I was born in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia – and raised by conservative Hanafi Muslim parents, who, however, believe in modernity. They do not follow traditional cultural practices like pardah, and they do not frown upon the intermixing of people from different communities. I belong to a “doctor family”, with both parents being medical practitioners, and my elder siblings choosing the same field. But then there’s me, 21-years-old, Muslim, and queer.
I was a ‘closet kid’ in more ways than one. I would literally avoid contact with people. I was reserved, hated crowds, and cried if I was around too many people at once. But more than this, it was my interests that made me “unusual.” Growing up I was not a “sporty” kid. I was attracted to children’s kitchen kits, dollhouses, and toy animals. This was highly unwanted, and I recall my parents refusing to buy them for me, saying they were ‘girly’. To this very day, I still get teased by my aunts and uncles for my avid love for kitchen sets!
As Muslim kids, we aren’t really given ‘The Talk’ at home. Instead, I learnt all about sex from my male crushes at school. I studied in an all-boys school, but in case you’re wondering, no, that was never the reason for why I am queer! For the longest time I thought that my sexuality was a phase and it will be over once I become ‘masculine’. At the time, masculinity and ‘being a man’ to me meant standing up to schoolmates who bullied me. The bullying lasted for three years, while my parents did absolutely nothing, least of all encourage me to fight back.
Visiting India during vacations meant interacting with extended family. Of my 13 cousins, I was closest to one. I used to write letters to her, and her role as a sister and friend mattered a lot to me. That spark was never there among, say, the female friends I had in my school bus. And it was something I really needed.
Life quickly changed when and I moved from Riyadh to start college in Bangalore. Coming back to India, I realized that here I could explore new-found freedoms; I could explore my sexuality. But keeping in mind “religion” and “being sane”, I was unable to.
In my second year of college, in the year 2016, I discovered PlanetRomeo, a gay dating site. I made my account, and realised being there made me happy and secure .
Now fast forward to October of the same year. My sibling found out about my identity when she went through my phone and foundmany NSFW (‘not safe for work’) texts to various people. Naturally the news reached my parents, and they reacted badly. Thus began a phase of immense torture that lasted until April 2017. I had almost no access to the internet or to a smartphone. I was put under house-arrest, monitored constantly. Thanks to my brilliant doctor parents, I underwent various kinds of conversion therapy – an attempt to ‘convert’ me ‘back’ to heterosexuality. One of these included taking hormones to ‘fix’ me. And though I have stopped taking hormones now, my mental health is in a mess as a result of this so-called therapy. I also underwent religious cleaning and exorcism to “remove the female jinns” from my body which were, apparently, attracting men to me, and me to them.
For me, religion and sexuality were like oil and water. They never mixed. I was in a constant state of struggle while trying to come to terms to it. This made me feel like my queerness was a “disease”.
Then it so happened that I stumbled upon The Queer Muslim Project in March 2018 where I found out that here were other queer Muslims too! This gave me a huge sense of peace. What’s more, I learnt about a one-day consultation on LGBTQI Muslim issues in India being jointly organized by The Queer Muslim Project and Aneka in Bangalore on May 13. I’m super excited to be a participant! I believe this is a positive step towards building inclusive communities and creating support systems for those who are disadvantaged by their religious and sexual or gendered identities in our country.
It’s so vital to have a safe space like this for queer Muslims. The lack of any such space for queer people as a whole leads to so many ending their lives for not being understood, not being accepted by family and society, and feeling loneliness and isolation.
My journey took a positive turn when I found a community and when I realised I had the power to reconcile my different identities. Today, I can say I am proud of being queer and Muslim, because only God can judge me. And in His eyes, I am not abnormal, unclean or evil. I am just me