

It’s very likely that you will never read this. I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing or if when you found my blog, you decided to stay. But if you did, know that you are amongst friends here. You are amongst people who will not ask you to feel bad about yourself because of the way Allah made you. You are amongst people who will love you and support you and hold you while you cry just like my grandmother held me and who will be your friends when you need friends, just like my friends were there for me when I spent days on my mother’s couch staring at the wall wondering if my life would ever be the same again. (It was never the same, but you want to know a secret? It got better. Things get better, sometimes. Hold onto that. They might very well get better for you, too.)

If you’re still here, my dear, then know that we are here for you. You have people on your team if you want them. Your mother can take your phone – and, if she’s like my father, do all manner of other nasty things to you – but you are not alone and she cannot stop us from loving you and wanting to support you even if she chooses not to support you herself. If you need someone to talk to, if you need people to tell you that everything will be okay, if you need help finding a safe place to stay or a new phone or really anything at all: write to me. Leave a comment or email me from a computer at school (jaythenerdkid @ inbox dot com) or tweet me or send me an ask.fm question anonymously or whatever you like. I’m here. Lots of people are here.

We love you. You are loved. You are not alone. It will get better. I promise.

May Allah protect you and guide you, my dear. You are in my prayers.

With love,

Jay

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Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds.

blog post cover photo

me: muslim no matter how I dress.

NOTE: I am closing comments on this post as of 13/03/2014 due to an influx of very bigoted conservatives telling me I’m a bad Muslim who’s going to hell (way to miss the point of the post!). If you’d like to contact me about this blog post, you can email me (jaythenerdkid @ inbox dot com) or tweet me.

There are three aspects of my identity that really can’t be untangled from each other:

I am a queer woman.

I am a feminist.

And I believe that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.

Yeah, it’s the third one that usually gets the record-scratch reaction.

I was raised Muslim, but in my teens, I became severely disillusioned with the faith. Having finished reading the Qur’an in English for the first time, I started to fully appreciate just how easy it was for people to twist and re-interpret the book to serve their own needs. I realised my father had been doing that to me for years, with his rules that he swore came “from God” and his restrictions on my behaviour that were all part of me being a good Muslim girl. Cover yourself so men don’t stare at you; do not draw attention to yourself; avoid the company of men, for being around them will always be a temptation to the both of you. Obey your elders in all matters, even when you know they’re wrong. Abstain not only from sex, but from any kind of intimacy outside of marriage. Be chaste. Be a credit to your family. Be the version of good the people running your life expect you to be.

It all seemed so convenient, the way every time my dad wanted me to do something, he could find a religious reason for it, but when I pointed out things in the Qur’an that seemed to contradict him, he had a way of twisting the words so that he was in the right. It was frustrating, infuriating. It was around this time that I stopped trusting my father all together.

But that’s another story.

I think I was sixteen when I made the choice to give Islam another try – on my own terms, this time. By this time, I’d made gay friends; nurtured quiet, unrequited crushes on both boys and girls; sung in choirs and acted on stages without my father’s knowledge; cultivated friendships with boys and even flirted a little, though all in secret. I’d taken to studying my developing form – coltish and awkward, but with a hint of a promise of what it would eventually become – in the bathroom mirror late at night when everyone was asleep, wondering about how it might feel to have someone else see it, even desire it. And I thought about reading the Qur’an as a child and how it had made me feel like I was connecting with something bigger than myself, something that had space for a square peg like me. I wondered if I could find that connection again, if maybe there was more to Islam than authoritarian men telling me what to do. Maybe there was a message for me in there, and I could find it.

So I looked. I read the Qur’an in Arabic, then in English again – more critically, this time, my mind free of the expectation that I would find things that would confirm what I’d been told as a child. I read about Islamic history and the development and stagnation of Sharia law. And while I did all of that, I looked inward. I prayed. I meditated on who I was and what I wanted and where I was going and where my path might lead. I did as Allah instructed me: I questioned everything. I did as my Prophet instructed me: I sought knowledge. I sought it everywhere – in the Qur’an, in religious commentaries, in the Hadithes, in the sacred texts of other faiths, in discussions with friends who thought the concept of a creator was as ludicrous as the idea that the world was flat. I drank all of it in, filtered it through the lens of my own reality, searched for the things that I felt were meant just for me.

It was a long process. I haven’t finished yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish. I’ve spent many, many hours buried in books or deep in prayer or engaged in long conversations with my partner about the nature of good and evil and the meaning of life and what God’s purpose for us is, or if there’s a purpose at all. I think I’ve found some of the answers, and I think there are some I’ll never find, not that it’ll stop me from looking. But here is what I’ve found out so far:

It’s possible to be queer and Muslim. This was actually the easiest thing. Restrictions about pre-marital sex and sex with people of the same gender made plenty of sense in a society without contraception or antibiotics, where there were no paternity tests or laws guaranteeing child support (though Islam does have provisions for spousal support in the event of a divorce). I have access to condoms, dental dams, the oral contraceptive pill, penicillin, STD testing. I can terminate unwanted pregnancies safely if need be. Islam, Allah says, is a religion for all people in all times. I do not believe the Creator meant for us to live forever as though scientific progress never happened. And more importantly, I believe that my god is a god of love, and that expressions of love between people of any and all genders are one of the holiest acts that we as human beings can perform. The love between two men or two women or a couple of varying non-binary genders, or even that of a group of consenting adults of various genders, is a holy and sacred thing. The love a gay couple has for an adopted or surrogate child is a holy thing. The love a parent has for a gay or trans child is a holy thing. I do not believe that my God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, would ever begrudge human beings any acts of love. I believe, in fact, that it is through love that we express the part of ourselves that is closest to Allah in both substance and likeness. We were meant to love. We were meant to express that love and share it with others.

It’s possible to be feminist and Muslim. It’s possible to be sex-positive, to support the rights of sex workers, to support the rights of women to work or stay at home (both protected in the Qur’an), to support the rights of women to demand sexual satisfaction (also guaranteed in the Qur’an), whilst being Muslim. It’s possible to support both the right of a woman to wear a burqa or niqab or dupatta and the right of a woman to wear a miniskirt and high heels. I believe the concept of hijab is about more than modesty – I think it’s about comfort, boundaries and deciding for ourselves what we will and won’t let other people see. Not all Muslim women cover their hair – not even all Muslim women who are pious, devout, practising mumineen cover their hair. I believe, for the same reasons I outlined above, that a woman can enjoy intimate relations with a partner outside of marriage, provided she does so safely. I believe women have the right to live their lives without fear of harassment from men, another right enshrined in the Qur’an. Islam is, Allah tells us, a permissive religion. It is meant to make our lives easier, happier and more peaceful. Feminism is also meant to make our lives easier, happier and more peaceful. Islam is also a religion of justice (the Most Just is one of Allah’s ninety-nine names), and feminism is a movement for justice. Islam, I believe, is – or can be – an inherently feminist faith.

It is possible to be me and be Muslim. I wear miniskirts. I flirt with cute girls in bars. I drive my mother to distraction with my scoop-neck t-shirts and exposed legs. I have male friends. I have loved women and men and people who are neither or both or a complex mixture. Islam is not my father telling me that I can’t join the choir because good Muslim girls don’t sing in public. Islam is not a man telling me I need to cover myself or feel ashamed. Allah does not ask me to be ashamed of myself. Allah asks me to love, to feel compassion, to be empathetic, to give my life in service to the creator and to creation. These are things I can happily and willingly do.

The word “Islam” means “peaceful submission to Allah”. The word “Muslim” means “one who has submitted”. I have opened my heart to the love of Allah and it has enabled me to be a more loving person. I have submitted peacefully to the idea that I must live in service of the creator and creation, and it gives me joy and peace to do so. I have a path and a purpose. I understand some of why I am here and what I must do. I do not know everything. In fact, I do not even know if what I do know is correct. But I know that whatever decisions I make, however I let Allah into my life, it will be on my terms – as a feminist, as a queer woman. As a Muslim, devoted to Allah, carrying the message of love and hope and compassion and peace of the Qur’an in her heart always and forever. As a servant of creation: a speck living on a speck orbiting a speck in a cluster of specks surrounded by other specks, a whole so large that only one outside it could see all of it.

I do not speak for Islam. I do not speak for Muslims. I speak for one Muslim: myself. There are as many interpretations of the Qur’an as there are readers of the text. This is mine: a queer, feminist interpretation for my queer, feminist life. It is my path to peace. It is freedom from the shackles of uncertainty. It is my greatest and purest love.

And it is mine. Not my father’s or my mother’s or anyone else’s. Mine alone. My Islam. My way of life.