African, Muslim, Queer.

Despite growing up and seeing only heterosexual relationships and religious women who were comfortable with playing the part of devoted mother and housewife, the idea of following a similar path never appealed to me.

As a female brought up by African Muslim parents I was not expected to question my sexuality or to go against my assigned gender role, because a heteronormative lifestyle was already set out for me.

Growing up in a community that openly rejected the idea of homosexuals or queer people living an open lifestyle, I had never seen any examples of homosexuality or met any queer people.

Yet at the age of 11 I was certain that I was attracted to men and women, even though I hadn’t known it was actually possible (let alone that there were even a word to describe it).

In an attempt to ‘fix’ myself at the age of 13, I asked a popular online Islamic scholar what I should do to try and “remove” my attraction to women.

He told me that my attraction to women was understandable and sometimes occurred but that acting on that attraction would be “Haram” (Islamic term for something that is sinful or forbidden).

He said because I was young and willing to change it would be easily “fixed” with prayer.

And so, I took his advice.

It resulted in me dating many boys that I did not have feelings for.

I tried so hard to try and ignore my attraction to women but it seemed that the more I focused on trying to ignore that part of me the more problematic it became, and the more it affected my mental health.

I would get so angry at myself for not being like all the other black Muslim/Christian girls I knew. I couldn’t turn to my friends, my mosque or my parents because I knew they would only judge, and definitely not understand. The depression I faced resulted in two years of self-harm.

When I finally did accept myself and came out to my friends, the religious ones told me that I was “just confused “and that I would “grow out of it.”

I questioned how I could grow out of something that I never grew into. It took a lot of time for me to realise that my sexuality wasn’t a fashion; it wasn’t ‘in’ one season and ‘out’ the next.

Islam is a peaceful and beautiful religion but the fact that it rejected me at a time when I desperately sought to find an answer to how I felt, and labelled me as “Haram” is one of the many reasons I do not now identify as a Muslim – despite my strict Islamic upbringing.

In the past I turned to Christianity and Baha’ism for answers, but there I was met with the same advice and closed minds.

I wish that back then I was aware that there were organisations such as Faith and Pride (faithandpride.org) and Gay Catholic Voice Ireland (gcvi.ie), available for people who wished to maintain their faith without feeling like their sexuality interfered with their spirituality. Organisations such as these act as a support group and promote LGBT inclusion.

There is so much more to a person than just their sexuality. It makes me sad that there are many LGBT teenagers who are still expected to make a choice between their sexuality and their religion, including YouTuber Austin Willis, who was told that if he wanted to remain in his Christian school he would have to delete his YouTube account as it contained videos of him and his boyfriend.

All religions are based on the fundamental principle of love and respect but yet religion always seems to be the central reason for homophobic behaviour against queer people.

Why is this the case when all we are asking for is the right to be loved and the right to have our love respected?

Z.B

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