On Faith And Gender, Or Why I Dress Like A Man On Fridays

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Hello, my name is Miriam. I’m a 30 year old trans woman living in Texas. And, because it’s Friday, I’m dressed like a man right now.

 

Not one of my prouder moments.

Not one of my prouder moments.

No, this isn’t part of some gender fuck art protest. In fact, my reasons are very old fashioned. You see, I’m a Muslim, and in order to enter a mosque, I have to do so as a man.

Mosques, unlike churches, are gender segregated. It comes from Bedouin tradition dating back to long before Islam. In modern times, it’s justified (like all gender segregation) as a way to free straight, cisgendered people of sexual temptation.

In practical terms, it means that gender presentation determines whether you enter the men’s or women’s area. Overall society is already wary of trans* inclusion into women’s spaces. You can imagine what orthodox/ultra-orthodox mosques would say, especially when you factor in my being queer.

They would tell me to leave and never come back.

And you have to enter a mosque. Group prayer is major part of Islam. Aside from Friday service, there are funerals, weddings, and holidays. And those are just the required times. It boils down to a simple decision: dress like a man, or lose part of my faith.

That scares me. To say Islam is important to me is an understatement. Islam is life. It’s saved my life countless times, and allows me to embrace life as it is. It’s as integral to my well-being as my transition. And it’s not like I harbor any personal conflict between being queer, trans*, and Muslim. God made me these things, all praise be to God. But Islam is not an island, and my personal peace doesn’t erase the conflict with the greater community.

The consequences of that extend far beyond the few hours a week I’m in the monkey suit. For starters, having to pass as male means I have to keep an androgynous appearance at all times. Even something as simple as getting my eyebrows done could raise suspicions. And I’m deathly afraid of a judge finding out and declaring that I’m not “really” full time.

Which is would be silly. Transition is almost never a straight line from one gender or another. It’s full of lapses, de-transitions, and a lot of ambiguity. In that sense, this could be seen as the last vestiges of manhood before I fully come into my own. But many trans* narratives also involve trans women forced to live their lives in the closet. These Fridays could be my life. Not that I wouldn’t (again, nothing I wouldn’t do for my faith).

So why not fight back? Why not change mosques? Try to pass as cis- and enter the women’s area? Find some other queer Muslims and hold our own Prayer? Simply demand my right to pray without having to crossdress?

But fighting back isn’t as easy as it sounds. For starters, the local community is too tight knit and knows me too well for me to pass undetected. It would only take one person to say something. It’s also the problem with establishing a queer Muslim community. Queer Muslims, the ones who don’t simply walk away, are forced in the closet as much as possible. I can count the number of Muslims I’ve met post-transition with one hand in my pocket.

As for fighting for my rights: well, for starters you need leverage to push back. And then there’s Islamophobia.

Screw you, Microsoft, Islamophobia is a real word. And it’s not partisan, either. There’s more than enough people in the queer community perfectly willing to disparage Islam for their own purposes. I don’t want my narrative to be used against my community, and I know that once I start protesting, I’m not sure who would get involved.

Because it’s not as if America’s Islamic community is categorically homo-/trans*phobic. Being a religious minority means learning to be non-judgemental. Keith Ellison is the vice-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. Then again, I’m not sure if I’d be allowed in his mosque.

Mosques are beautiful places. You see such a deep expression of faith there: Muslims who haven’t prayed in years picking up right where they left off. Reverts finding their first conscious taste of Islam through these doors. Mosques accept everyone from rich professionals to skinheads with earplugs.

And, truth be told, I’m not particularly out to judge my fellow Muslims, either. I may think that gender segregation is bullshit, but I’m not interested in trampling someone else’s right to it. It would simply be nice to have a way of opting out of it without leaving the mosque.

Until then, I’m just going to be here in a tank top, doing my best impersonation of The Aggressives.

And praying.

PS: I just want to note that Daniel Pipes, Michael Lucas, Pamela Gellar, Newt Gingrich, and pretty much anyone featured here and here can pre-emptively go fuck themselves.


About the author: Miriam lives and works in Texas, and currently blogs for I Am Not Haraam. She’s not very good with bios.

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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67 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    Blessings on you Miriam. I am in a similar situation. I am a traditionalist Roman Catholic. While I can attend any number of main stream churches as a woman without the slightest difficulty, the one place in my city where the old Latin Mass is said is my old pre-transition parish. The moment I show up in with a chapel veil, well.. it wouldn’t be pretty. Many won’t understand my attachment to the “bells and smells”, but the ancient Gregorian chant and the old rite does for me what hours of yoga and meditation does for another.

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      Blessings to you. I actually went to a Catholic school, and I found Catholics, on the whole, they’ve been some of the most generous, kindest people I’ve known. I gained a really deep respect for Catholics and the faith while there, so I definitely understand the appeal to you.

      My prayers are with you.

  2. Thumb up 14

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    Thanks for sharing your story with us Miriam. I will just point out that in Toronto, where I lived for about three years up until last year, there is a fully LGBT-inclusive Muslim congregation. They held an annual iftar at the 519 (Toronto queer community center), for example, that I attended once or twice. Hopefully those kinds of ideas will gradually spread.

  3. Thumb up 5

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    I seriously admire your commitment to stay true to your faith AND your true self. As someone who grew up in a very religious (Christian) household, I understand how challenging it can be, so I commend you for that! I have a hard enough time making myself put on a dress for a church service, so I can’t imagine having to dress up as a different gender!

    You go girl. <3

  4. Thumb up 12

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    UGH this post is so perfect in every way, and yes I actually did yell when I saw the title. Of course I can’t possibly say I totally “get” your experience (being a cis Christian might have something to do with it) but I have a special spot in my heart for queers of faith. It’s a constant negotiation process that I really don’t think ever truly ends. I ended up choosing the “find a queer-affirming space to worship” route because I feel extremely vulnerable and anxious going into a church I know wouldn’t accept me, but sticking with your roots is an equally valid (and probably more courageous) option. Much love from this corner of the interwebs and I’m so glad you decided to share your story here.

    • Thumb up 5

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      Oh man, I totally agree. I was raised Catholic, and I miss being able to fully identify with my Catholic past. Now I’m a Lutheran who goes to a hippie church–we’re hosting a multifaith prayer service for gay rights tomorrow morning, and then we’re walking over to the Court (because they’re a block apart, DC is crazy).

      As much as I love my new church, I still miss some of the trappings of being Catholic. I was so Catholic that I was thinking about becoming a nun. I wish I could go to a service on Friday at a Catholic church, but honestly every time I step into a Catholic church my skin crawls. (I think vulnerable is a good description, Krissy.) So I stick with my awesome hippie Lutheran church.

      • Thumb up 3

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        I was raised strict Catholic and I remember so clearly watching my sister’s daughter walk down the aisle for her first communion thinking that I do not belong…the church wouldn’t want my daughter walking down the aisle for her first communion ..and so that meant we weren’t wanted. And I was done. And I shed a few tears at the realization that I was truly unwelcome. It’s hard. I have yet to find the hippy church. I don’t know I ever will.

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          I was also raised in the variety of Catholic family where if you weren’t at church on Sunday, you’d better be dying.
          And while I’ve my own struggles with faith in general and Catholicism in particular, going to church when I’m visiting my family always feels like coming home in a way. And I still try to come home for a week in the summers to stay involved with the mission trips the youth ministry program does.

          I feel blessed in that the church my family goes to has always been wonderfully accepting of anyone who walks through the doors (the cantor is gay in a really obvious kind of way), and I have never in my life heard any hatred toward any group preached there.
          I kind of feel like it’s a special unicorn church, though, because I’ve never been in another with quite the same atmosphere.

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        word. I was raised an orthodox Jew and am now looking at conservative shuls because there really isn’t a space for me anymore. it’s a constant struggle.

  5. Thumb up 12

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    This is so wonderful. Thank you for writing this. Some people seem to think it’s very easy to give up faith once you’ve come out to yourself. There are many sides to people and they don’t always complement each other in presentation.

    “I don’t want my narrative to be used against my community, and I know that once I start protesting, I’m not sure who would get involved.”

    I love this – I never thought about how hard it is to criticize your own community without it leading to someone else attacking your community because “she’s one of you and even she thinks this way. waaah.” It’s a fine line.

    This is an excellent article and I’m so excited to see it here.

  6. Thumb up 6

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    This is an amazing and honest post. Negotiating a traditionally hostile or limited religious space without the dissolution of your faith or personal identity is a powerful testament to your character. All the respect to you, and good luck.

    Thank you for this post.

  7. Thumb up 5

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    Orthodox churches are segregated by gender as well – at least older ones, women and children sit in the narthex, while men sit in the nave (which is in front / closer to the altar), plus only men are allowed in the sanctuary. It’s not really enforced that strictly nowadays since there’s been a move towards relaxing this type of rules – also allowing people to sit down (instead of making them stand for the whole of the 2 hours service) and no longer chucking out catechumens / unbaptised people halfway through the service, but it still used to drive me mad that I’m meant to sit at the back and keep quiet, always only be a second-grade believer who’s somehow not even really supposed to be there. You’re subtly guilt-tripped into accepting the segregation because you’re told that if you object to it you’re just being very vain and shallow and should humble yourself before God more (the parable of the pharisee and publican is brought up a lot) – of course, the men who systematically prevent everyone else from sitting in front are not at all vain and shallow. Ugh, how did this end up a rant about my church, the article is great and gender segregated worship spaces are a terrible idea, for very many reasons.

    • Thumb up 1

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      I was going to make the same post. Also, the fact that women who are menstruating are obliged to sit at the very back in strict Orthodox churches is infuriating, but I’ve always gone to a more progressive Orthodox church. Still. In the old country, it’s still gender-segregated.

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      Oh wow I have never been to an Orthodox church outside the U.S., so I have never seen this. The ones I’ve been to (Greek, Ukrainian, Antiochian) have not been gender segregated.

      But still, no women in the sanctuary. That is definitely a thing.

      • Thumb up 1

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        I remember when I was 12 being told that the reason women aren’t allowed in the sanctuary is because “Jesus shed enough blood for us, so we don’t want anymore blood spilled in the Holy Sanctuary.”

        Which, okay, sounds pretty sexist, but post-menopausal women are usually the ones to clean the sanctuary, and priests who have open wounds are not allowed to enter the sanctuary as well. So…maybe it’s consistent? I don’t know how accurate it is, but it reassured me that my priest realized that there had to be a more satisfying answer than just “we don’t like women back here”.

  8. Thumb up 3

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    Oh, this was great. I was actually just ranting the other day about the intersectionality of feminism and more conservative religions, and how touchy it is.
    I have Jewish and Palestinian ancestry, but was raised as conservative Christian as they come. To now go what my family and religious community view as the “opposite way” as a raging feminist lesbian, it’s hard to navigate my belief systems collectively. I think when you’re younger it’s instilled in your head that there is no such thing as a “both/and” situation, in my case: you’re cannot be both gay AND a Christian. You cannot be both a feminist AND a good Christian.
    I’m in the midst of converting to the religion of my ancestors, Judaism. It is impossible for me to not believe in a god, for whatever reason. I’ve found that Reform Judaism, for the most part, accepts ALL of me, not just parts of me. And I love that.
    I do, however, have friends who have remained in their conservative religions, closeted. My heart breaks for them. If you look hard enough, there are accepting communities in every religion, except for maybe the Amish. You just have to really look. I went to a church one Sunday in my parents’ rural town that had a rainbow flag flying over it. I was the only girl in a church full of gay men and their gaybies. It was fabulous.

  9. Thumb up 1

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    This is a really great, thought-provoking piece.

    And congrats for tackling the intersection of your religion and sexual/gender identity head on, instead of sweeping them under the rug and trying not to think about it

    *cough cough*

  10. Thumb up 22

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    I’m a cis atheist from a religiously apathetic household, so there’s basically none of this I can relate to, which makes me especially grateful that you wrote it. It can be very easy for those of us without faith to dismiss concerns like this, or tell people to find another denomination, but faith is a personal thing, and it’s not a simple thing to give up what you believe. And you shouldn’t have to.

    So thank you again, Miriam, and I hope there comes a day when this is no longer an issue.

  11. Thumb up 6

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    Thank you for your story.

    I’ve lived in two different Muslim countries and have had a life long love affair with Arabic, Islam and corresponding cultures/food/people.

    And I simply cannot imaging your struggle. I think you are brave and amazing to fight for your religious faith because that is what you want/need/love and your trans identity self because they are seemingly mutually exclusive according to how Islam is practiced in today’s world.

    When i came out as a lesbian to many Muslim friends – some dear, religious friends, I’ve experienced an incredible level of acceptance inside and outside the US – because I am not Muslim. We’ve had many frank discussion of how it would not be okay if I were Muslim and my pushing back to say it should be okay. And I hope that this kind of acceptance by Muslims will not be limited those who are not Muslim forever and that change will come.

    Peace.

    Josie

  12. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you for sharing such a moving essay. As someone who is rarely without words I find myself in the odd predicament of being without words to describe my admiration for you.

    I gave up on religions at an early age, but was surprised later in life by how thoughtful and compassionate some religious people can be. I hope that someday you find a mosque where you feel accepted.

  13. Thumb up 1

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    since i was raised as an orthodox jew, i am all too familiar with the gender separation inherent in our very closely related faiths. while i am cis, i have often thought about how this issue will be dealt with in the future, when lgbt persons will be fully welcomed into any and all places of worship (im confident this will be reality). i think some very important conversations are taking place that will lead to that, and im confident that there is room for us in our traditions. thank you so much for sharing your story, you are an inspiration.

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        (I was raised Conservative, but in the past year or so have become more religious; I’m still hesitant to use the Orthodox label, but that’s also symptomatic of a general aversion to labels.)

        Anyway, I feel like in the halakhic Jewish world, there’s a frustrating absence of visibility. And I don’t know how to fix that. Because the religious leaders aren’t responding to the wide range of lgbtqisifsn issues because they don’t see the need, because they don’t see those individuals standing up and forcing the issue. But I totally understand why they’re not, because it’s not an atmosphere that welcomes the challenge. And I don’t know where/how it can start.

        There is some progress in the very progressive religious circles in secular universities but most people tend to be passive allies and so it doesn’t do much for overall culture. Anyway, if you can’t tell, I’m just frustrated by the rate of change. And even though I’m running the Jewish LGBT group on campus (we have one!), I have no idea what to do to help change it.

        Also, if you haven’t already checked them out, there are many national organizations like Keshet, Nehirim, and probably others that I’m forgetting. There are probably also local ones (Philadelphia has Spectrum).

        <3

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          the lack of visibility is frustrating, but things are moving in the right direction. people like rabbi steve greenberg (if you havent read his books, google him immediately) are fighting the good fight, and taking things in the right direction. after hearing him speak, my faith that there is room for us in halakhic judaism, and by extension any other faith, has been re-affirmed. i dont think that i would be living my life authentically if i didnt pray three times a day, and there is a certain power in dressing modestly as i do. but yet, i refuse to be closeted. maybe just our existence as queer people struggling to live a torah observant lifestyle while still being true to ourselves is where the change will come from. i dont see the change coming from religious leaders, necessarily, but a change in mindset. i mean, the fact that im still observant has to mean something. 25 years ago, it wouldnt even be an option, i would probably have been disowned, or just shoved inside the closet. heres hoping.

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          (as a pansexualish conservative jew who is religious — I used to identify as conservadox…)

          I totally agree with E and Hannah on lack of visibility and striking similarities.
          Hannah– I also run/helped start the jewish LGBT group on my campus and I agree its really hard to get change to occur. I mostly work on visibility- I don’t care necessarily about attendance (its fun when lots of people show up though) But just that people know that we do exist, so lots of publicity and flag waving.

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      When I saw the title of this article I wondered if it was someone Jewish. I was brought up conservative but go to Chabad at my college and the gender segregation is an issue for some of my gender-nonconforming friends. I’ve talked about it with the rabbi some but I think Judaism is still a long way off from a good solution. I could relate to so many of the feels in this article, thank you Miriam for bringing up this important issue so eloquently

  14. Thumb up 5

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    Beautiful story. Although I realized my intellectual-agnosticism before I realized I was queer, I’ve always had profound respect and admiration for those who find peace in their faith. No one should have to give up her God to conform, just as no one should have to give up her identity to seek God.

  15. Thumb up 6

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    miriam this essay is brilliant and necessary. thank you so much. i know it’s not the point — but also it kinda is — but i especially loved/felt this:

    “Screw you, Microsoft, Islamophobia is a real word.”

  16. Thumb up 5

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    as a religious jew dating a muslim and balancing our own struggles with queer community and faith, this makes me the absolute happiest. more power to you!

  17. Thumb up 2

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    Thank you for sharing this. Though I am queer, I am also cis, and not very religious, however I feel it is important for me, and for everyone, to try to understand what other people go through. I know people who are queer and religious, so the idea that it’s hard is not new to me, but I didn’t realize quite how hard. I think you’re very brave to put this out there, when you have so much to potentially lose.

    Your commitment to honoring all parts of yourself is really inspirational, and while I don’t honestly know what could make things easier for you (as you pointed out, there seems to be no easy solution) I hope you find such a thing.

    You have my support. I don’t know if it means anything, but if nothing else it’s a signature on a petition if you should ever need one (such as if the judge does find out). I hope you don’t ever need it.

  18. Thumb up 1

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    Salaam Miriam!! Thank you for sharing your story. For the past 4 years I’ve been trying to reconcile my pansexuality with the side of me that desperately wants to embrace Islam. Your story is inspiring <3

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      Salaam, sister. I definitely understand what it’s like to struggle with faith and sexuality. Truth be told, it’s what led me to start blogging in the first place. I personally found a lot of comfort in the Qu’ranist interpretation of the story of Lut (linked below). However, I understand Qu’ranism isn’t for everyone.

      In the end, there’s two things to know: 1. A lot of Muslims won’t think there’s a place for you. 2. It doesn’t matter what they think.

      It doesn’t matter at all. Islam isn’t decided by a vote. It’s not mandated by a centralized authority. Every Muslim interprets Islam based on our own perspective, whether they admit it or not.

      Yes, to the extent that the ummah is a family, and we’re all brothers and sisters, Islam is communal. But it’s communal only in the sense of how we treat each other. On the Day of Judgement we stand alone. No Muslim can decide Islam for someone else. And denying that someone is a Muslim is a grave, grave sin. Remember that: the Shahada protects you.

      Also know this: Allah made you as you are. Our sexualities and gender identities are biological, they’re woven into the fabric of out consciousness. And that comes from Allah. If other Muslims don’t like it, they can take up with Him.

      If you need anything, anything at all, don’t be afraid to ask. I mean that. Also, please check out the blog I write for (linked above and below). It’s specifically written for queer Muslims, by queer Muslims. It’s got lots of resources, as well as links to other queer Muslims sources. Turns out there’s a lot more of us than you think. :)

      Inshahallah, I hope this helps, and remember the line from Surat Insharah.

      “With every hardship comes ease”

      =================================================================

      Homosexuality in the Qu’ran: http://moslike.tumblr.com/post/18190940835/homosexuality-in-the-quran

      I Am Not Haraam:
      http://iamnotharaam.tumblr.com

  19. Thumb up 2

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    How amazing is it to find another fellow Texan Muslim struggling with the SAME things! I wanted to recommend you read the chapter of transgender Islam in Scott Sirag al-Haqq Kugle’s book of homosexuality in Islam (He’s a great professor BTW! He teaches at Emory). I draw inspiration from it often and I don’t identify as transgender. The basic premise is that when God breathe’s life into us, we get a mixture of traits that make us unique. These traits become gendered on earth, but we are part of the same light that is breathed into us. I’ll let you borrow my copy if you’re close by!

    (*BTW there are a lot of us in Texas! I find a lot of gay Muslims in other parts of the country that are from Texas…)

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      I want to like this comment for the “islamophobia truly is wrong” part. And then I read the rest. I would like to think autostraddle is a place where we can be respectful of all parts of someone’s identity, not just their gender/sexuality. Calling all religions bullshit is rude and dismissive (imo) if religion doesn’t do it for you than you don’t have to participate but they can be a source of great strength and joy for others

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