In the last decade or so, there has been a beautiful and necessary increase in the visible mobilization of a Muslim LGBTQIA community. Queer Muslims around the world—from Imaan in the UK and Al-Fatiha in the US (which no longer exists) to Marhaba in Australia and The Inner Circle in South Africa—have been able to find, love, and support each other; but they are doing it with the privileged safety of existing in non-Muslim majority countries and following the same tired, gender-binary model still used by most Western, queer movements.
I want more for the Queer Muslim movement.
Asking for pronouns during introductions or check-ins does not make an organization progressive or trans inclusive. While knowing and acknowledging people’s pronouns is a great place to start and provide a valid definitive of gender identity for many, they create misconceptions and limitations for others.
For example, I am agender. Insisting on making me choose a gender is, basically, forcing me to choose between two things with which I have never identified. While some people perceive me as inherently female because of my designated sex at birth and others can project trans- maleness on my somewhat masculine gender expression, neither of those assumptions are accurate or sensitive to my truth. Beginning discussions by asking for pronouns silences my experience because I choose not to use they/them pronouns. If I want my gender identity known, I need to use words beyond just stating my pronouns.
So many of us are so much more than he, she, or they; others don’t exist within that spectrum at all. Because the queer, Muslim movement is so new, I’d love to see us begin from a place that is inclusive of all gender identities and expressions.
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It currently feels like we have adopted a practice and perspective that deliberately and consistently erases non-binary voices like my own. I repeatedly have to endure offhand comments or jokes about having a ‘masculine’ gender expression. People accuse my partner, who is femme, and I of trying to be heteronormative, which, to me, is a troubling marker of some damaging, internalized preconceptions these people may possess. This insistence to put me in a gender that is easy to associate with already established binaries makes me feel like it’s better to not even try to defend myself because I would just, unnecessarily, complicate things.
While most of the conferences and retreats I have attended start with a sort of sensitivity training that addresses the differences between assigned/designated sex, gender identity and gender expression, the importance of this exercise never sinks in for the mainly cis, queer audience. This is due, partly, to the fact that this endeavor is undertaken within the familiar male-to-female or female-to-male, post-op trope, which, again, enforces that gender is either male or female.
I have seen many cis people feeling uncomfortable during these sessions because they feel their cis-ness being questioned. To counter that, organizers usually emphasize on the importance of not convoluting gender expression with gender identity. That is an imperative take-home message, but, by just stopping there and not discussing gender as a spectrum and presence of genders even outside a spectrum, insinuates that there are still only two main options, or poles, for gender identity.
It is also taking a very “us versus them” stance, which leaves little room for questioning of gender identity. I want these spaces to accept the discovery process of defining my gender identity, but, usually, there is an urgency to push me into the trans male role or pull me back into the female role to satiate their need to understand me. This urgency to label me as either-or just reinforces the social construct of the gender binary and, hence, oppresses me.
The acceptance of identities within our movement should not be sequential; it shouldn’t be gay/lesbian then transgender then, maybe, someday, non-binary. Why can’t we just start from a place where all kinds of sexual and gender diversity is truly revered? Genderqueer Muslims who are trying to find community should be welcomed with full understanding and acceptance of their identities, not merely by allowing them to exist in these queer spaces.
I am glad that our movement values transgender and intersex people a great deal, but, by ignoring the existence of non-binary people—even if it is for the time being—we cannot continue to call our movement fully inclusive. Non-binary Muslims should not have to wait for other queer Muslims to catch up in order to feel respected. Holding on to socially constructed ideas of gender is not only unhelpful, it is especially damaging for people who lie outside the gender binary.
If queer Muslim activists do not embrace gender diversity within and beyond the gender spectrum, then a good few Muslims are left on the sidelines, waiting for the time when their voices will eventually be heard too. This is the time to talk about us all, not just of those that fit into the inflexibly compartmentalized way that humans have been conditioned to think.
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