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.