A non-religious man with an Arabic name walks into a bar and slaughters 50 people. Under a system of white supremacy, all Muslims are implicated. As queer Muslims, we are demanded to be experts on the internal workings of a man whom we have never met, and on what it means for queerness, when all we can be are experts on ourselves.
We have decided to resist the notion of every individual Muslim being asked to explain themselves in ways that white Xians never are, by joining together to write about our own healing as we process this tragedy and unnecessary loss of life. As we mourn the primarily Black & Brown lives lost in Orlando, we also recognize the ways this will have lasting impacts on the safety of ourselves as trans & queer folks and as Muslims.
Being known across the United States as LGBTQ Pride Month as well as the holy holiday of Ramadan, we took the potential crossover of these two months as being doubly precious. Showing up trans and/or queer within mainstream Muslim spaces is often an isolating experience trying to figure out simple things like where to sit or more complexly whose theology welcomes you. While being Muslim in mainstream LGBTQ spaces can mean being perceived to be straight or dealing with the same violent Islamophobia that has punctuated this country since 9/11.
What should have been a rare moment of reprieve will now remind us of the dangers in being all of our authentic selves. As more news comes out about the killer’s supposed sexual orientation as possibly being closeted, it becomes more clear how this dissonance can be deadly. This is something that has not just impacted our communities with rhetoric, but also taken so many innocent lives.
As I watch the murderer of my Black & Brown siblings taking selfies with NYPD blazoned across his chest, cropped out on most news programs, I know that is not how he will be remembered. He will be remembered for pledging allegiance to two violent and opposing groups, Nusra Front & ISIS. He will be remembered as the construction of himself that he created to terrorize his victims, and this construction will continue to terrorize trans & queer folks & Muslims for years to come as we will continue to live under constant policing and surveillance.
I don’t know if the murderer saw himself in alignment with ISIS, or if he was gay, or if he was merely a man with an Arabic name that wanted a bloodbath that day and knew what words to use.
As a teenager coming out I rejected both of my parent’s spiritual paths—my father having been raised Muslim, and my mother Christian. I saw them both as oppressive. As an adult, I have found freedom in being a Black Trans Muslim. I have felt my spirit and sense of community grow as I fasted with millions of Muslims around the world and prayed before sunrise. There is a connection that I have always felt for the organ in a Black Baptist Church, but to know that at the same moment people all over the world are praying to the same God you are is beyond the language I have to articulate.
Islam has brought me closer to my sense of self as a trans person and as someone committed to social justice work. It is through colleagues within the Nation of Islam that I internalized the idea of cooperative economics between Black & Brown people. It is through gatherings of trans & queer Muslims that I have shared pieces of myself that have not been safe in mainstream queer or mainstream Muslim spaces.
I am heartbroken to be mourning the Black & Brown, largely Latinx/Afro-Latinx folks who were killed this weekend. A large portion of me feels wholly worn out from my faith being used as a political sound bite to declare war on other Black & Brown bodies in the US and abroad, a portion of which are also trans & queer. As I hear Clinton & Trump care more about defeating Radical Islam over the many gun-wielding American men taking over our clubs, theaters & schools here, I am at no place for hope.
Ever since coming out Queer to my friends and to my family, Ramadan and PRIDE being the same month has been a symbol to me. It was a sign from God that I am to celebrate two parts of myself in such beautiful ways. The weeks before during the year I would come out, I would find my Queer Muslim community at the yearly LGBTQ Muslim retreat. I find community there and through that community I feel less alone.
The reality of being Queer and Muslim is a lonely one. Growing up in conservative Muslim household, it was never hidden from me that being Queer and Muslim was not something that existed. The discomfort of evening praying with my family when I can only think about the cute girl I saw on the street. Anxiety filled prayers asking God to change me.
I was raised to believe that being a Muslim was one way. That God had created me with a struggle and I had to overcome my flaw of being Queer. For many years that I had tried to overcome what I had thought was disconnecting my faith and I, only to come to realize that coming out, accepting the truth of myself, had led me to find the connection between God and I. Unfortunately, that connection of my religion had led me to me to give up community that I was so ingrained in. However, that same year I would come to find community in the comfort of knowing other LGBTQIA Muslims.
Truth be told, I had faced similar feeling of disconnection. I remember my first PRIDE—that year I was wearing my hijab. I remember the, among the joy, the stares that had come from other people of Queer community. I remember being asked “How can you be both Queer and Muslim?” The image of “Muslims” being monolithic that had stemmed from American media for over a decade since 9/11 was engrained in a society that I had viewed as an example of diversity. Even years of being part of the Queer and Muslim community has taught me there will always be a disconnection, even in the most welcoming of spaces.
However, this disconnection and the lack of conversation has led to death of 50+ LGBTQ community members. It has opened a vortex of Islamophobia that once again endangers the lives of many. Omar Mateen is a symptom of running away from conversations, of not confronting ourselves as American people. We have talked over and at each other but not have stepped away from the mic and opened it to others to speak. Mateen’s action had come from the idea that we as a country, have progressed. That the conversation stops at “right to marriage,” but this is not true. Homophobia and Transphobia is fabricated into the American fabric that we are still denying that this action was a symptom that we see Queer and Trans bodies as “other”. To the Muslim community, among you is us, the Queer and trans Muslims. We pray with you, sit with, eat food with you and worship with you. Take this tragedy as a moment of reflection, as you wonder about the safety of yourselves. That the conversation must be more then a 15 minute lecture. That Allah created many of us, through all spectrums. That we have to start holding our community leaders and our scholars higher to these conversation just like we should to all of the American political leaders when they don’t address Islamaphobe.
In this mourning, I hope that the gap between being Queer and Muslim is closed. That the conversation becomes a process of healing. Lastly, we cannot hold our tongues no more about homophobia in America. With political action, there needs to be social progression on both Islamphobia and homophobia.
May we find the place to mourn in our lives, finding shoulders to cry on and that we heal during this time.
To our collective community of trans & queer folks of color, this is a moment that reminds us existing everyday in these bodies is often a political act of defiance in itself. To folks creating space with vigils, organizing donations it cannot be erased that this tragedy occurred in opposition to Black & Brown bodies. Within the mainstream LGBTQ community at large there is consistently a theft of resources and leadership kept just out of the reach of bodies that look very much like the ones lost. It cannot be that we allow the same racism to creep into the ways that we speak about these unintentional warriors. May we not just respect Latinx/Afro-Latinx and Black communities when they are dead for the news cameras, but also remember the ways that these communities have already defied the odds before this moment.
As Muslims, we must reconcile and dismantle the same homo/transphobia that regardless of the shooters actual faith background, has most certainly influenced the ways he was inspired to think. While Christian politicians must reconcile their introduction of over 200 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation within the last year and how they played a part in this tragedy on American soil, we must too not just pass the buck onto everyone else. Dismantling violence and the deadly ways in which homo/transphobia manifested itself in this moment, is something for us all to carry. We can choose to shift, or we can choose to pretend that mass shootings and homo/transphobia are somehow not a uniquely American problem.