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I am 24 years old and live in a west European country and I am Muslim. I am still in school, and is the perfect “excuse” not to get married or try to be set up and all. But I am scared shitless for the future. What about when I finish school in a few years? What will I do then? My friends are all either married or pregnant, and I feel the odd one out. I think I am attracted to both men and women. But for the last few years I only notice women, so I am really sad. It isn’t just the attraction towards women thing, also the fact that I feel like a bad Muslim. I can’t just get to know a guy, and 6 months later bam! We are getting married. I don’t know how everyone around me is doing that. Choosing a major took more time than that.
I also feel like a bad Muslim, because I feel like a hypocrite. I choose to wear a headscarf, but only because I know my family will be very disappointed if I don’t. But still they would never force me. I feel like a hypocrite, because I want to experience everything. I don’t want to be with just one person, and forever wondering what it would be like to be with someone else. (I don’t understand why I feel so overwhelmed, when it comes to sex; to have your first kiss and losing your virginity all in one night seems like a lot, but when I talk to other girls about it, they say it’s normal, and I am just being weird, which I understand.) I feel guilty because I feel restricted, but I was always taught that our religion liberates woman, and I agree with that in general. But when it comes to me as an individual I feel restricted. I think about what it would be like to be with a girl, and I am scared that I will just end up alone. I also feel like a bad Muslim woman, because I don’t really care for having a baby like all my friends to. I don’t dream about being pregnant and all that. Maybe when I am in my thirties, but that’s too old they say. I feel like a hypocrite because I masturbate. I feel like a freak, so different than my Muslim friends, but also different than my non-Muslim friends. And hardest part is that I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.
I am just floating around, and in a few years I will have to make a decision. Because the thought of being alone for the rest of my life, not having experienced anything, not being with someone, is unbearable. But I can’t just marry a dude and have his babies either. I am really confused, and maybe you are too, after reading this story, written by someone whose first and second language are Dutch and Somali, so I guess English is my third, so I hope you can understand this. If you read all this, I think you deserve a medal. I just don’t know what to do. How to deal with my attraction towards women, maybe I will just ignore it.
Fikri, Autostraddle Writer
There are so many things I felt after reading your story but confused was not one of them. Thank you for writing in to us. You’re probably coming from a place where you’re feeling alone, but know that first, you’re not! So, so far from it. And second, I also want you to know that you sharing your story is going to make so many other people — me included — feel less alone, and that’s an important thing you’ve done.
There are so many things you’ve brought up — marriage, parenthood, friends, sex and so on — that there’s no way that I (or any other person) could take it all on, so I’ve asked a few other folks to weigh in. We’re all at different stages in our lives, with different relationships with our religion and communities and families and selves and everything, and I hope that you find a little bit of what you need here. Now it bears repeating that none of us felt we could take this all on our own when you and so many of us (queers, Muslims, weirdos, all of the above) are expected to do so every day. You’re in both an ordinary and an extraordinary position and if any one of us here deserves a medal, it’s you.
Like you, I’m thinking a lot about what life looks like beyond school (I graduate in seven months) and what form/s family and relationships take beyond the bubble of adolescence and early adulthood. I know intimately the pressures to make Big Life Decisions. Unlike you, however, I was the kind of person who was making Big Life Decisions from before I could so much as drive or vote. (I chose my major at 14.) I come from a culture where you’re expected to sort your shit out asap and then stick to the plan, especially with regard to work/education, but even then I was ahead of the game.
None of those decisions turned out the way I thought they would.
Here’s how I thought my life would be: I’d go to a local uni, coast by on the same academic interests and social circles I’ve had for years, take on a humdrum office job of no particular interest. I’d skirt questions of marriage at work and family gatherings alike, maybe saying something non-committal like wanting to focus on my career. My parents and I would have a tacit understanding that my Special Friend/s would be around but not talked about, and maybe someday we’d have enough money to share a room and a bed that would again be noted but never discussed. In other words: I thought I’d get by by never talking about anything, ever.
Here’s how my life has turned out: I went so far away for school and I learnt that there are places in the world where we don’t talk about our partners in vague, gender-neutral terms. (Not just overseas but at home, too.) I changed my mind about what I wanted out of my education and work and relationships; I learnt that it’s okay to want — maybe even expect — more than to just get by. I started dating a woman who challenges the way I think about sex and relationships and politics every day and who’s supported me through coming out to friends, schoolmates, future colleagues, family and the whole damn internet (not all of which was deliberate). In other words: I’ve gotten by by talking about everything, always.
The good news is that nothing might turn out the way you’re afraid it will. The bad news is that nothing might turn out the way you hope it will. I don’t have an It Gets Better™ narrative to offer you because I’m still figuring it out myself — those Big Life Decisions, and the million smaller ones that we make along the way — and honestly, the odds are stacked against people like us, because of sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and all the things that make the call to “just be yourself” fairly poor advice.
You don’t (always) have to play on those terms though. Let people surprise you. I could never predict how others would respond to my coming out: when I ran for LGBT Officer at my undergrad uni, the Islamic Society — a group I’d never even dared to think of even allying myself with, because of my queerness and blue hair and Southeast Asianness and everything — rallied behind me and provided support my non-Muslim friends didn’t always know how to give. On the other hand, when a personal essay of mine was plagiarised and circulated among Malay Muslim websites earlier this year, I found myself in the middle of a targeted harassment campaign orchestrated by the very people I’d considered my “community,” and that hurt. My social and political circles have imploded and reconfigured themselves so many times over in the past couple of years alone, and each time I’ve (re)learnt that there will always be people who won’t set aside their religion or beliefs or whatever for you, but also that there will always be those who will. Let yourself surprise you. In pushing myself (or being pushed) outside of comfort zones I’ve learnt not to give too much weight to things I tell myself about well, myself, because it’s not always true that “I’m not the kind of person who’d [write about my personal life on the internet, date non-monogamously, take on an advice piece to a fellow queer Muslim, etc.].” Don’t underestimate how much strength you have to make decisions you never thought you’d be able to, too.
There’s still plenty I’m still working through, though, and your story reminded me of that: I still find it hard to talk about sex and masturbation, even as I’m dating the most sex-positive, caring (and shameless, she’d add) person ever. I still don’t really know what to do in “Western” queer spaces centred on alcohol and hook ups other than to excuse myself after the first half an hour of standing awkwardly in a corner. And the no. 1 question I’ve gotten since I started talking about my queerness publicly is how I reconcile faith and sexuality, to which I always respond by telling people that someday I’ll write a proper piece about it. I thought this piece would be it but I was wrong, because the truth is that I don’t. I just get by. I am queer and I am a Muslim, and most of the time learning to navigate both those things simultaneously in my real actual life is hard enough without thinking about how to justify it to other people, too. There are as many ways to be Muslim as there are Muslims (just as there are as many ways to be queer as there are queers!) — it’s not as simple, or irreconcilable, as good versus bad.
Remember that everyone around you, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is grappling with a lot of the same things that you are right now: about what they want “family” to look like and mean to them, about sex and sexuality and learning to live in their bodies, about how to hold onto faith when it can feel like there’s not much going for it. If you step back a little, away from the pressures of friends’ pregnancy announcements and impending graduations, you might realise that you don’t actually have to make Big Life Decisions right now. And you don’t always have to know what’s the best thing to do before doing something, anything.
I don’t think, however, that you’re really stuck on what to “do.” I think you know what you want, and I think that you know that your options aren’t only to marry a man or stay alone forever. I think you’re scared of what you want and what it’ll take to get there — and these are all completely understandable, valid fears. I hope, however, that you don’t confuse being afraid of your future with being afraid of yourself, because you’re a brave, amazing person with so much ahead of you. I wish you all the best.
Dear Letter Writer:
I was in a somewhat similar position to you, and I empathise. My family are Bangladeshi Muslims based in Malaysia, and while my parents have given up on trying to be strict with us religion-wise, they still hold some expectations/wishes for us to be married off with family etc etc. I am the last girl in my massive family tree to be unmarried; the only cousins I have younger than me are teenage boys.
I was dating a man for about 6 years — he was my first anything, but there were many years between my first kiss with him and when we “lost our virginity” (however you define that; more like we “gave it to each other”). We knew I was attracted to women from the get-go, but it wasn’t until much later (and a lot of shenanigans) that I shifted to only being sexually attracted to women. We ended up parting ways as lovers (though we are still best friends).
This caused a LOT of trouble — mostly because my parents really REALLY liked him, and so did a lot of people who knew us. Even when I came out to my parents and they figured that I wasn’t sexually attracted to men, they still wondered why I couldn’t just marry him anyway. And honestly? I still wonder that sometimes. We were thissuperclose to getting engaged, even if it was for more practical reasons, and I spent a lot of time and mental energy beating myself up for letting my sexuality get in the way of what was otherwise a really fulfilling, loving, and positive relationship. It didn’t help that my future relationships with women turned out to be somewhat tumultuous, and I’ve been wondering whether I threw a good thing away just because of my sex drive.
I totally hear you about finding the idea of marrying a guy for the sake of marrying him and then having babies etc etc to be unbearable, but at the same time I wonder if both of us are grappling with filial piety: how our family’s wishes are ultimately considered to be more important than our own, how it would be selfish and painful to not make them happy. This can be a huge mental block for people who don’t grok filial piety and who don’t understand why “just cut your parents out of your life and do what you want to do!” is so easy to follow. We ultimately do care about our family’s happiness, and this is probably stronger if we are shown how our family members sacrificed their personal happiness too, or had a different idea about what makes them happy. My parents didn’t get married because of their sexual attraction necessarily, but that doesn’t mean their marriage is any less valid to them.
My parents didn’t try to throw the religion angle at me when I came out (as I said, they kinda gave up on that once we turned out to be heathen weirdos) but they were concerned about everyone else in our family and community finding out because they were potentially more conservative and it could come back to bite me (especially since in Malaysia it’s still technically illegal to be anything but straight & cis). I did end up coming out to my extended family, and those who responded were generally positive about it; I think most people just didn’t understand what I meant by “gay.” Maybe your family is the same? You might have allies in places you don’t expect. It’s up to you how much you trust other people to come out to them or even just talk about sexuality, but there may be people in your family that grok your predicament.
As for being a bad Muslim: honestly, I think there are very few people that can count as a “good Muslim.” I grew up having to take Islamic Studies classes for 11 years and behind the hijab were so many bullies and hypocrites and awful people — as well as many good, loving people. The hijab wasn’t any reliable indicator of personal morals or religious piety. There are a lot of young-ish Muslim writers, thinkers, artists, etc on places like Twitter and Tumblr that actually talk about the good Muslim/bad Muslim false dichotomy and how they negotiate it personally, and some of them are queer. Look up the people behind hashtags like #NotYourStockMuslim or #NotYourTerrorist or #MuslimApologies to see if any of them can help.
I am starting to get the “when are you getting married” questions, since I’m 29 and the last girl standing. I don’t have the heart to tell them “well, right now I’m single and am in no hurry to look, but if I do get married it’s likely to not be with a guy and I don’t know how you feel about that.” I was going to say that 24 is still pretty young, but I understand how sometimes you can get bombarded with these questions practically from the moment you hit puberty. As for when you need to make a decision: I say you don’t have to decide what happens then now. Circumstances can change quickly in a few years; you would have graduated, probably have met new people, and would have a different understanding of yourself and the world. There’s no need to worry about making a decision now, even with all the pestering questions. You’ll cross that bridge when you get to it.
In the meantime… well, I hate to throw my dad’s response to “I am in a relationship!” to you, but try to focus on your studies. Or on living your own life. You can delay the marriage/sexuality question till later — there is more to you than your relationships. See what happens on the other side; it may be weirder and more interesting than you expect.
Good luck, I don’t envy your pain, but I hear you and send you love. <3
Maryam, Autostraddle Contributor
Salaam wa laikum. And thank you for writing,
You can’t judge yourself based on your friends. As Muslims, we aim to please Allah SWT, not just those around us. That’s what’s freeing about religion.
And part of that is knowing Allah has a unique plan for everyone. It doesn’t make you less Muslim to be different. Among the Companions (P) are people of broad and diverse backgrounds. Even your friends are experiencing marriage and pregnancy differently from each other. So, maybe it took you longer for you to find your major. But it also meant finding a major better suited to you. One that you could pursue farther than if you’d just chosen a major to have one.
It’s the same with marriage. Maybe you’ll need more than 6 months to decide if you want to marry someone. Maybe it will be in your 30s. That’s not too old. My mother was 34 when she had me, and she and my father were engaged for 2 years. My cousin Sarah was 29 when she got married. My Aunt Omima never did.
But Aunt Omima wasn’t lonely. Or, she wasn’t lonely because she was unmarried. She still had a large company of family and friends, and, even though you feel different from them, you still seem to have a group of friends. The key to stopping loneliness is being comfortable in your skin. No amount of company can change that. People can be in marriages can still be very lonely.
As for being attracted to women: there’s nothing about your desires that are different from other women, it’s just that they’re about women instead of men. When I was younger people didn’t think anything about me being attracted to women, because they assumed I was a man. It’s the same thing.
Also, you’re not a hypocrite because you wear a headscarf for your family. Doing something (like wearing hijab) to ease your parents’ hearts is considered a good motivation in Islam. If nothing else, your intention is halal, and actions are judged by intentions.
Oh, and statistically, one third of your friends have masturbated in the last month, even if they won’t admit it. You’re not alone.
Wazina Zondon, Sexuality Educator & Co-Creator of Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love
Thank you! Thank you for reaching out and thank you for sharing your reality because what you may not know is that you are speaking words and truths that you share with so many people: Muslim and non-Muslim; people who are questioning their sexual orientation; people who are wondering what is next for them…
I have been thinking long and hard about your words and what comes to me are are the words of my dear friend, sister in spirituality and creative partner, Terna:
Allah makes Muslims.
Allah makes queers.
For me, being both has never been a source of internal conflict. I’ve never felt Islam ask me to be something other what I am. If Allah is closer than my own jugular vein, is the creator (ya Khalaq! ya Bari! ya Mussawir!) of my heart, the source of its blood and beat, how could I despise myself?
I have heard Terna say these words so many times, both in her soothing my personal fears and questioning my path and purpose and I have heard her share them with queer Muslims and queer people who thought they were the only one or that they had to leave their faith because there was no room for them.
The truth is: there is room for all of us in Islam.
Yes, there are messages of homophobia, sexism, expectations of us based on our gender, our family desires for us, and the messages from every place else that we are surrounded by, day in and day out and we absorb them without even knowing, they fill our cells with self-doubt and fear.
I can only speak from my experience but as the daughter of immigrants to the United States/NYC, growing up in an Afghan household, I struggled with (and still do) figuring out the balance of family desires for me, my desires to be the perfect daughter without losing out on my beloved culture and identity, all the while making sense of all the messages from both family, my friends, media and ‘American’ culture:
- to be heterosexual or ‘straight’ (aka heteronormativity)
- the anti-immigrant sentiment (aka xenophobia)
- the hatred and ignorance towards people of color and anyone who wasn’t white (aka racism)
- to look, act and be the ‘perfect’ type of woman who bears children and all that (aka sexism)
- to major in an area of study that would make me A LOT of money in the future in order to buy lots of stuff (aka the pressure of capitalism)
With this weighing on us, no wonder it feels like the impossible to be us… no wonder,we are uncertain and unsure about what life after college is like because we have so few (or maybe zero?!) role models and people we can turn to see what is possible or who we can become.
What allows me to keep going each day…
… to literally coax myself out of bed;
… to believe that someone can love me for who I am;
… to allow myself to dream even when it feels like there’s no reason to do so;
… to feel my attractions to the people I find attractive;
… is because I remember that I was created by Allah with purpose and an intention that shows itself in small hints and sometimes immeasurable ways, but there is reason.
I also questioned for a long time (and still do!) why I don’t desire children, marriage or if my sexual desires and attractions were normal… and they are. Masturbating, attractions, getting aroused, questioning what you have been taught and uncertainty is normal. People, especially women, rarely discuss it openly because of stigmas or fears of being judged but it does NOT mean it does not cross their mind!
You are uniquely you, but I have to be honest, you are not the first, nor the last to wonder if you belong. There are many of us, SO MANY! who are beginning to come together and shed loneliness in one another’s company. The beauty (and also burden) of living in a tech-filled world is that we can connect with others virtually until we are ready (and safe enough!) to do so physically. Tumblr, Facebook and social sites are filled with folks like us and I encourage you to take a peek and read/observe peoples’ posts (even if you don’t feel like posting). I will forewarn you about people who like to make negative, harmful, mean and ignorant comments on these sites. Never read the comments! :)
I leave you with the words of Terna again with hopes that whoever reads them will be reminded, wherever they are:
Here’s the truth: I want to tell you that the arms of Islam are wide enough to hold you — in your love, your anger, your boundless hope, your desire, your striving, your failing, your victory, your living, your dying. I want to tell you that every masjid can hold you, have you fling open the doors, uncovered, brazen, perhaps even LOUD, without the stone foundations shaking. I want to tell you that the adhan sings for you, for and to the ruby in your palpating chest. I want to tell you that you are Allah’s khalif(a), as we all are. Yes, you!
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