CW// mentions of homophobia, self hate
Sexuality is hard and confusing. And in a society where the only mentions of gayness are whispered gossip and lunchyard jokes, it tends to get harder.
I’ve grown up with barely any idea about homosexuality, just like so many other teenagers in South Asia, the most I'd seen of it secretly watched episodes of Shadowhunters with my sister late night; malec the first gay ship I encountered.
In full honesty, I only found out more about LGBTQ+ in quarantine, through the vast hole of the internet. It was so different from what I was used to — hearing relatives make wedding plans and hearing the girls I knew gossip about boys while I blushed when my closest friend looked at me a certain way. It was a new world, with words like lesbian, bisexual, pride -- so many things I was oblivious to.
It was almost terrifying, seeing a world so different. Where girls could like girls and love was so much more complicated than I'd been told.
In South Asia, especially in Muslim communities, hearing about LGBTQ+ is something rare, and something often labelled disgusting. I sat for hours with my mother, listening to her talk about how it was something so wrong and how she’d taught me better than to ever think about it.
Internalized homophobia roots deep, and like weeds, it's something which crops up when you least expect it.
I refused to acknowledge my feelings for almost a year, telling myself I liked a certain boy from my class, thinking that if I thought it enough times, it would be true. Telling myself that I couldn't be gay, couldn't be something everyone I loved hated. It was nights of crying and cursing myself, nights where I felt I was better off dead. It was nights of praying and wishing I didn't feel so wrong and tired.
But after all, you can only put some things off for so long.
At first, it was something simple. “I'm gay.” The thought in my head, forcing myself to acknowledge it.
I came out to people I knew online, the first ones to even introduce me to the world of LGBTQ+. The first ones who accepted me, and who mean so much to me for that.
And then the harder ones, coming out to my best friends; one of the moments I hold onto now, because they accepted me. And as much as I pretend I no longer care about the homophobia around me, that one bit of acceptance made me cry with happiness, and think maybe this is okay.
I think we all need that. We need, we deserve that validation.
The first book I ever read which had Muslim LGBTQ+ rep was The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar. And honestly, I cried. So many times. I cried because the protagonist's emotions went so well with mine; she was scared she’d ruin her relationship with her parents if she came out, scared that she thought about kissing a girl, because society painted it as something awful and wrong. It was something which made me realize I'm not alone. It was something that made me think “Oh. This is okay, I'm not the only one.”
It's a series of steps, from self hate to self acceptance, to even, to some extent, pride. And seeing that journey in the media is needed.
I think one factor that prevents gay Muslim rep in media are the religious barriers; it's a tangled mess of opinions and issues, but this isn't the place for that.
And I understand that. I've had hours of arguments with classmates who refuse to back down, who say that everyone whos gay is going to hell and it is sickening, it was one of the factors which stemmed so much self doubt and self hate. But eventually, it came together, somewhat at least. My religion is my matter. My choice. And I will not let anyone dictate that.
On June 1st, I doodled rainbows on my hand. I screamed "happy pride" with my best friend. I streamed girl in red. It was the first time I felt happy about being gay. And that feeling is one I would give anything for, just to feel it again.
There are still so many things which hit hard; seeing the people I've grown up with use gay as an insult. And I love them, I've seen them as annoying 7 year olds, I've seen them through all the embarrassing nicknames they gave me, I've laughed with them and spent hours listening to songs and playing truth or dare and the most random of things. I’ve seen them crack jokes about it, and you can force yourself to laugh, so many times — but it still hurts to know that there are people who I can never come out to. It still hurts when my mother demands to know why my social media has happy pride messages, it still hurts when my older sister says “everyone's gay nowadays. It's like a virus”.
There is fear, fear of being outed, the fear that makes me hide the few gay books I have in my closet — seems fitting, doesn't it? There is the fear that comes when I see yet another article about an honor killing, wondering if it could be me.
My story is similar to the stories of so many other queer Muslims, and our struggles, our joys and our fears which brought us where we are today. Our stories are proof that we exist and deserve acknowledgement and representation in the media, and I know so many of us would give so much to see characters we relate to shown in fiction. It gets exhausting seeing the majority of gay rep in fiction being white characters, and POC characters are very much appreciated!
In the same vein, here are some things to keep in mind while writing a queer Muslim!
So, that's an experience, definitely. No one deserves to go through all the self hate and self doubt of questioning your sexuality amidst homophobia. Normalize LGBTQ+, POC, and Muslim representation in media, it is so important and so needed; everyone deserves to feel seen, to have our journeys seen as much as people of other races and nationalities. Thank you for reading, and to all my gays, y'all are so incredibly valid. Happy pride month!
is a 14 year old writer who enjoys everything from writing and reading to art and poetry. She's always preferred fantasy worlds over her own, and if not writing, can be found daydreaming or plotting (yet) another WIP.