The Gay/Religious Paradox

One of the many questions people like to ask me repeatedly is as follows: how is it possible to be both bisexual and Muslim?

I am not sure what they expect me to say. I do not know if they believe themselves the first to ask such a thing of me. Perhaps they think they will lead me towards some kind of epiphany. Or perhaps they are just being rude, in the way that people often unintentionally are, by probing into my personal life and expecting that I will be forthcoming to strangers. Whatever the reason, this is a question I am asked at least once a week, sometimes more often, almost always by people who don’t know me at all. None of them are owed an answer – both my sexuality and my faith are, after all, personal. But for the sake of saving myself the time of repeatedly telling people to mind their own business, I suppose I can satisfy their curiosity once and for all.

But first, let me ask you a question:

Knowing what we know about the mechanics of pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of HIV/AIDS, would you consider it a healthy choice to have unprotected sex of any kind with a complete stranger?

Perhaps it’s the former medical student in me, but I’d consider such an act quite foolish. Unprotected sex – including anal and oral sex – carries with it the risk of many complications. We know this because we have discovered through scientific research how sperm fertilises an egg to create the cluster of cells that will eventually become a baby, how bacterial and viral diseases can spread through sexual contact, how certain kinds of sex carry with them higher risks of injury and disease transmission. This is knowledge accumulated over hundreds of years. In response to this knowledge, we’ve developed barrier prophylactics and chemical contraception, so that we may engage in sex safely, responsibly and without fear of unwanted consequences.

Fifteen hundred years ago, we had neither the knowledge of the risks sex entailed, nor the means of mitigating them.

My thesis, then, is this – that in an age before science, when we didn’t know how diseases were caused or spread, when we were unclear of the mechanics of conception and pregnancy, when we were unable to reliably prevent the consequences of sexual encounters, it made perfect sense to regulate sex. By restricting sex to an act between married partners, disease transmission could be kept down to a minimum, even completely stopped. By prohibiting sex acts with greater inherent risks, such as anal sex, the consequent injuries and damage could be avoided. By framing sex as an act to be engaged in only between monogamous, married partners, people could be kept relatively safe from the consequences of unprotected sex in an age before contraception, condoms and antibiotics.

I believe in God, and I believe that God wants the human race to better itself. It is not such a logical leap for me to believe that the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage of sex between people of the same gender were designed to keep a pre-science civilisation safe and healthy. After all, the Qur’an also contains instructions about personal hygiene despite the fact that the people to whom it was revealed had no conception of germs, bacteria or parasites. In fact, much of the Qur’an only strengthens my belief in scientific principles, and vice versa. It is quite remarkable that a society pre-Semmelweis knew that washing one’s hands with running water was a way of warding off disease thanks to instructions in a book they believed was revealed to them by their creator. The simplest and most rational explanation is that whoever was instructing them knew something they didn’t.

You do not have to believe in God in order to agree with my basic point – that in a society without access to contraception and antibiotics, restricting sexual activity was the best possible way of ensuring good sexual health amongst the population. You also do not have to believe in God to agree with the point that follows – that in today’s society, where we have access to antibiotics, condoms, dental dams, the oral contraceptive pill, contraceptive implants and so much more, those same restrictions are no longer necessary. It is possible to have sex with multiple partners – including oral and anal sex, between partners of any gender – in a way that does not endanger the health of those involved. It is possible to have sex before marriage without falling pregnant and being stuck with a child one does not have the means to care for. (Indeed, it is now possible to safely terminate the pregnancy if the mother finds herself unable to deal with the demands of having a baby.) Society has advanced. We have new ways of protecting ourselves; the old ways have become obsolete.

I am, for the most part, a rational person. I do not believe that God would ask anything of me that it is not reasonable to ask. And in the time and place in which I live, it is not reasonable to ask that I restrict my sexual activity or my sexuality for the sake of my health and well-being. I am lucky enough to live in a point in time where access to safe and affordable contraception means I can engage in sex safely, healthily and with whomever I choose. I believe religion is meant to be permissive, not restricting. My faith frees me; it does not confine me. And given that it is possible for me to express myself sexually in a safe way, I do not see the need to pointlessly restrict myself.

Yes, I am both Muslim and bisexual, and I do not see any inherent contradiction. God is my guide, but my faith is also my path to freedom and peace. It is not a set of shackles – it is a pair of wings, designed to allow me to achieve greater heights than I could on my own. God is not, in my experience, a harsh master, but rather a loving mentor – a light by which I might find my way through life. I have been created as I am – a sexual being who is attracted to more than one gender. I do not believe I was created this way only to be forced to live a half-life, unfulfilled and unsatisfied. That is not what God means to me. That is not what my faith means to me. My faith means freedom to live and to love – safely, healthily and happily.

There is no paradox inherent in my being. I am as I am, and I live according to the rules of the universe as I am able to discern them. My sexuality is not sinful or shameful – it simply is. I simply am. And I am perfectly at peace with that.

[TW: rape] The myth of the girl who asked for it

By writing this post, I am putting myself in danger.

You see, if I am ever raped or sexually assaulted and I choose to take my rapist to court, I will be subjected to a lengthy, humiliating interrogation about my sexual history. How many partners I’ve had, my dating habits and even what I wear will be subject to scrutiny. Every photo I’ve ever posted to Instagram will be used as proof that my rapist had just cause for doing what he did. Or they could just quote the three words I’m about to type, damning me forever in the eyes of any (probably predominantly male) jury:

I like sex.

By admitting that, I have forever signed away my right to demand that my autonomy be respected. Society as a whole believes that women who like sex or who have sex frequently have given their consent for anyone to have sex with them, whether or not they expressly allow it. By saying that I enjoy sex – and I do, I enjoy it very much – I am opening myself up to judgement from people who think consent is an all or nothing proposition: either I want all sex, or none of it.

Women are not meant to like sex. Sex is meant to be something we give to men as a reward for good behaviour, or as their due for simply existing and being male. The idea that a woman might seek out sex – that she might even enjoy it for its own sake, and not just because she wants to please a man – is enough to brand her an amoral whore in the eyes of society. We are not meant to be sexual beings on our own terms; our sexuality exists solely for the pleasure of men, who are told that they have every right to demand that we exercise it for them and that they may use whatever means necessary to get us to do it. A woman who wants sex is a fearful, abhorrent thing – she is attempting to take control of an aspect of herself that society does not believe belongs to her.

Steubenville proved something that many women have known all along – that when they are raped, the first question will not be, “why didn’t the rapist stop himself?” but, “what did she do to deserve it?” If a woman is forced to have sex against her will, society reasons, it must be because she gave off some kind of signal that she was ready to please a man, and it’s her fault if those signals were misread. Maybe she dressed too “slutty”. Maybe she had too many previous sexual partners, thus making her fair game for anyone wanting her. Maybe she got drunk and needed to be punished for her carelessness. Nobody ever asks why a man rapes – they ask why a woman didn’t stop it from happening. Why didn’t she cover up? Why didn’t she limit herself to two drinks? Why did she walk home through that part of town? Why did she have so much sex beforehand? Can any man really be blamed for thinking that a woman who does these things doesn’t want every man in her life to have sex with her?

Women who like sex are, in the eyes of the men who think they own them, an open invitation. After all, if she liked it with Dave from accounting, why wouldn’t she like it with you?  If she liked it with the boy she went home with at that party you were both at that one time, why wouldn’t she like it when you corner her at the next party and force yourself on her? She liked it once, after all. She must be open to it. She must be asking for it.

Except that nobody ever asks to be raped. Nobody, no matter what they wear, how much they drink, or how often they have sex, is ever asking for their bodily autonomy to be violated. I have said this before, and I will say it again – a woman’s sexuality does not exist for you. Women are perfectly capable of being sexual beings on their own terms, and that means being able to decide when to say yes and when to say no. I like sex – with partners of my choice, in circumstances of my choosing. That should go without saying. I should not have to specify that the fact that I’m not a virgin does not mean that I want to have sex with every man I meet. I am not “asking for it” any more than the one in four women who will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, or the three in five Native American women who will be. Nobody ever wants to be raped.

A person’s sexuality belongs to them, to do with as they choose. Saying yes to a hundred partners does not mean a yes to partner #101 is automatically implied. I say yes to sex with my boyfriend all the time, but I will (most likely) say no to sex with you. This is my right. This is a human right. The right to say no to sexual contact of any kind is not something earned by allowing one’s sexuality to be policed. There is no model of good behaviour that suddenly entitles a woman not to be raped. Not being raped is a birthright. Rapists take that birthright away. They are not forced to do it; they are not provoked. They choose to violate someone else’s autonomy because they want to. They do not have any other excuse.

One in four women have been raped or will be raped in their lifetimes. This doesn’t just include drunk women at parties, or women who walk home alone at night. This includes children in the care of adults who are meant to look out for their best interests. This includes the elderly in aged care facilities, who trust that the staff will protect them and care for them. This includes women who have never had sex and women who have had sex dozens or hundreds or thousands of times. This includes women who like sex with women. This includes women like me, who refuse to be shamed into silence. This includes trans* women, women of colour, disabled women, women in relationships, sex workers, homeless women, women in prison. It includes every woman you know. It even includes men, because nobody – and I mean nobody, no matter who they are or what they’ve done or how many times they’ve said yes – deserves to have their “no” disregarded.

I like sex on my own terms, with partners I choose, in circumstances in which I feel comfortable. This does not give you licence to rape me. Nothing does. Rape is not a punishment for bad behaviour or an overwhelming compulsion. It is a crime. If you do it, no matter what reason you give, you are a criminal. Bodily autonomy is a human right. There is never a reason not to honour it.