Being both Muslim and queer always seemed like mutually exclusive identities to me. The ideological clash meant I simply could not be both. This wasn’t a satisfying way of looking at the world – I didn’t think I should have to repent for being a certain way. I began asking some big questions in high school and then really started to assert my own identity after moving away to university – somehow the academic space away from my family just allowed for it. It was a scary time of grappling with mixed messages and internalized fear and stigma.
In high school, I looked for answers within the cultural/religious framework that was familiar to me – prayer and deciphering texts. By my second year of university, I was distancing myself from my faith community. I was active socially, but lived in emotional isolation. I experienced constant fear around who might find out what about me, which undoubtedly had to do with internalized homophobia and a strong sense of guilt at leaving my close-knit Ismaili Muslim community. Guilt and shame are very deep seeded things. They come from the external world and make us hate ourselves for not being able to live out a certain image of normative life.
SILENCE is the theme in this photograph. It depicts this time in my life when I felt stifled, without role models to reflect my identity/experience back at me to say “you’re normal” or “you’ll be okay”. Instead, I wanted to change who I was. Thanks to all that internalized whatever (guilt, fear, shame, stigma), the silence began to come from within and external validation wasn’t helpful.
Following a year or two of depressive episodes, I began seeking more sanctuary in academia and discovering queer spaces. My queer self began to be normalized, empowered, and more vocal. I found an actual voice.
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