Tw: mention of suicidal ideation
> I was relieved because I could put a name to this feeling that I had felt before, but then immediately after, I was really, really scared and really, really angry.
I just felt, Allah, why did you make me this way if you don't think I should be this way? Because what I was taught from most of the Muslim community was that being gay was a sin. It felt unfair. I asked God, why are you testing me like this? I became suicidal, honestly, because I didn't have anyone to share these feelings with. If I shared it with people at public school who were white, they would say, you're gay, that’s fine, go ahead and do that. And then if I told it to anyone in the Muslim community, they'd just gossip and the whole world would know in two days. And on top of the gossip, I would be judged and told exactly what I already knew, that I’m going to hell. So I was between a rock and a hard spot for a long time. And that's when I was really suicidal.
I eventually found one friend who I commuted to some college classes with. He was very emotionally aware and so I felt really safe to come out to him. I said, hey, I'm gay, but you're also Muslim. And you know how much I am a practicing Muslim and I just don't know how to reconcile this. And he said – dang, that's hard, I'm so sorry you have to go through that. These were very simple things but I needed to hear them so profoundly. Over time, I fleshed out an idea, with just him, with no outside people knowing: I can be gay if I don't act on it and if I act on it, I can always seek forgiveness. Act on it meaning having gay sex. So going into college, that’s how I came to a place where...it wasn't good, but it was stable enough for me not to be actively suicidal.
> In college,
A couple of months in, the shooting of Michael Brown happened in Ferguson, Missouri, a 20-minute drive away from my campus, and in the wake of that, there were a lot of people protesting on campus and around the city. But for me, there was this gap in understanding. I felt, yeah, I'm Brown. I've also been racially profiled. And as long as I'm respectful to the police officers, I've always been safe. But once these protests started, I would go and put myself in these places where I didn't agree with these Black voices speaking, but I would shut up and listen to them. And I would take in the points they were making and think about it more and more, and by the end of sophomore year, I was pretty solid in my understanding of how systemic racism works, and why I need to be active in fighting it.
BEGINNING OF 2016, I was pseudo-dating someone called Rox. He was my math tutor, but we ended up talking a lot about queerness, but also religion and also the math homework…but also not the math homework. So one day I asked him to take acid with me. And what happened on this trip was I tried to convert him to Islam.
I said –
And his response was –
> I love you and because I love you, I want you to become Muslim.
> That's not going to happen.
And then we started having a discussion about God. And when we were talking about this, I felt like I was looking into a mirror. So here is my body, here is my entire understanding of the existence of God and Islam. But my reflection is, in fact, Rox and all of his ideas: that there is no God, there's only these other rules of chaos and physics and chemistry and biology staring back. So it felt like two different perspectives on the same reality. And that made me believe that, wow, there must be no God. Or rather whether or not God exists is moot. So that night, while still tripping on acid, I came out as an atheist.
I announced it on Facebook. That did not go over well because I was a highly esteemed religious figure in the St. Louis Muslim community. I counted over a hundred texts and missed calls and messages from the community. Eventually, one other conservative Muslim family that I knew in St. Louis picked me up. Once I was 90 percent of the way sober, I told the family about my conversation with Rox, and finally, aunty says, arre, who is this Rox person? I just said, he's my boyfriend. And that’s how I came out of the closet.
Once that happened, people started to treat me differently. They started asking these homophobic-rooted questions, like: now that you're gay, can you still lead prayer? Or: will our prayers be accepted if you lead prayer? I didn't really know what to do with that, but I did go to a Muslims Students Association event that was attended by Muslims from across the Midwest. I had decided to perform spoken word at the event, and so I was writing several different poems. But the one that was the most...juicy or heartfelt was one about coming out. So essentially, I came out of the closet again on stage performing spoken word in Knoxville, Tennessee, in front of a crowd of hundreds of MSA and Muslim community members.
Afterwords, some people came up to me and said, that was incredible, thank you so much for being vulnerable. Other people said, you really shouldn't have done that. And in fact, the organizers issued a formal apology for allowing me to perform that piece. So I got mixed reactions, but what’s important is that’s how I got connected to a Facebook group that had other queer Muslims. They were the first other queer Muslims I had ever known to exist, and I realized, whoa, I'm not the only one.
And that's also where I learned about the book Homosexuality in Islam by Dr. Scott Kugle. It really deconstructs a lot of the the arguments that Muslims use to say homophobia is in the Quran. And it's not. And in this book, he goes specifically into the verses from the Quran in Arabic. Of course I already knew the verses by heart, and so all of his arguments made crystal clear sense. It was just a mind-blowing experience to be validated for something that I knew deep down, but didn't see anyone around me affirming. So that group gave me that social realization and that book gave me the theological realization. And then the Muslim Youth Leadership Council and El-Tawhid Juma Circle, which is the masjid where I currently have a spiritual home, gave me a community.
A COUPLE OF MONTHS after I took acid, I applied to be a resident assistant on campus, and the reason for that was because after coming out of the closet to my mom, she would take out all of her anger and unprocessed emotions directly onto me. I didn’t have any room to escape that and so I was looking for way out. Once I got the position, I was so relieved, I was counting down the days until I could move in. When that day came, I felt so peaceful because I felt, wow, I finally have a chance at being myself. Also, my boss was queer. And this was really big because not only was he my boss at the workplace, he was also in charge of my living space. So I knew I could come out as queer and I could be myself. And just live and just exist for once.
And so that’s when I started thinking about how I consider myself a man who wants to be an ally to women. But because I am a man, I have not experienced what it is like to live as a woman, and therefore I don't really have an understanding of how patriarchy affects women. And so I decided I was going to start an experiment: I'm going to dress like a woman. I'm just going to exist as a woman almost to gain proximity to womanhood, to learn what it's like to be a victim of patriarchy so that I can become a better ally. But once I started this experiment, I said, this doesn't feel like an experiment, it feels natural, which is not what I expected. And that was strange and scary. So I looked into it – again the theme of shut up and listen. So I just listened to a lot of trans people speak about their experiences and I thought, dang, that's it, isn't it? I'm trans, I just didn't know it. I’d been out as a woman, but I hadn’t been out as trans.
I had already lost so many MSA friends for coming out as gay and then when I came out as trans, almost everyone from the MSA stopped associating with me. So I experienced this kind of social death and that was really hard. But I gained so much more than what I lost. I gained the freedom to be myself for one. I also gained so many new friends. I got to meet other queer Muslims in real life as well, which was mind-blowing. I also became interested in my Bengali roots, and recently, living in Minneapolis, a couple of my childhood Bangla friends reached out to me. And meeting them felt so good. I just thought, all of you are Bengali, I can speak Bangla with you. And none of you are judging me for being trans. So I finally found that sort of group I was searching for.
I think my faith informs my queerness and that my queerness informs my faith. That book Homosexuality in Islam was written with the framework of liberation theology, and a lot of the campus ministry people that I associated with after coming out were queer people who were highly spiritual, and also spoke of liberation theology. And so, I was meeting all of these different people who were practicing liberation theology and that really inspired me to feel: wow, my life as a trans Muslim matters. And not only does it matter, it gives me wisdom and insights on what the point of faith is.
> I don't think that if I divorce myself of one of them, my faith or my queerness, that I can actually have the other.
I WANT TO give back in a way that is perhaps remembered, but really the remembrance is not as important as that I actually provide material or theological or spiritual help to people around me. Imagine the day of judgment as described in the Quran: that the sky is being split apart. The mountains have been ripped open and are floating around like pieces of cotton. The entire world is just utter chaos. The Prophet says if the day of judgment is already here, but in your hand you have a seed of a tree, plant it.
A tree takes decades to grow, it takes care and nurturing, and none of those things are happening when the world is is ending. But the Prophet still tells us to plant that seed. And I think we as individuals should always be doing whatever is in our immediate capability to make the future a better place. I will not be asked about the entire America, whether or not it falls to fascism, but I will be asked what I did to help my neighbor who is going through a tough time. So whatever is in my scope, that is where I want to make a difference.
AMEERA KHAN (she/her) joined the Muslim Youth Leadership Council (MYLC) as a youth activist in 2018, and has helped create resources and networks for LGBTQ+ Muslim youth and their allies. She’s also committed to supporting the work MyLC does to counter Islamophobia, strengthen sexual health and reproductive rights for young Muslims, and fight racial injustice. You can follow her work on Instagram or Facebook.
I WAS BORN in Kansas City, Kansas, but I spent most of my life in St. Louis with the Sunni Muslim community of Greater St. Louis. There were a lot of different people, but it was Arab and Indian-Pakistani dominated. There were not too many Bengalis who frequented the masjid, but there was a Bengali community in St. Louis that I have faint memories of interacting with. My mom became a lot more religious when she came to the States, and when I was maybe seven or eight, she started moving away from Bengalis and towards a pan-Muslim masjid community. I did hear a lot of, oh, the other Bengalis are not bad people, but they listen to music or don’t wear a hijab...They don't follow what our religion says. And so I grew up with that mentality of strict Islam.
I did not grow up listening to music at all. So now, I have a lot of friends my age who’ll refer to “That Lipgloss Song” and I’m like, I’ve never heard that in my life. Because my mom very staunchly said, music is haram, it’s the voice of the devil and you can't listen to it. These teachings weren't all from her. They were also from other Muslim teachers at the masjid, or from the imams. And so I would get all these pieces to put together this notion of mainstream Islam. I didn't really question it because I also had my own convictions and I felt, if I’m on the path of truth, even if I'm missing out on something like music, it's not really that important. So that was what sustained me for so, so, so much of my life. From fifth to seventh grade, I was homeschooled and I did a full-time memorization of the Quran. And on March 3rd, 2009, I officially memorized the Quran and was given the title of Hafiza.
THE FIRST MINOR crack – I wouldn't even call it a crack, but it was sort of setting the stage for my future evolution – was me falling in love in high school with an underclassman named John (name changed for privacy). It was head over heels love, and I thought, whoa, what is this? I didn't admit to myself that it was love. I asked him one day, can we do the science fair together? And he said, you don't really want to do the science fair, you just want to be around me because you're in love with me. You’re gay. And I was like, no, I'm not. Then I went home, laid down on my bed, staring at the ceiling, and I thought about it and went, oh shoot, I AM gay. That was the first thing that really shook my understanding of who I was and how I existed in this world and divine order.