This piece is dedicated to all Queers who have come out but are struggling with acceptance inside and out. In all honesty, I am writing this for myself as much as for you.
Author’s Note: I use the word Queer, instead of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Asexual or Pansexual because that is how I refer to my LGBTQIA identity. It is not written to degrade or offend anyone, and if it does, my deepest apologies to the reader.
Growing up in an orthodox, Indian, Muslim family, normal social conventions and behaviors were skewed by religion. Homosexuality, premarital sex, dating, smoking, watching movies and listening to music were the vices of the westerners. Instead, our home television screen displayed ethereal images of the Kabah, and blared sweet sound of Duas. Interestingly enough, outside of our homes, our religiosity was not apparent as a family unit. But once I moved abroad, my parents made the personal decision to strengthen their relationship with God, and therefore the family that appeared secular was now regularly adorned in prayer caps and headscarves. Although I personally never adopted the hijab, I was expected to live by a religious, moral code. After all, the nearing possibility of being burnt to crisp repeatedly in hellfire did not seem the ideal vacation of afterlife. Fast forward 15 years later and I am entering college. On the surface, Knox was this bubble of community and friendship. However, deeper than that, I came across several individuals who were unashamedly raw and authentic about who they were. In specific, I am referring to the budding LGBTQIA community. It would be untrue for me to say that Knox helped me discover my queerness; however, it did contribute largely in providing me with a safe enough space to start exploring it.
I came out to my parents on 4/20/2015 — the most beloved of days for many marijuana enthusiasts, including myself. I sent them an email mid-afternoon and waited in fear. As a child of a man who had dug himself out of poverty, I did not know whether this act of bravery would be considered commendable. As a child of a woman who had made sure I was provided with every opportunity she was not, I was scared of destroying the loving perception they had of me. In short, I was convinced that I would be either taken out of school or just be brought back home. However, fortunately the end result was neither of those things. My mother acknowledged the email and said that she did not understand what was going on. When I informed her that this was an integral part of who I was, I was met with silence. The conversation ended with, “We will deal with this when you get home, however, just know that we love you.” In the grand scheme of things, my situation could have turned potentially dangerous and I am grateful that it did not. Unfortunately, my relationship with my parents drastically changed after the conversation. The regular “good luck” texts from my mother abruptly stopped. Our text conversations changed to one word responses and Skype calls became a rarity. My father on the other hand, refused to acknowledge or speak to me. This act of coming out was supposed to liberate me and aid my authenticity, but instead it had done the opposite. It had made me meeker and smaller. From there on out, I was left in a state of purgatory, which by the way, I still am in. I was out to the people who loved me, but it cost me my support system.
For the first time in a long while, I felt alienated in my Queer identity even though I was surrounded by several Queers. I was frustrated by the fact that mainstream narratives on coming out usually termed coming out as joyful and liberating. I was convinced that when I came out to my parents, I would be free from the social chains of heteronormativity, but to my surprise that was not the case. In a Queer community that is largely white, I felt withdrawn. Now some may say, but did you share your experience with anyone? And my answer would be yes. Yes, I did share my experience with friends who I believed would understand. But even in those cases, I was often met with awkward sympathy. I don’t blame the responses of my friends because most lack the cultural and social understanding of my actions.
On campus Queer spaces were and still are mostly white, so speaking about my experience as a Brown, Muslim, Queer was unimaginable. Having taken courses on social justice dialogues, I am quite familiar with the ways whites tend to turn personal experiences of a marginalized groups into a learning experience. So again, I was left with the dilemma of “How could I talk about being queer when Islam played a huge role in my life?” in a largely white setting. How are you supposed to navigate white queer spaces to make it inclusive for yourself? How could I validate my Queer identity when Islam itself says my existence is a sin? But the question that still remains largely unanswered to this day is what to do when your “coming out” is met with ambiguity? When your Queer identity is erased, dismissed and unacknowledged by the people who raised and nurtured you? How are you supposed to simultaneously recover the loss of your support system and your Queer identity? The majority of these questions still remain unresolved, but typing it out on paper gives me some long awaited comfort. It gives power and meaning to my thoughts and actions.
I am a Brown, Muslim, Queer individual who has been Queer since birth. Being straight was a phase for me, not the other way around. And as for the Muslim community all around the globe, I want to inform you that Brown, Muslim, Queers exist in a variety of spaces. Just because we are not out, does not mean we don’t exist — we are just hiding. Mostly from our families, mostly from you, as a community. So, I ask my Brown, Muslim AND especially Queer communities to be introspective. I say especially the Queer community, because our space is radical and revolutionary in itself. They are meant to provide safety and camaraderie to all Queers around the world.** However, this does not mean Queer spaces are automatically rid of systems of oppression simply because they are revolutionary. This is why it is important that we as Queers are introspective of our Queer Spaces.
If someone were to ask me, when did you know you were Queer, I would say that I was Queer the moment I could conceptualize and make connections with other people. Just because I did not have the vocabulary to verbalize my connections and emotions did not invalidate my Queer identity, regardless of how many times I have been told by the media, friends and family. We have existed and we will continue to exist.
*The author preferred to be identified by their initials only.
**It is important to note that Queer Spaces created solely for Blacks, Latinx, or Brown folks are necessary. The separatist elements to these Queer spaces are there to focus on the healing and well-being of specifically Black, Brown folks because their struggle is fundamentally different from that of a white LGBT individual.