It’s been a loooong week… family, work, dreaming & scheming!
I will hopefully have a post up later this week, but I wanted to let y’all know what we are up to in the coming month:
Friday, April 5th: TTG & I will be presenting at the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Diversity Conference with workshop entitled Reconciling Queer & Muslim Identities.
Sunday, April 14th (my little sister’s birthday!): Coming Out Muslim will be at Brandeis University in Boston! Exciiiitttting! We will post details on time and space soon.
We submitted for the DesiQ 2013 conference in San Francisco and are crossing our fingers that doing the show is what is intended for us in July.
June 27th is the air date for the HBO Out List documentary – eeeeek!
Like millions of people I’ve been following the last two days at the Supreme Court with interest. It still boggles my mind that we are in a conversation about whether the right to marry applies to some people and not others. It astounds me that a good part of the conversation is about “redefining traditional marriage”. We hear some mention of the long history of marriage as a heterosexual institution and hesitation to call such a relationship between two people of the same gender the same thing. But I don’t want to write about the politics. Instead, I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings about marriage.
I didn’t dream of getting married as a child. I didn’t imagine myself in a white dress and heels, in a church, making promises. In my family, invisible husbands were the norm. With few exceptions, what I learned from my family and culture was that faithful men were like the Loch Ness monster– the stuff of legend. From my Liberian and Nigerian relatives, friends and observation it seemed a simple fact that every married man would at some point step out, have a mistress on the side, perhaps even a second or third wife. That’s simply the way it is. Yet in college I began to imagine myself married. It started because I had a dream in which I saw myself, and a green linen suit, barefoot, making promises. That dream stirred something in me, a desire that has remained. I told myself that my marriage would be different from many of the ones I’ve seen. In my marriage we would like and love each other, be faithful not just sexually but also in speaking well of each other, supporting each other, being honest lovingly and compassionately. We would have fun, be integral to a community and raise children together joyfully, among other things. It wouldn’t be easy but we would transform in honoring the commitment.
For me, marriage is fundamentally a spiritual commitment. In fact the legal part doesn’t even make sense to me without it, for myself that is. Islam says that marriage is half of your religion. I wondered why for the longest time. My understanding, as I’ve now been in a couple of relationships where we talked about marriage as a possibility (even going so far as to get engaged!) is that there is nothing like having to really consider, think about and do for a partner day in and day out. Such experiences have expanded my spirit. I rely on my faith to show up every day in my relationship. It is my faith that even makes it possible for me to show up every day. The story of Majnun and Layla (http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/mideast/mi-jcok.htm ) is a powerful metaphor, from a Sufi perspective, about treating your earthly beloved as a microcosm of the Beloved, Allah. What, if anything, would shift in your romantic partnership if you saw your partner as a microcosm of God, or something far bigger than you? Of course this doesn’t hold at every moment: ) partnership has helped me to exceed myself in ways I didn’t imagine I would have to. I’ve learned so much about holding honesty as a central value in relationship, being reliable, emotional intimacy, receiving support and help. There has been tremendous healing in these experiences. Interestingly, as I have grown in my ability to be a good partner both my faith and my spiritual practice have deepened. Inshallah I intend to marry before too long. I am indescribably thrilled at the prospect and excited to see what unfolds through the marriage door.
Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze.
If you’ve seen the show, in it I talk about four different Queer Theories about what made me queer. These aren’t actually my own, they belong to the various people in my life who seemed to need to understand what made me not heterosexual. It’s always so interesting to be reminded of them and lately I’ve been writing down the handful of other Theories.
When I told Terna that I had written some of them she said something along the lines of well, let’s see them! And so here is Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze:
In college, as a Women’s Studies major, I learned about the male gaze. I read about it, I wrote papers on it, I organized the campus wide programming of Social Change for Womyn working to dismantle it?
I never knew it had a name until college, but my cousins and I had this belief that Allah makes Muslim girls hairy so that guys wouldn’t want us.
In my adolescent years, I knew it as boy attention. And I was not, or rather I did not feel like I was cut out for boy attention… and I had many reasons and proof for why that was the case:
I was hairy.
I am hairy. My entire body, if untended to, is covered in fur. If you are one of those people who enjoy euphemisms like peach fuzz – it’s actually more like the rough quill coating on a kiwi.
I was not the milkman’s baby… oh no. With my hairy traits, my South Asian father is definitely my flesh and blood – I just don’t buy the claim that I came out of my mother’s womb. This is because I am certain even her vulva is hairless. She is the smoothest, (white) smooth baby-skinned woman I’ve ever met.
I think the donor for my other X chromosome was a Brussels Griffon (and yes, I know I’m getting my genetics wrong here, just play along). Just wiry haired, scrawny and well, furry… and if any boy thought I was cute from a distance, the moment he walked up to me under the horrific, confidence-crushing glow of the fluorescent lighting in my junior high school classrooms, he then would surely know he was mistaken.
I remember bargaining with God to take all the unnecessary hair on my body and turn it into one long hair strand that grew out of my chest… a singular hair that I promised I would dye, curl, and maintain with care… lovingly, tend to because he had heard my prayers.
What made being hairy worse was that my mother unsympathetic to my plight.
For one, she was hairless and smooth. She claimed that she was hairy too at one point and eventually all the hair on her arms, legs (including upper thighs) just fell off on its own.
She refused to let me shave, wax, PLUCK or even bleach any part of my body. Getting my eyebrows done was reserved for my engagement and any other hair removal would confirm her suspicion: I was having sex.
Behind her back and without the supervision of any adult or knowledgeable person, I did these things on my own though… and in my fanatical routines, I likely made myself less attractive:
I would steal one of my dad’s terrible, TERRIBLE (dear God, why are these still on the market) Bic razor with orange handle. I would shave with hand soap early in the morning on the days I had gym – mind you, not in the shower… just my leg lifted high up in the sink on cold mornings. Have you ever tried shaving with goosebumps?!
I would do it quickly – and then put on my staple leggings (under my skirt or dress as I did not wear pants – more on that later) and by the time I put on my gym shorts, my ashy, unmoisturized stems were speckled all over with spots of dry blood.
I began a regiment of at-home waxing basically my entire mouth region, not even my upper lip and whatever hair I missed, I bleached afterwards… all in the same half hour. I did this all in the secrecy of my bedroom and somehow thought that no one would notice the chemical burn on my face.
Much to my parents’ approval and happiness – and likely why I did not register on the radar of boys: I was a conservatively dressed young woman. And I was goth(ish). If my friends and I were in an Industrial/Dark Wave equivalent of the Spice Girls, I’d be Conservative Goth (and I would play the synthesizers).
Each day I made sure I showed no skin by covering in a combination of the following:
Black lace or fishnet
Stripey Wicked Witch of the East socks
Knit shawls and capes
Oh and I did not wear pants. Instead, I wore layer upon layer of skirts complete with a slip – sometimes with tulle and hoopy underwires. And just like in Little House on the Prairie, I would board my carriage, the Q76 bus, by lifting my skirt like a real lady.
I could probably go on but I won’t because it feels sad to be mean to young Wazina. I talk about it all in jest because it’s easier to remember it this way.
The truth is I don’t know if she would’ve been able to accept boy attention… or if I even wanted it. I was so frightened by crossing the wrong line – one that would get me in trouble with both my parents and God – to do something they both disapproved of.
And when my first girlfriend came along, there was an ease, a normalcy and rightness that made it easier to accept her girl attention.
The male gaze? Yeah, I am still trying to dismantle it.
New Moon, Hilal (Rumi)
Remember the story of the young guest
who came before certain King. “And how old are you,
my lad? Tell the truth now. Say it out.”
“18, well 17. 16.
“Keep going! You’ll end up
in your mother’s womb.”
Or the man who went to borrow a horse.
“Take the gray.”
“No, not that one.”
“It goes in reverse. It backs up.”
“Then turn its tail toward your home.”
The beast you ride is your various appetites.
Change your wantings. When you prune
weak branches, the remaining fruit
gets tastier. Lust can be redirected,
so that even when it takes you backward,
it goes toward shelter.
A strong intention can make “two oceans wide”
the size of a blanket, or “700 years”
the time it takes to walk to someone you love.
True seekers keep riding straight through,
whereas big, lazy, self-worshiping geese
unload their pack animals in a farmyard
and say, “this is far enough.”
Last week Wazina and I applied for a big award, big both in terms of money and folks who will be reviewing the application. Angela Davis is one of them! As we were creating the video submission, I could feel myself desire to kind of back away, to remain as “discreet” as possible. Basically I could feel the fear in me of potentially becoming even more visible. Most days I ignore that small voice of alarm in the back of my mind that screams at me every time I post here, every time there is a video or picture of us somewhere, every time our names are connected with this project. It’s the voice that tells me visibility is not safe. I know, at this point, that that voice is quite illogical in the sense that we are already waaay out there. Not only that but that we made a conscious decision to step into this level of visibility. I really believe in what were doing and why were doing it– the conviction that every body is entitled to a safe, fully expressed life, and one in which faith, sexual orientation and gender identity are not at all at odds. I also believe and trust that Allah has this as part of my earthly purpose at this time, a piece of my divine alignment. From that place I can feel a peace in my heart, a calm. From that place I can breathe and be easy. Sometimes the fear does get me, and the voice won’t shut up. “Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe?… What happens when a friend in Nigeria googles my name? Or when someone actually goes to this website after I’ve given them my card?…”
Then I remember all of you who have loved and encouraged us so well through this project, some of you, strangers. To remember this is humbling. Actually it’s moving. Getting a bit teary just writing this now. Thank you. I don’t think you have any idea how powerful your support, your prayers, your silent wishes, your thoughts, your sharing with friends about us, and all the ways you’ve loved and encouraged us, have been for me. Left to my own devices I think I wouldn’t keep showing up in the way that Coming Out Muslim requires. I’d like to do my selectively visible thing and call it a day, but is not the life Allah has given me. That story has not been written for me. My fear would have me lament that. I know better than to believe the stories it tells me. Nonetheless, we need all the love and encouragement you can give! (I think I can speak for Waz on that:-)) Please keep it coming!
Visible and Invisible
I could write for days and days on this theme… and I know that Terna & I will revisit this many more times.
I thought long and hard about what I would do for me on my 30th birthday. I didn’t/don’t feel like turning 30 is scary, in fact, I’ve been excited to join the club for a long while… but I was still unsure about what it was that I could do that would mark a new year. I decided I would do what I had been toying with for a while and being strongly encouraged/urged to do for even longer by my mother: I would begin the process of growing out my short hair.
In order to make it as painless and least awkward possible, I decided I would submit to extensions. And so, I had extensions put in to take my short, pixie-ish cut to a chin-length bob.
Deciding to do it was a huge step and statement about my identity – as a woman, as a feminist, as a queer feminist woman. I felt like I was masking a part of my recently lived-in identity. I literally felt like I was making a small part of the way I express my queerness invisible. Diluting a part of me? Succumbing to traditional standards of femininity?
Yes, queerness is not in my hair or my clothing; it’s not in the stereotypes and generalizations… and yet, yes in some ways I have made it about my hair because I’ve chosen it as one of my conduits to make a ‘statement’ about my identity politics.
The same machine that has told me to be/do ‘girl’ in the ways that were counterintuitive, the ways I have been taught to perform – the same machine that has told me to swallow reactions on fucked up truths about my desires and marry the man of someone else’s dreams is that same machine that has told me how to wear my hair and what is valid femininity. And cutting my hair was a way to cut (some of) those same puppet strings.
I cannot deny though the guidance and awareness of those puppet strings I’ve been able to move through this world. Successfully and ironically been guided me in the most familiar ways. When even in the most unfamiliar moments, places and out of my comfort zone, I knew how to play the game, make things work, get through a moment because I knew what was expected of me and how to manipulate…
My motivations to cut my hair were out of curiosity and honestly? Honestly? I think I had a desire to have a ‘queer’ experience like some of the people in my life. To be able to access, fit in and participate in queer identity like they did. They had access to those spaces not just because most everyone else there matched their gender expression – they matched one another’s race and class – one another’s whiteness. They were all teetering on fighting heteronormativity with their white privilege that I hoped I could access too. But what it did was make feel enclosed rather than liberated because it didn’t really give me access to spaces.
Some of my short haired friends say they like their hair short because it’s easier/faster for them to do. This is absolutely NOT my truth. I take a long time to do my hair: wash, dry, straighten, product, scrutinize… and then match with make-up and outfit. Nothing about my appearance is a time freeing activity. I LABOR over it and whilst I do it, I love it; I really do because I’ve learned to love the process of my costuming.
As a sexuality educator, working with young people I feel like a bit of a sham admitting to this. I’ve felt like even more of a crappy role model because all of my students are young women of color who receive many of the same messages that I battle with about beauty – and yet, they have been my biggest allies in this understanding of me, gender roles/expectations and on hair. And luckily that’s because I can tell them in appropriate drips and drops in conversation about the desire to grow out my hair, about family wants, cultural expectations… hair care and brushing the knots out of the darn thing!
Just as I am all of the above, I am also an Afghan woman happens to be a queer feminist.
For my parents, the short hair was received as a double whammy – rejecting femininity, heterosexuality and their version(s) normality. What was formerly out of sight and out of mind was now at the dinner table.
In the midst of my short hair, my mother gave me a magazine with a Rihanna on the cover. She had a bright, fiery red ’do. I didn’t question it and a day or so later when talking about my own hair she said to me, “well, Rihanna has long hair now. And then I realized that she thought or convinced herself that I wanted to be or emulate Rihanna?! I mean, I DO want to be Rihanna (funny though, this has a lot to do with my new Queer Theory #6), but that’s not why I cut my hair short.
When my dad first acknowledged my short hair it was weeks after I cut it short. At the dinner table he said to me, I hate to say it but you look like one of them.
He may have said which one he meant, but I don’t remember really.
And now, I have my long hair and it has gotten even longer. And I really love it. I don’t like the comments I get from men on the street.
I reminded of the first time my short hair got even shorter – like fuzzy/shaved short and I freaked out. I called my ex to yell at her for recommending the salon I went to. And I freaked out at myself because I remember walking frantically on the streets of the West Village looking for a street vendor to buy a hat because I was no longer pretty.
I have to remind myself I am not just a queer done one way; or a feminist through one lens; I am not my parents’ breed of Afghan Logari-style alone… I am a blended, complex.
And in my messy complexity, the truth is, I feel pretty.
Not just because of my look, of my hair, of my aesthetic. I think it’s an inner peace, light, noor that comes through. I feel content because pieces as much as the pieces begin to move apart, they also fit.
Last Friday I finally made it to Juma at the mosque around the corner from my house. It only took 3 months. This is actually an improvement given that it took me more than a year to make it to the mosque down the street from my old apartment. For the last few years I’ve gone almost exclusively to my tekke or dergah (Sufi meeting house), which I love and which is full of ease and light for me. It’s a joy to go there. I feel perfectly comfortable and always welcome there. In the show I talk about how nervous and dread-inducing the prospect of going to a mosque you know nothing about can be, for queer Muslims especially. In my case, I always have a fear that one of the sisters will comment on one piece of hair showing or something minute like that in a way that feels like shame from the you’re not doing it right posse known to roam through mosques around the world. What will the people be like? Will the imam give an anti-gay kind of talk or a very black & white khutba (sermon) that expresses some rigid interpretation of Quran that has nothing of the mystical spirit in it? Will the women’s space be in a basement with a loud speaker and all the small children or behind some intense partition? This time, with some trepidation, after imagining becoming friendly with folks at the mosque, I considered that it might be quite difficult to invite anyone I met there to my home without having some very awkward conversation beforehand, and then would they still come?
The thing is I really love mosques. I love the deep peace of a space so imbued with the prayers of folks in intimate moments with Allah. That peace is so profound, just entering such a space immediately brushes aside whatever unimportant distractions are running loose in my mind. I believe every space where people pray has this profound quality. Interestingly, there are lots of Muslim student groups for example, who pray in churches because that space is made available to them on campuses. And this works because the sincerity of the prayer and worship there has made it an open door for anybody, regardless of particular faith, who wants to pray and worship.
So, with the mill of questions a-swirl in my head, off I went. I was greeted at the door by a brother who then pointed me to the sister’s area, through a door as opposed to upstairs where the brothers were headed. Uh-oh I thought. It turned out to be a very nice, peaceful space, complete with its own bathroom and a clear…loudspeaker. Ok.
All the sisters who came, less than 10 in all, wore hijabs and jilbabs (long loose dress-type garment). I was the only one in pants but it didn’t feel awkward at all. We were all paying attention to the khutba, which turned out to be quite interesting. The imam spoke about gratitude, that it is incumbent upon us to be grateful all the time to Allah for the constant stream of blessings and for what our ancestors went through for us to be here now. It would actually tarnish their memory to be anything other than grateful. There was a lot to the message, and bones I could pick–how the imam seemed to be addressing brothers, never speaking directly to us women who were out of sight, for example. Nonetheless, I got a lot from his talk. I find in myself a strong desire to go again, to continue to feel out the space. Inshallah it becomes an even better experience, perhaps even one with a bit of healing in it for this queer Muslim? I don’t know about all that yet.
I want to shout out the amazing efforts of folks like the El-Tawhid Juma Circle, an LGBT-inclusive prayer space, and inclusive in a broader sense as well. Check them out http://jumacircle.com/ as well as the amazing inclusive mosque initiative going on in France: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20547335 . Inshallah some day queer Muslims won’t have to think twice about going to any mosque. Mosques and all spaces of prayer and worship will be safe in the hands of human beings. Amin amin amin.
A blog is such an interesting space. It feels a little self important.
Okay, let me clarify and say that I, Wazina get stuck because a blog feels so self-important. Who really cares what reflection I had this week?
Well, with all that said, I need to stop stalling…
At the end of the summer, a good friend (and former colleague) reached out to me about an opportunity that sounded both unreal and unable to be passed over; it wasn’t set in stone and so I didn’t get my hopes up much. Then in September, I got the official invite to interview for a documentary with a renowned film maker on LGBTQ identity in America.
We filmed, photographed and interviewed. I talked about being an out queer teacher, LGBTQ issues in education, GLSEN, my identities as Muslim and Afghan and daughter… even my tattoos!
Currently, the documentary is in its final stages with names like Wanda Sykes, Neil Patrick Harris, LARRY KRAMER (in all caps for emphasis of my excitement), Wade Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Ellen DeGeneres (among many more)… and me.
I am a ball of excitement and nerves about it… it doesn’t seem real and frankly, it’s not. At least not yet in all the ways that being public will impact my life.
I don’t know how much of my interview and what parts they’re using… is it my perspective as a queer educator… is it focusing mainly on my queer Afghan and Muslim identities?
And, what will my hair and make- up look like (yes, the truly important question)?
I’ve been asking myself, how in the world I got to be on the precipice of something this big. Seriously… how did I earn this privilege? Am I/can I be worthy of rising to the challenge of being the only South Asian, Muslim , working class, queer teacher voice on this project?
I know I am not meant to represent over a billion plus people who fall under the above mentioned identities, but I can’t help but feel that weight on my shoulders.
I do not want to, nor should I or can I speak for a community of queer Muslims but I also know that we rarely have avenues to tell our stories our way. As simply a Muslim woman (forget everything else for a moment), I find myself explaining, clarifying, affirming, denying, defending and/or trying to undo the story that someone heard about XYZ country or the article they read or the one student with the crappy parents.
It’s exhausting being related to or having people listen to your story for its deficits. My hope is that this is an opportunity, just like Coming Out Muslim is, to initiate the conversation about the complex, beautiful, layers of our lives.
I’ve been asking myself how I got to here grappling with this question and these set of concerns and it is clear that God give me this opportunity to continue on this path. Terna reminds me that when I have questions, hesitations and uncertainty, all I have to do is ask Allah for guidance. This is my way to serve Allah, my community and humanity for the better.
I haven’t told my parents about this yet and I am afraid to… but I must and want to. It makes me sad that they will hear about parts of my life that I have never ever told them before.
I believe in justice and speaking up because they raised me. And I just hope that they will hear that if nothing else. And most of all, I want them to be proud me; I am proud to be part of them.
For info on the documentary, The Out List: https://www.facebook.com/TheOutList
For the last 24 hours I’ve been celebrating my birthday my birthday. Happy New Year to me! I enter a new chapter of my life with joy, enthusiasm, gratitude, and excitement.
About ten years ago I began giving a theme to each new year, birthday to birthday. There’s been the Year of Quickening, the Year of Reckoning, the Year of Transformation, and so on. A few weeks before my new year actually begins, I sit in stillness, take walks and listen for the name. It always comes.
This year the theme is Alignment. In the last year and a half, my life has changed significantly:
- I started a new relationship
- moved to a new city
- went from full-time employment to unemployed/self-employed
- came to some new understandings about myself, or more precisely, simply cycled back to remembering things I’ve known all along
From the time I can remember I’ve always had a strong sense of purpose, though I couldn’t quite say what exactly it was. The strength of that purpose compelled me and for much of my life – all of it really, until now – I made decisions about what to do or what not to do (become a teacher, get a PhD, etc.) according to intuitions that told me if I would end up closer to or further away from my purpose.
As 2012 came to a close, I realized that I’d spent the year getting comfortable with the new and first-time clarity about what I am here to do, getting comfortable with the possibility of answering yes or no to the question “am I doing what I’m here to do?” And 2012 I experienced what I call “divine alignment”. As I experienced the joy of feeling as if at any given moment I was in exactly the place I was meant to be a set of check and questions came to me, guideposts by which to consider the day, the week, the month, the lifetime:
- Am I in divine alignment?
- If not, why not? What does my resistance look like?
- If so, what does my surrender look like? What would the next level of surrender it look like?
In late 2011, I decided to move to Philly for love. I prayed about it and felt this decision was definitely in alignment. I was going to save money, move in the warm months – you know, do it prudently, safely. In November I had a dream which showed me that my careful plan was nonsense, that by going in what I thought was a straight line I would actually be going in a circle. No, I needed to move by the end of December – in six weeks, not six months. By making the decision to move I had been in alignment but more was required. My resistance looked like “but…” And “I don’t…” and waiting to get the ball in motion to actually move that quickly. Nonetheless, I leapt. I surrendered. Allah handled everything that could have been an obstacle. I was in Philly by December 28th.
Fear and bewilderment had me phasing in and out of alignment in 2012, or at least had me feeling as though I was phasing in and out of it. in 2013, I intend to be courageous. What’s the point if I’m not? I’ve been waiting my whole life to know what I now know about my particular purpose. So what does every day look like an alignment? Inshallah I’m looking forward to finding out. Happy New Year indeed!
As the year gets rolling I invite you to consider these checking questions for yourself.
- What does divine alignment look like in your own life? Are you in it?
- If not why not? What does your resistance look like?
If you are in alignment, what does your surrender look like? What would the next level of surrender look like?
Wishing all of us courage as we each seek to fulfill our unique and divine purposes! Let’s love one another in the process. Ashe. Salaam. Shalom. Inshallah, inshallah, inshallah.