On November 4th, 2010 guest speaker Faisal Alam paid a visit to Agnes Scott do deliver a presentation called "Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims", an event geared towards exploring the relationship between Islam, sexuality and gender identity for queer Muslims. Hidden Voices has been featured at over 75 universities and colleges state wide. This presentation not only highlights the struggles and challenges of queer Muslims but it is also geared towards eradicating common western stereotypes regarding Islamic people. Through the expression of Faisal's personal Muslim queer experience in the United States, we learn of the history in regards tothe queer Muslim movement in the U.S.
This presentation was very interesting because it covered many issues that have been both mentioned and semi mentioned in previous articles read throughout the course of this class. I have outlined these issues below:
-The western ideal of "coming out" and how it is a necessary right of passage for members of the LGBTQIQ community to experience.
The obligation to go through the western ideal of "coming out" to achieve complete liberation in regards to identity has been discussed as an idea that is not an obligation. It is not the next step for every queer identifying person. At times, the passage of "coming out" can unbalance a person's life and/or complete disconnect them from their families. This western idea does not take into consideration that many people to not want to give up their families or the rest of their support system. Individual economic status needs to be taken into account also. Meaning one has to think about whether or not they can financially survive being completely cut off from their family. As Faisal had reiterated, there are in fact times where "coming out" simply won't work or their has to be a waiting period into between a person discovering their identity and fully revealing their true selves to their family. Simply because there is a lapse of time between discovery and "coming out" that does not mean that they are any less "gay" then the next queer person. This western ideal of "coming out" does not complete you as a queer person. Every situation is simply too different to apply necessary steps for queer people to fully embrace themselves and force their families too also. I believe that there are many queer minorities or queer people in general who are afraid to embrace their queer identity because this idea of "coming out" is viewed as an obligation.
-The idea of the toxic body in regards of homosexuality as being contagious and threatening to others through mere physical interaction.
The idea of the toxic body is an idea that continually resurfaces in the issue of social stigma towards the queer community. This was shown through a brief clip of a documentary shown during this presentation where one queer Muslim described how his mother began to treat him after he came out to his family. Whenever he would go to his prenatal home she would only use a specific plate and cup that were only meant for him. By not allowing anyone else to use these utensils because he had used it made him feel like a leper. His mother, merely by doing this, conveyed her belief in homosexuality as being contagious and toxic to the "purity" of the normal heterosexuals in her family. His physical interaction with his own children was completely taken away by his ex wife because he was seen as an influential danger to his children. This illustrates the idea of physical interaction being a doorway to "infecting" heterosexuals with the "disease" of sexuality. Of course this is simply not true and is definitely a myth.
-Disidentification and the struggle of embodying multiple minoritorian identities.
Disidentification is the idea of a normative identity having a polar opposite that goes against it with a group hovering in the middle that doesn't identify or counter identify. This group in the middle experiences what Jose Quiroga was describing in his article "Latino Cultures, Imperial Sexualities". Those who disidentify can experiences the struggles of embodying two identities that are of marginalized groups. For queer Muslims they did not fully fit with the normative idea of what is was to be a Muslim because they did not believe in the condemnation of LGBTQ people nor did they really fit into the white mainstream image of lesbians and gays. I do realize that when disidentifying you completely don't identify with the normative group. Meaning a person would state that it is not in any way who they are but Muslims still choose and want to be Muslims. I am merely pointing out the middle group that develops in between the two. In my opinion, Muslims who don't identify with Muslim homophobia based off of religious reasons while not wanting to completely disregard their religion to fit in with the queer society that lies at the other end of the spectrum falls within this middle group. Queer Muslims embody two minoritarian identities that creates an entirely unique struggle for them. With the Islamophobia occurring in the U.S after 9/11 and the still struggle of LGBTQIQ equality in the U.S, queer Muslims struggle to find a balance between the two while suffering the marginalization twice over. To hear and see such a struggle vividly by the use of a documentary was very powerful for me.
-The pressures of the white mainstream "gay" that now also includes a level of homonormativity for a semi black and white mainstream "gay" in the eyes of other minorities.
After briefly mentioning the mainstream idea of an acceptable level of "gayness", I will further dive into the pressures of the white mainstream "gay" also know as homonormativity. It was
very interesting to discover that in the eyes of other minorities, not only have white upper class lesbians and gays been privileged to a level semi acceptance but socially so had people who fall underneath the category of being "black". This is not saying that black and white are on a equal level of acceptance, it is merely pointing out that their is a queer racial and cultural hierarchy that exists on the ladder of the privilege of being almost fully accepted. Meaning one race/culture will not only have more acceptance than another but there is an order in which these races/culture get accepted.
-The importance of establishing communities amongst queer minorities
When queer minorities have such unique struggles because of the mixture of multiple identities, the importance of establishing a support network and sense of community is usually the first to pop up. As mentioned in S.O.N.G, the southern organization looking to create
community in the south and other articles regarding grassroot organizations, community is key to helping people such as queer Muslims understand that they are not the only one in the world who embodies identities that can be very conflicting. Faisal mentioned how in the beginning, he searched and searched google for queer Ismalic support and could find nothing other than how wrong and sinful queer Muslims were. He stated that within minutes after deciding to create an emailing list to create a safe space for dialogue between queer Muslims and advertising it, up to fifty people had joined but for months no one posted anything but him. This revealed the intense silence and stigma of shame surrounding the combined identity of queer Muslims. This story was absolutely shocking to me because while the white, american pride movement and then all of the minorities who trailed after having movements and meetings and progression, a safe space for queer Muslims had been completely neglected. It made me realize the importance of community because to feel as though no one else has an identity like you and you are all alone in the world is a very heavy and depressing feeling. Especially when you have to hide a large part of who you are.
-The tension and conflict that arises between religion and sexual identity.
Of course we can not forget the main reason behind the creation of "Hidden Voices" which is ultimately reconciling religion with sexuality. This faith-based activism is not unique only to the Muslim religion. Catholics and or members of the many branches of Christianity have dealt and are still dealing with reconciling with believing or being raised in a religion that condemns all LGBTQIQ people to hell. It can be emotionally unsettling and traumatic for some to struggle through the fight between their sexual identity and religion when they feel as though both completes and defines who they are as a person. What is important to remember is that it is not necessarily the religion itself that condemns and ostracizes people of queer identity. It is those who practice the religion that condemn members of the queer community. Faisal illustrates how it is possible to embrace your queer identity without the need of giving up your religion. However he also informs us that while there are now queer friendly Catholic and different Christan based churches there has yet to be a gay friendly Mosque, a Muslim house of worship.
Overall I can honestly say that I learned so much from this event and I would like to thank him on behalf of Affinity for coming to our college and educating the Agnes Scott community on a topic that has been kept silent and invisible for far too long.
For anyone who wishes to contact Faisal Alam you may do so at
Alam.Faisal@gmail.com or you can visit his website: http://www.hiddenvoices.info/ for more information.