A number of people have asked me to explain or clarify issues raised in my coming out post, Yes, I Am. So here’s an attempt to respond to that feedback as well as offer some constructive points of advice for my fellow LGBT Muslims.
I am Muslim, by choice. Faith is central to my identity and without it I’d be lost as I still clearly remember my life before Islam.
So how do we reconcile faith with sexual orientation or sexuality? This is perhaps the most commonly asked question for gay Muslims but for me the question misses the larger point that orientation is not the same as sexuality. Beyond semantics, some of the language used to describe orientation is unhelpful. Orientation is not limited to who you sleep with and who you sleep with does not necessarily define your orientation. While our community has many hang-ups when it comes to sexuality, I think part of the challenge of having a discussion with gay Muslims is an inability to see beyond the jurisprudential bedroom. Islamic law is concerned with classifiable acts and is silent on matters, which are not so easily classified.
The idea of reconciliation or counseling for LGBT Muslims begins with an assumption that there is a conflict between faith and orientation. Not everyone agrees with this view. Nearly everywhere you look there is a growing movement of scholars and activists challenging old assumptions and interpretations to fuel a more progressive understanding.
Even if you’re like me, schooled in more conservative cultural interpretations (and every interpretation has its own cultural baggage), the progressive understanding holds an undeniable appeal though for me the arguments are not fully convincing. You will have to decide for yourself, which interpretation or understanding of Islam works best for you as no one else can live your life for you. So keep the lines of communication open between you and God and try to surround yourself with good and supportive family and friends.
Should you come out? Each decision to come out is incredibly personal and it’s a continual process with each group of people you encounter. I am out to some people and not out to others, it just makes life easier that way for me. You have to evaluate your own life situation. In reflecting on the life story of the Prophet Muhammad and in listening to Brene Brown’s research into vulnerability, shame, and whole-hearted living, there are so many lessons to be drawn from embracing vulnerability as a means to seek out authentic and meaningful connection with others.
You do not have to accept the idea that your orientation is sinful or unnatural nor do you have to accept the opinion that coming out is publicizing something that should be hidden. I’m always amazed by people who sincerely think that remaining closeted is the optimal solution when they themselves are completely open and in your face about the reality of their own orientation and relationships.
Know that a huge part of reconciling between your faith and sexuality or the courage to come out stems from your own self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. You are worthy, beautiful, and deserving of love and goodness. You have to believe this. Cultivate your relationship with God, your relationship with those who sincerely care for you, and take care of yourself. It’s very possible you will encounter haters along the way but you don’t have to value or accept their criticism.
In my experience, fearing how others might react, is a mostly useless and paralyzing activity. Despite my best efforts, I was not able to predict, with any sense of accuracy, how my family and friends and people in the wider community have reacted to my coming out. Not every experience has been positive but the overwhelming majority have been positive. As a rule of thumb, people who spend a lot of time online (so rarely in person because that would require courage most don’t have) trying to tear you down are usually in pain in their own lives trying to compensate for their own insecurities. If they were happy, they’d be out enjoying their own lives more than they enjoy commenting on your life. Spare a thought for those deeply closeted LGBT folks so scared that someone might think they are gay that they take up the anti-gay banner with more energy than the real homophobes. I know some of you are secretly reading this now and I wish you much love and healing.
What about the “love the person, not the action” distinction? This is problematic, is that even really love? This dichotomy works for some people but not for others. Certainly, we can give credit to those holding this supposedly more compassionate view over the more fire and brimstone exclusionary types but what does this really offer to the LGBT Muslim? It appears that lifelong forced celibacy is unnatural and maybe even harmful. Marriage to someone of the opposite sex can work for some but not for others, leaving aside the question of fairness to the unsuspecting spouse.
The interesting observation from the “marriage solution” is that despite assuming an outward facade of heterosexuality that inward orientation rarely changes. I could marry a man and almost did yet my orientation was as settled then as it is now despite my efforts to pretend otherwise. In 1971, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), didn’t just stop referring to homosexuality as a disease based on a whim and switch to offering guidance that sexual orientation cannot be changed. Most people involved in ex-gay or reparative therapy programs also encounter this reality of stable orientation. I hear the “abuse argument” a lot from some Muslims i.e. that being gay results from sexual abuse, but this myth is also addressed in the link above about the APA decision. Give it a listen, it’s a good program, and won’t make you or your children gay, I promise.
Can I be LGBT and a good Muslim? Of course! Don’t ever allow people or their opinions or your own actions to come between you and your faith in God. Every person is more than simply an orientation or an action. When I stand before God to pray, I am Muslim, a human being, a daughter, a woman, a sister, black, gay, American, a nurse, a neighbor, a student and so much more than these labels can convey.
I’m okay saying to Allah as I bow down that I am here at your service, turning to you. I don’t always understand everything perfectly, but I ask you for help in everything, and I know that you will and always have helped me, and that you are the best of those who offer assistance.
Hold on to your faith, you are not alone.