I want to live comfortably as I am. But I can’t grapple with who I am against undermining the legacies of my ancestors, who have endured so much to ensure my wellbeing. Being queer feels as though I’m disregarding centuries of South Asian Muslim history. I want all parts of myself to coexist. My Muslim ancestors would hate me. My South Asian ancestors wouldn’t understand me. I don’t know how I can find a place in this world if I can’t even find one on campus. I’m exhausted from having to exist in halves and in-betweens. I thought my college experience would help me figure out who I am and what I want to do before being thrown into the real world. In my experience, I’ve felt that if I wanted to be part of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), I can’t be in any queer-affiliated groups. If I affiliate with queer groups, I feel like I can’t fully commit to the MSA. Yet, I can’t be a somewhat queer person and a mostly Muslim person. I am both queer and Muslim.
With the misspelled “LBGTQ” signs at the GUTS bus turnaround on campus; the nation’s largest student-run anti-reproductive choice conference; all on top of transphobic and Islamophobic protests in front of campus under the guise of “Christianity,” I barely know where to begin to find solace in my contradictory identity. Even so, judgment and unfriendliness don’t hurt as much when they come from strangers.
Judgment hurts when it comes from your own people. I was raised in a deeply South Asian Muslim community in northern Virginia and had two very distinct circles: my “American” friends and my “Muslim” friends. I can’t come out to my “Muslim” friends back home — South Asians love to gossip even though their greatest fear is judgment, expressed in a single phrase: “What will other people say?” I’m mostly out to my “American” friends back home, and despite also being people of color, they don’t seem to grasp my 180 from being culturally conservative and unyieldingly committed to Islam to chopping my hair off and emphasizing my queerness in all physical and metaphorical ways possible.
I wanted to come to college and start fresh, but sometimes it feels like if I want to release one identity, I have to drown out the other. When I enter umbrella-term “queer” spaces (including arts and culture groups), I can’t navigate around the overwhelming whiteness and cisness. When I enter queer South Asian spaces, I’m more inclined to listen than share because I don’t have the same experiences as first generation South Asians in this country in trying to balance having a third culture on top of queerness. When I enter Muslim spaces, I would rather not speak. I already feel out of place as a non-hijabi, and even more so as someone who only joins from time to time — if at all.
I hate being inauthentic, but I hate feeling like I have to be more than I am. I feel shameful rushing out after the end of every Jummah prayer to unwrap my hijab and run back to my dorm. Maybe it’s ignorant of me to assume the MSA is unwelcoming to its queer members. I think they remind me too much of my community back home, mostly because in my interactions with both I haven’t really felt express support for queer people. I want to exist in a space that welcomes every aspect of me: my Islam, my queerness, my South Asian-ness, and even my obsession with The Corp’s chocolate croissants.
Around Muslims, I have to hide that I’m queer. Around queer people, I have to forget that I’m Muslim. It is unbearably difficult to find a network of Muslims who are queer on this campus. I love the resources the MSA has given me, I really do. I have never felt more connected to my faith than last Ramadan because of the extensive support from the MSA. And I love each and every wonderful queer friend I’ve made on this campus; I have never been able to be so honest about my identity before. But I’m tired of being halved. I’m tired of watering down who I am to be more palatable to groups that are sometimes only tangentially related to my identity. The university loves their cura personalis, their “care for the whole person,” yet it feels like my whole person is forgotten.
Lailah Mozaffar is a sophomore in the College.