The Other Reason I’m Alive

There’s a quote/soundbite I’ve been using, repeating in talks and interviews lately: “By all rights I should not be alive today. There are only two reasons I’m not dead or in prison, and that first reason is because of the grace and will of Allah(swt).”

Nobody’s ever asked me what the second reason is. I’ll tell you today.

But for the grace of the Benevolent and Most Merciful, the only reason I am not dead or in prison today is the fact that I am white, and this is America.

My white skin is the reason I was given a waitressing job as a visibly trans teenager in Detroit in 2007, instead of being coerced into alternative economies. My white skin is the reason I was only beaten senseless by police in 2012; the reason I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed instead of a jail cell; the reason they left me alive. My white skin is the reason I found myself in rehab instead of a prison cell.

I could never have survived to be the person I am today without the grace and mercy of Allah, and I never would have been given the opportunity to find Islam in the first place were it not for my Irish-American name and white skin.

I remind myself this every day. This week as I try to represent the truth of Islam as a woman of trans experience who found grace and justice and life in the word of that unifying force we call Allah, I must stress it to myself and stress it to the rest of you.

Every decision is a negotiation between my white privilege and the compelling need to serve this community that gave my life purpose and direction. I can promise I will only ever speak from my own experience, amplify others’ voices as best I can when I can, and do my absolute best to come at this work without ego. I can promise to make a commitment to always listen more than I speak. I refuse to be silenced as a woman – as a woman of trans experience, as a Muslim woman; but I make a commitment to be mindful of the ways my white skin grants me opportunity denied to other women like me.

If there’s something I could be doing better to serve our communities, I’m listening. If I misspeak or step out of line- and I will, because I am white and this is America – call me out and I will do my best to address it.

Thank you for putting up with me, for giving me an opportunity to serve you, for giving me my life back.

Peace, love, and blessings,

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