A lot of people come to us asking for advice on coming out, specifically coming out to muslim families and parents, and how best to approach this massive hurdle that many muslims of the spectrum face. In truth, there is no one way in which to approach this matter, as each individual will have their own set of circumstances unique to them, and this will greatly affect the way that this process will work for them. Having said that, there are some universal things that can apply to many of us, and aid us in preparing best to deal with this part of our lives. These “tips” will not apply to every person word for word, of course, but they may be able to help pave your own path in revealing the truth.
Confidence in your faith and yourself
Before asking your family to accept you, you must make peace with yourself. Growing up as both queer and muslim takes its toll on many of us, especially for those that are from practising muslim families. You will feel many things both negative and positive about your place as a queer muslim. Whatever you feel, you must deal with what is raging within yourself first and foremost. This can in a lot of cases be the longest and most difficult part of the process, but if you haven’t accepted yourself, then how can you expect others to do the same? Whatever and however you may be, remember that the Almighty has created you in this way with His own hands and He makes no mistakes, which brings forth the next point:
Many of us feel isolated from our religious communities because of what we hear in the media and the masjids, and even from our own relatives and friends about islam’s stance and interpretation of non-heterosexuality. We hear stories of condemnation and punishment and of course this is disheartening, but please remember that these are interpretations of our religion by people - and there can be more than one. Read the Qur’an and study religious texts for yourself, particularly from scholars who are known for alternative viewpoints. There is a wealth of information available to those who are willing to seek it, and you may be surprised by what you find. The Qur’an is beautiful in that it may reveal a message to you that it does not for other people, and you can only find this if you study it.
Realise that you have time
For many people, discovering their sexuality is a bittersweet process that toys wildly with emotions, especially because of the young age at which it happens. This can cause someone to make rushed decisions, and coming out may seem like the most important thing in the world that has to be done straight away. This does not have to be the case, if you are young and have years ahead of you inshaAllah, it may not be necessary, or even safe, to come out until you are prepared in every way possible. It is a delicate subject that must be approached with sensitivity and caution, and is not something to be rushed into head first with no back up.
Unfortunately, we must prepare for the worst-case scenario. Nobody knows how your families/friends will react upon hearing what you have to say, even though the best person will probably be yourself, and it is essential that you have somewhere to go/someone to confide in if things go belly up and you are left stranded. If possible, ensure that you are able to support yourself if it comes down to it, and do the best you can to provide yourself with an alternative if your families are not accepting right away. Finish school and your degrees if you are doing them; save money; make friends who may be able to help you out if need be; learn of the resources available around you because regrettably, rejection happens more often than it should.
Gauge a “test” response
The topic of queerness may arise in conversation, and this can be an opportunity to find out what your families and friends stances are with regards to it. But this must be done carefully and not forced in order to minimise suspicion if it is a danger to you. It’s not a definitive indicator of a response, but you will most likely get an idea of how they feel and then how best to approach the matter.
Find the right time and place
Coming out in our communities is by no means a simple task, and it must be stressed that sensitivity and caution is key. It makes sense to leave the conversations until later if your family is going through a difficult time, or when stress levels are high, because coming out will no doubt add a level of stress that can push certain people into making rash decision that are not in your favour. If you are worried about any physical/verbal abuse, try to conduct the conversation in a public place, perhaps at a restaurant when out for a meal with your family or when going for a quiet walk in the park. This will inshaAllah help minimise the risk of violent outbursts and, if necessary, provide witnesses to any adverse outcomes.
Patience is key
Be patient with your family. They may accept you straight away in which case Alhamdulillah, but if not, you must understand that their initial response does not necessarily reflect their final attitude. It is likely that they will be hurt and confused, and may blame you or themselves. It takes time. It took time for you to accept yourself, and it will take time for them to accept you, and you should be supportive of their attempts to make sense of what you have told them. At this point perhaps space is good if that is financially/socially possible.
Many queer muslims find themselves alienated from the muslim community and this can unfortunately lead to detachment from faith as well. It is important to keep close to Allah despite what others may say, as after all your faith is between you and your creator only. Prayer is one way in which closeness to God can be established, and can reaffirm ones relationship with religion. Salaat-e-Istikhara especially is a valuable tool that we can use to help us make the difficult decisions that many of us face, especially when the line between right or wrong is blurred. Allah has all the answers that we seek and through Him you will InshaAllah find what is the best path for you.
To conclude, there is no one way to come out, and there is no one best approach, but several. Patience, caution, and sensitivity must be exercised in order to make the process of coming out safe for yourself, and easier for those you are coming out to. We pray that you are met with compassion and understanding, but if not, we hope you are able to move on without guilt, knowing that you did the best you can to convey your feelings towards the people that you love. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you, no matter what you are going through.
There is a story that the day “Homosexuality Explained to My Mother” was first published in Morocco, you barricaded the door of your apartment and stayed awake all night, fearing you’d be attacked. Does the reception of your work in Morocco still make you fear for your life?
Well, I should first say my books are sold in Morocco. That alone is amazing; they are the type of books that would have been banned not long ago. And no, I was never attacked physically, but I have been attacked critically by other Moroccan writers, journalists, and politicians. The idea was that we Moroccans are good citizens and good Muslims. We aren’t permitted to talk about personal things, especially not out in the open. But for me writing is never about what’s considered ‘right,’ it’s about everything that’s wrong. It’s about addressing something unsaid, which is what homosexuality had always been. I can now see that my writing is part of a bigger movida that started in Morocco with King Hassan II’s death in 1999, similar to what happened in Spain after Franco died. The lower classes are now making their voices heard more and more because they know that political and societal change will not come from the rich.
Do you think artists have an integral role in this political change?
Not an integral role, a necessary role. There is no coordinated group of artists working towards change in Morocco, but there is a general sense among artists, writers, and young people that it is time to remove our old clothes and start speaking for ourselves, without the pressure of the king or our families.
Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love, captures stories and experiences of being at the intersections of Islam and queerness and its relationship to family, lovers, one’s sense of self and relationship with our faith. Terna Tilley-Gyado and Wazina Zondon utilize traditional storytelling and conversation as the medium for exploring the broad range of their experiences as queer Muslims. The stories Coming Out Muslimtell range from tales about other people’s theories about where queerness comes from, the gifts of being queer and Muslim, the tension between one’s culture and religion, and love—romantic and spiritual. Coming Out Muslimis both funny and poignant.
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It’s that time of year - National Coming Out Day. “Coming out” is the term used for telling people that your sexuality is something other than straight. It’s a massive step for many people, but should only be taken when one is ready and IF one wants to. I’d love there to be a situation where ‘straight’ wasn’t the default in society and there was no need to come out, but the reality of today is different. So to my LGBT community who aren’t ‘out’, don’t feel pressured to do so. Do what’s right for you as an individual. I pray the time comes when we can live our lives the way we see fit. Until then, know that the mods at IANH are always here for you.