By Haseeb Ansari:
Here’s a loaded sentence: I’m gay, Muslim, Indian, American, from Abu Dhabi, Texan, and queer. Each word in this description has a meaning for me that transcends its literal concept. Honestly, I wish I could be all of these things in one word (i.e. human) but saying that wouldn’t be descriptive enough. So I’m gay and Muslim.
Being gay is easy these days but when I came out, it felt like I was the gay. It was as though by hiding my sexuality, I could erase the concept of being gay. That’s how my coming out experience was: I came out, went back in the closet, came out, and repeated this at least a hundred times until I entered college where I came out and stayed out.
Coming out distanced me from the local Muslim Students Association at my university, but at that time, I was so euphoric about telling “my story” rather than analyzing why homosexuality fit or didn’t fit in Islam. I put my gay identity first, before any other identity I had. Unfortunately, it finally hit me that I’m not the gay; that is, I’m not responsible for every gay person in the university.
When my family discovered that I had decided to be gay and accepted me so that I could stay sane, this led to, ironically, my worlds colliding. My family grew to be very supportive and they have helped me understand that I do have other parts to my identity than being gay.
But, let me address the collision of my worlds. That means that my identities all met at a crossing point in my mind and were forced to have a conversation. I wasn’t expressive, especially with words, so talking my feelings regarding being gay and Muslim wasn’t easy. I met a gay Muslim, Faisal Alam, who spoke at my university, and his message was, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, a quote borrowed from Mahatma Gandhi.
It’s interesting to remember that because my university’s slogan is “What starts here changes the world”, so I said, “Fuck it. I’ll be Muslim.” I finally had a purpose in my life that could lead me to be a part of a queer Muslim community.
My identity as a queer Muslim activist is straightforward: I choose to change the world to positively impact the lives of marginalized people. By being there for someone who is African American, or transgender, or Muslim, or all three, or any other marginalized/minority group, I know I am doing the right thing. I don’t like thinking of my actions as being “righteous” but this is something I feel to be correct.
That brings me to Pride; specifically, non-capitalist, people-first, identity-worshipping Pride, which is needed. North America and South Asia are very different places. It’s easy being queer in the former. But there is something special about being queer in India that I don’t think being queer in America can compare to. In India, there is the strength of culture and religion which gives queer folk a colourful place to be themselves. If both places, metaphorically speaking, support the lowest rung on the ladder, then more will be accomplished for the overall community.
In desi communities in the U.S., the concept of Pride is nonexistent. Sure, the media shows queerfolk being able to be married and their uphill fight for discrimination in the workplace but the average desi household in the U.S. chooses to remain conservative in acknowledging Pride, which usually tends to be ‘the elephant in the room’. So, queer desis in the U.S. have to face the pressure of being proud of their queer identity while listening to their yet to be modern desi household, which is grappling with the concept that not only does their child not want an arranged marriage, but is even attracted to a non-conventional gender. It’s a tough pill of queer to swallow for desis.
I’m in a position to value my role in the queer community, inclusive of the queer Muslim and desi community. This brings me to be available in circles that need and desire queer Muslim representation, which in turn facilitates Queer Muslim Pride. By being in an interfaith queer community (because queer Muslims exist!), I am somewhat fulfilled.
So, as Delhi brings its 10th anniversary of Delhi Queer Pride this November 12, I look forward to seeing a queer community that values its members (of every identity.)
What are your experiences of being queer, and tackling heteronormativity?
Email us your Pride stories at [email protected] You may choose to write under a pseudonym!