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I am an Islamophobe. The phobia stems from a simple reason – my not-so-blind attraction to smart and well-educated women.
I wake up each morning with a headache because I am not a heterosexual or homosexual man; instead I am an educated woman in my mid-30s, an emotional creature, whose faith tradition provides no solace. Since the faith I was born into was enough to drive me away from religion itself my theophobia extends to all faith traditions. So here I am, a born Muslimah and Islamophobe – a strange paradox with deep roots.
As a lesbian raised, apparently, in a Muslim nation, I was never educated on homosexuality within the context of religion until I reached my late 20s. The television personalities who later taught me the technical terms for what I was already feeling could offer no actual support for the struggles I faced living in Pakistan. My failure to comply with the hetero-normative expectations resulted in condemnation by and alienation from my family and acquaintances, many of whom have attempted to “fix” me.
Upon learning about my identity, some friends and colleagues suggested I change my gender, while others who thought I came across as too masculine or sexually charged began to avoid me. Even so-called progressive Muslims I met held deep culturally ingrained homophobic and transphobic ideals. Men, strangely enough, seemed not only turned on by my attraction to women, but also seemed to think their sexual objectification of me would make me want to reciprocate.
I really wish for the sake of hetero-normative political correctness that it were easy for me to jump into a heterosexual marriage, as it seems to be for others around me. If that were the case, writing about my long-term hetero-malfunction would be a complete waste of time. Even if I were not a lesbian I would find it difficult to make myself “available” to men because that is exactly what I have been expected to do since childhood. I was no stranger to men but could never see them as potential spouses or life partners. From a young age, unbeknownst to my parents, both family and non-family members sexually molested me repeatedly. When I failed to grow into the feminine man-loving woman society wanted me to be attempts were made to “fix” me through corrective non-consensual sex. Attempts were also made to force me to marry.
I submitted to all of them in honor of the hetero-normative order until I learned to stand up for myself. But I never told anyone about these incidents for fear of being ostracized.
I realize this revelation about my past may confirm certain homophobic beliefs for some of you, as many Muslims tend to associate homosexuality with rape, domestic violence or general promiscuity. This association hurts and it is very demeaning to our identity. For lesbians who have faced the path of corrective rape therapy this made-up association becomes a tactic that causes indignation to the essence of our soulful identity and turn us into moral delinquents. More often than not, because of this tactic, women do not report when they are abused and many live in fear of coming out to their family and friends lest they face such repercussions. Rape a lesbian, dump her, beat her up and then blame her non-compliance on her identity, even if she never asked for it — this has all come to represent the Islamic way in Pakistan.
Personally, I cannot surrender my messed up parts now to Islam due to the privileges it grants men and the unequal orders it gives women. I am obliged to imagine the possibilities of those privileges extending to women, well, women-loving women technically. And I want to know why men are always assumed to be woman-loving (and women-respecting) by default, when they are not. Patriarchy remains dominant only because it seems we allow Abrahamic religions to openly grant those privileges to men, as well as to use and to abuse these privileges over women.
I received some answers after participating in a workshop on the history of gender, sexuality and religion organized by Chay Magazine founder Kyla Pasha, contributing Editor Hadi Hussain and Sarah Suhail, PhD scholar and an independent feminist legal activist from Pakistan. Hussain, quoting Dr. Scott Siraj Haq Kugle, a professor at Swathmore College, confirmed that there are no terms on gender and/or sexuality in the Qur’an. Suhail summarized findings of notable historians, sociologists and anthropologists on sexuality including Jeffery Weeks, Carol Vance and Gayle Rubin, and pointed out that the terminology we currently use is rooted in Western historical sociopolitical constructs and medical discourse, which resulted in the brutal separation between gender and sexuality. “Our history of sexuality is different. We have to think of our own categories. If we want to talk about sexuality in Urdu, we might not have terms for it [yet],” she said.
As far as Islam is concerned, Hussain said, “all punishments on ‘infidelity’ and ‘fornication’ are prescribed for adultery and cheating in heterosexual relationships, technically.”
Even Sheikh Abul AlaMaududi, theologian and revivalist Muslim thinker from Pakistan, has agreed that Qur’an specifically condemns adultery in heterosexual context. Mashallah, to fucked-up humanity — heterosexuals had the audacity to create sodomy laws that exploit the likes of us.
But this is only half the battle. Islam is very specific about respecting parents who also fall under this hetero-norm. Daughters and sons are obligated to follow suit. So, how do I explain all this to my Muslim family and Muslim community, who all seem blinded by ignorant narcissism and self-love, who are not willing to accept me and my kind as a normal human being?
When I was young, my parents seemed supportive of my right to make my own decisions. When I was 15 years old, my mother was braver — she saved me from an arranged marriage being plotted behind my back by her relatives. My father fully supported me to concentrate on my studies, so I could be the most educated person in the family. But when I came out to both my parents in my 20s, they totally changed.
They tried setting me up with men through an online hetero-marriage portal, thinking I could be coerced into heterosexual normality. It is during this time I could not control my anger and finally told them what their relatives had done to me, after a silence of two decades. Their reaction was not as sympathetic as I had expected. My mother cried and apologized, but my father did not believe me. Once I understood their fears in the context of homophobia and transphobia, I tried to avoid the subject as much as possible, realizing I was only hurting them by bringing it up for discussion.
My self-assurance and independence has only taken me so far, as this society has made a Frankenstein out of me. The moment I feel emotions for a woman, I am re-programmed to function with a mission to conform and live a closeted life. In Pakistan, the legal way of gaining acceptance of my sexuality is complete denial of my gender. My only ticket to live the life I want to live is to accept that my mother gave birth to a struggling transsexual, not a woman.
As a Muslimah, I remain an Islamophobe, a hypocritical lesbian unable to fulfill her parents’ wishes while openly being herself. However, beneath this superficiality, Allah grants me special privilege to love the women I love as a political choice – sister, lover, imaam and friend. And no mullah can take that away from me.
(Photo Credit: Mike Rogers)
Fakhra Hassan studied Physics and English Literature at the Islamabad-based Quaid-i-Azam University and Lahore-based Beaconhouse National University respectively. A blogger, she is a dedicated social activist for the marginalized minorities and committed to her work in the education industry to improve learning outcomes for students in Pakistani schooling systems.