Guest Post: My queerness and identity as a Muslim rarely sit at the same table - and I want that to change

By |
June 9, 2021

 When I tell people that I’m queer, I’m typically bombarded with a cacophany of questions. Are you out to your Pakistani parents? Can you even consider yourself Muslim? Are you sure that God accepts you? Do you know for sure? These responses make me feel like queerness and Islam can’t sit at the same table. I’m grateful to have found acceptance in online communities. On my Instagram, you’ll find photos of my girlfriend and me, the pride section at every bookstore I’ve visited, and all of the articles where I reflect on my intersecting identities. It’s a privilege to be a queer Muslim in the public eye, especially knowing that I have the support of my family. In the process, I’ve found a digital community of other queer Muslims who have asked me about their coming out journey, and we’ve also shared stories about our first loves, awkward first dates, and the chosen family that have enabled us to accept ourselves.

Seeing my brother get married has invited me to reflect on what I want out of love and marriage. I'm very grateful that Instagram is a place where I feel accepted for my queerness, and I can imagine a future where I get to be in a relationship with someone I love. 

But how much does acceptance online follow me outside of my corner of the internet? What happens when I close my laptop or phone and venture out into the real world? Does my safety follow me in those moments? Although I can talk about my girlfriend openly on social media, I can’t guarantee that cousins or family members won’t judge me. Being queer in Muslim and Pakistani communities often comes with weighing the consequences of my existence as a queer Muslim. The rhetoric of framing queerness as a "choice" or "lifestyle" has often left me feeling invalid for existing, often feeling or being uninvited to gatherings or celebrations. I might feel excluded, but it pales in comparison to others receiving death threats or being cut off from their families.

Aleena at a wedding with her fatherIn reality, my identities as queer and Muslim are not at odds – at least that’s what I believe based on what I’ve learned about Islam. My interpretation of Islam stems from my relationship with my grandma. She moved to the U.S. a month after I was born just to take care of me while my parents were working 36-hour shifts during residency. Rather than a series of rituals or an obligation, my grandma taught me that religion was an invitation to be kinder and empathetic. This liberated me to ask myself, “What practices from my religion are relevant in this day and age? I pursue religion on my own terms, especially because I’m not the typical Muslim who prays five times a day, nor do I feel the need to cover my legs or abstain from getting tattoos. The same goes for thoughts on being a queer Muslim – I would think that if God wants us to unconditionally love each other, then God would love us in the same way. I’d like to be seen for what I do to empower women of color to feel more confident telling their story.

In the process of embracing my intersectional identity, I’ve found a digital community of other queer Muslims who have asked me about their coming out journey, and we’ve also shared stories about our first loves, awkward first dates, and the chosen family that have enabled us to accept ourselves.

I know that there are folks who will question me, simply because they don’t actually know queer folks. My grandma doesn’t have a bigoted bone in her body, but she probably never met a queer woman growing up in Pakistan. But in the words of Michelle Obama, “it’s hard to hate up close.” If I exist in the flesh and blood, that’s hard to dispute. 

There's no one way to be a Muslim, and there’s no right way to be queer either. And if you want to be an ally to folks in the LGBTQIA+ community, read and amplify their stories. Call people out on their heteronormativity. And when someone tells you their coming out story, believe them without centering your own experience. Don’t frame queerness as a choice or a lifestyle or impermanent moment. Commit to hiring and supporting LGBTQIA+ employees and speakers year-round, not just when an event reminds you to do so.

And as I think about my own future wedding, Chance the Rapper said it best: I don't want anyone at my wedding that won't be there for my marriage. And if you are, thanks for being along for the ride.

About the author - Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts writer, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who's deeply rooted in the stories of people behind code and user interfaces. Outside of her work creating blogs and videos at Microsoft, you can find her helping early-in-career professionals and small business owners feel more confident telling stories about their identity and work, dreaming of being a creative director at Spotify, and sharing her favorite murals on Instagram. Learn more about her work at www.aleenahansari.com.