From my ongoing work with Everyone Is Gay, here is my most recent foray into advice for LGBTQ Youth.
“My partner is Muslim, and though she has told her family she is a lesbian and has moved out, she is struggling with not having told her family she is seeing me. How can I support her when she says she feels like she is living a “double life” and help her tell her family?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Family is hard. We can tackle that bit in a moment, but before we talk about parents, I want to bring something else up. Family can be messy and complicated, and feeling like you can’t reconcile two intimate parts of who you are (pitting religion and identity against each other) can be especially painful. But. It’s important to remember that if you’re here for your partner and close enough to be living together, you’re her family too.
There are two sides to a double life. We can strategize ways to help your partner reconcile her identity with her family, but there’s a part of this that you have much more control over. LGBTQ Muslim identity doesn’t begin and end with our relationships to our birth family. If your partner feels like she’s living a double life as a lesbian and a Muslim, here’s a question you might want to ask yourself: “How am I making room for my partner’s Muslim identity in our relationship?”
We don’t leave our faith and our culture behind when we move out of our parents’ house. It follows us everywhere. For a lot of Muslims who are also LGBTQ, it feels impossible to “be both”—and this isn’t just because of hostility to gender and sexual minorities in the masjid. The difficulty reconciling our identities with our faith is also (maybe just as much) because of hostility toward Muslims in LGBTQ spaces. People like to create a narrative with a monolithic, oppressive Islam on one side and an inclusive, accepting secular society on the other, and never the two shall meet. Queer and trans Muslims are sort of caught in the middle, vying for acceptance from our families and our chosen communities at the same time.* Fostering an LGBTQ movement that is inclusive to people of faith is, in my opinion, a critically important goal we should have for today’s generation of activists. It starts with us.
When it comes right down to it, you can’t change a dang thing about your partner’s family. Maybe it’s better to focus on the thing that you CAN do—help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity within your relationship.So how can you help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity? I fielded this question to my ever-inspiring WLW** Muslimah fam in the groupchat and there was one thing that really stuck out: educate yourself.
Learn about the experiences of Muslims in the West. About our cultures and traditions.*** Don’t come from a place of judgment—realize that just because a tradition may be a little different doesn’t mean it’s backwards or oppressive. In this age of The War on Terror, many people are quick to look at Islam through a very skewed lens. Don’t let those little Islamophobic gremlins get in the way of learning the truth about what is ultimately a very diverse, dynamic, and fulfilling faith practice. More than just learning, find a way to practice together. Do you know how friggin’ FUN Ramadan can be? Sure, it gets strenuous at times, but fasting and feasting together can create an opportunity for strong, lasting relationship-building (kissing a person with fasting breath can be an exercise in true love, and you really come to understand who a person is at her core when you first experience her hangry 15-minutes-til-maghrib face).
Understanding the faith may help you understand your partner a little better. Find a way to ask her, what can I do to help you feel fulfilled in this part of your life? Talk with her about what you can both do to make her faith as much a part of your family as anything else.
Now. Dealing with parents. Alright. One of the most frustrating parts about this whole being alive thing is this: the things in our life that require time to get better are usually the situations where it feels like time is the hardest thing to give. When it comes to dealing with our parents, sometimes the best thing for growth and understanding between family is a little bit of space and a little bit of time.
Now, I’m an old lady so I have a little bit of perspective. I came out to my parents ten years ago. There were arguments. There were tears. In all honesty, there were a few bad years between us. And those years where we were estranged from each other? They hurt like hell. But I didn’t give up.
The strategy I took with my parents is one I come back to again and again when dealing with difficult people or stressful interactions in my life and activism: prove them wrong by living well. When things get tough, just live the best life you can. Let them see just how good the truth looks on you. As time went on and the overt tension began to ease between us, we began to talk, and with conversation we found a way to come together from a place of respect and understanding. They knew how unhappy and afraid I was in the closet. They could see how healthy, fulfilled, and whole I felt when I was able to be open with myself and the world. They came to understand how the person in front of them now was happy and confident and nothing at all like the depressed, anxious teenage wreck who left the house at 18. After some hard conversations, eventually my parents came around to understand I was still their child, and we still loved each other, and we could use that as a jumping-off point to understand each other. My personal relationship with my parents isn’t perfect, but it’s stronger than it has ever been and comes from a place of mutual respect and understanding. It took time and work, but it’s worth it.
So what can you do right now? Be there for your partner, no matter how those hard conversations go with her parents. Come from a place of compassion and understanding, and let her know you’ll be there to support her (all of her—Islam and all) no matter how things turn out. If it goes poorly and family relationships get even more strained than they are now, then do what we do best: Prove them wrong by living well. Time can be the greatest healer of all. Insha’allah****, love and understanding win out in the end.
* — To learn more about LGBTQIA+ Muslims (most importantly, how awesome we are) there are a lot of great resources online but a great place to start is at the website for MASGD (MUSLIM ALLIANCE FOR SEXUAL AND GENDER DIVERSITY). If you’re on Tumblr, a great place to start is at this QUEER MUSLIM MASTERPOST.
** — WLW = “women who love women”
*** — It’s important to recognize that there is no universalized Muslim culture. Muslims come from all cultures and countries of the globe
*** —- “Insha’allah” translates to something like “if Allah wills” and will often follow whenever a Muslim makes plans or is talking about things in the future.