TO BE YOUNG, GAY AND AFRICAN
BY DIRIYE OSMAN
When I first came out to my family, most of them stopped talking to me. My father, who I was very close to, stopped speaking to me for two years before picking up the phone late one night to let me know that my being gay was not only an amoral form of psychic and sexual corruption but also an act of perverse, Western mimicry. I was not only going against my Islamic upbringing but my African heritage as well.
I was born in Somalia, and I spent my formative years living in Nairobi, Kenya, before moving to London. Somalia and Kenya may have many sociological and cultural divisions but both states stand firm on one soil when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. Any form of sexual difference is considered not only repugnant, but also devious precisely because sexual difference in Somalia and Kenya, like most African states, is a narrative best kept to oneself. If you want to spin this story publically and share your experiences as an LGBT person, you had best buckle up and brace yourself for physical abuse, ceaseless harassment, imprisonment or death. Things are considerably more lenient in Kenya than Somalia amongst the cultural elite, but both nations still have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring basic rights for their respective LGBT communities.
When I came out to my family I did not flinch. I spoke my truth and stood my ground knowing that I would be punished in some way for having the audacity to assert my identity. What upset my family the most was the fact that I was proud of being gay. They could not configure the possibility that after years of silence, timidity and self-doubt I had finally cultivated courage and the kind of confidence that comes with a hard-won sense of comfort in one’s own skin.
I come from a community that has been emotionally and psychologically traumatized by decades of civil war, mass migration and dislocation; a community that has through sheer collective willpower and survivalist instinct managed to rally together to form the tightest, most close-knit networks, with family life as the nucleus. In order to fully belong you must live up to absurd standards of virtue, honour and piety. The reality is no-one manages this, but the trick is to try or act like you’re trying. There are multiple degrees of scorn poured on any form of transgression: a girl without a headscarf is a harlot-in-training, and a teenager with a rebellious streak is ripe for daqan celis – a return to a grim part of Somalia for some much-needed ‘re-education’. All these taboos become miniscule in comparison to homosexuality. The fact that I wanted to write about my experiences as a young, gay Somali did more than grate on my family’s nerves. They were incensed enough to threaten me with violence, but I was smart enough to know that as a citizen of the UK there are laws that protect my rights as a gay man. This is a position of privilege, but it’s only a position of privilege because I fully understand and exercise these hard-won rights.
I arrived at this point of self-acceptance by doing what came best to me, what generations of the Somali community have always done in order to sustain themselves when crisis kicked off, I told stories. I told stories of what it meant to be young and endure struggle. I told stories of what it meant to fall in love with another man and for that love to be reciprocated in the face of rejection and familial disapproval. I told these stories repeatedly and I wrote them down by drawing on the gorgeous history and culture of the Somali people. It’s a natural human impulse to denounce the traditions of those who have rejected you, but I refused to do that. I wrote these stories down and compiled them into a collection of short fiction called “Fairytales For Lost Children”. These stories follow young, gay Somalis on the cultural and social periphery of both their adopted homelands of Nairobi and London as well as their motherland, Somalia. These characters experience a wide spectrum of dilemmas whether it is mental illness, civil war, immigration or complicated family histories. But they still hold on to their sense of humanity and optimism without the need for apology or victimhood.
When I published this book last year I received emails from young LGBT men and women from Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda telling me how much the stories meant to them, and how they felt a sense of solace knowing that I was telling these narratives without shame or fear. Shame and fear are the most potent weapons in the homophobe’s arsenal. If one rejects the notion that one has to be ashamed of being gay or lesbian, then half the battle is won.
With each email that I received I would not only encourage and motivate these young men and women as best as I could, but I would also tell them to go out into the world and form meaningful friendships and support networks where they could be themselves without fear of judgement. At a time when LGBT youth across the world are losing their lives to homophobic stigma it’s important to remind them that they are worthy and their lives have value.
As for me, I’m wise enough to know that struggle will always happen. That’s just the general texture of a life’s pattern. But I keep moving forward in the knowledge that I’m simply a voice in a chorus of voices united in the belief that equality on all fronts is not a privilege but a basic human right that we must continuously fight for and defend.
As for my young fellow LGBT Africans, I will say this again and again because it bears repeating.
It’s a beautiful thing to be young, gay and African.
Diriye Osman is photographed by Boris Mitkov.
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My friends decided to take a lovely pic for the Westboro Baptist Church. They’re not gay but they support gay rights
This is the most gangsta shit I have ever seen on tumblr
Not even a little bit sorry for posting color to my uncolored blog. This is amazing.
Literally the third time reblogging this, no regrets
Oh my god ahhahahaha
(via weallsay)Source: myintriguing
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by Khaled A. Beydoun
Every Friday after playing hours of basketball, Jihad packs his duffel bag and heads to the Mosque for the traditional afternoon prayer. Commingling with familiar faces at the Mosque offers him community, and prayer the spiritual exercise his love for basketball provides his wiry yet muscular frame.
With brothers to his left and right, and his aligned feet, closed eyes, and bowed head pointing straight to the east, Jihad blends seamlessly with the mosaic of multicultural Muslims worshiping in unison. The congregation of males locked in prayer a partial microcosm of Muslim America’s rich diversity.
The small parcel his body occupies in the prayer row marks his physical belonging in the Mosque, while the warm handshakes he exchanges with friends after prayer represents acceptance. Yet, a hidden identity could extinguish this belonging and acceptance in an instant.
Jihad’s rush to prayer is, in great part, driven by the safe haven the private exercise provides. Befitting his name, prostrating before God offers solace from an arduous struggle – namely, reconciling his steadfast identity as a Muslim American with his homosexuality.
On February 23, the Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins – making him the first openly gay man to play in the NBA. Collins’ coming out spoke to Jihad’s coexistent identification as a gay, Muslim American. ESPN analyst Chris Broussard labeled homosexuality, “an open rebellion toward God,” a criticism thankfully drowned out by the praise that Collins rightfully deserved. On February 8, Michael Sam – an All-American for the Missouri Tigers – announced:
“I am gay. I am an American football player,”making him the first openly gay athlete to compete in the NFL.
However, Jihad is not seven-feet tall with a seven-figure bank account, or a promising NFL prospect on the cusp of stardom. He’s a young, twenty-something shooting for the same goals of most everyone in his age bracket — a meaningful career, a family, and the support and acceptance of his family and community. But he is Muslim American and gay, two seemingly warring identities that — for the vast majority of Muslim Americans — are thought to be separate, unequal and irreconcilable.
Wars of the Worlds
Muslim America and the LGBTQ population are framed as two entirely independent communities. Indeed, the rigid caricatures assigned to both communities, combined with the Muslim America’s taboo relationship with homosexuality, have exacerbated the perception that the two are disconnected and distant. Jihad, and the struggle so many Muslim Americans like him endure, embodies not only an overlap of these two identities, but also their very real coexistence.
“Gay and Muslim American,” for both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans, reads like an oxymoron. Yet, is a largely harmonized yet hidden identity that characterizes the experience of many Muslim American men and women. Muslim America has long been caricatured along monolithic racial, spiritual and political lines — misrepresentations that distort its layered diversity.
Muslim America is not only caricatured as being uber-heterosexual, but also stridently homophobic. These are both generalizations, of course, but the wounding words of homophobes have drowned out the far-too-scarce declarations of support and solidarity within the Muslim-American community and, at their extreme, have intimidated supporters into silence.
Countering the monolithic image of the Muslim-American heterosexual is the critical mass of Muslim Americans who have come out, in the face of backlash and ostracism. Some mosques and religious leaders have opened their doors to out-of-the-closet members of their communities, but these are very rare exceptions.
One overarching Islamic staple has been overlooked and ignored — namely, that only God can judge each individual, and every Muslim’s relationship with God is private and precludes the meddling of others.
Muslim and American Marginals
Muslim Americans, particularly after 9/11, have faced a “shared rage” from both state and private citizens. Islamophobia is still rife today, and the criminalization of adherents and the faith at large highlights that the civil rights struggle for Muslim Americans is still in its nascent stages. For LGBTQ Muslim Americans, who sit at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities — the compounded violence against their bodies represents a heightened and compounded struggle that takes place within, and without their community.
Perhaps no struggle is more imposing that that faced by LGBTQ Muslim-Americans. LGBTQ Muslim Americans are stigmatized from without and, more acutely, from within their spiritual communities. Indeed, a vast portion of Muslim America feels that “coming out” must be accompanied by renouncing one’s adherence to Islam — or, de facto excommunication. This position marks one instance where the external caricaturing of Muslim America aligns with an internal platitude — namely, that homosexuality and adherence to Islam are clashing lifestyles that cannot be integrated.
However, for LGBTQ Muslim Americans, like Jihad, who devoutly practice their faith and deem it core to their identity, their intersecting marginalization and compounded struggles offer a hidden yet human counter-narrative.
Coming out the Crescent
In his article “Out Yet Unseen: A Racial Critique of Gay and Lesbian Legal Theory and Political Discourse,” University of Florida Law Professor Darren Hutchinson writes,
‘The symbolic meaning of the phrase ‘tongues untied’ has grown to identify a small, yet expanding, cultural, intellectual and artistic movement aimed at revealing — or ending the silence around — the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality.’
The observations made in Hutchinson’s important piece penetrate far beyond legal and political discourse, and pierce sharply into the everyday lives of LGBTQ Muslim Americans. The “tongues untied movement” he speaks of must be stretched to encompass religion, in addition to race, class, gender and sexuality, in order to speak to the distinct obstacles confronting LGBTQ Muslim Americans and their allies and usher in prospective coalitions forto support them. This will not only empower LGBTQ Muslim Americans to ultimately speak up, but also hopefully trigger what is perhaps a prerequisite to this step – encourage heterosexual and sympathetic elements within Muslim America, such as myself, to step forward in solidarity.
“Muslim American civil rights,” since 9/11, has saturated legal and political discourse and dominated the missions of Muslim American advocacy organizations. However, can Muslim American organizations and citizens advance a broad civil rights agenda without first redressing the harm to and facilitating the inclusion of perhaps the most damaged insular community within their ranks?
The Muslim-American struggle for full-fledged humanization and equal treatment under the law, ultimately, may not be fully realized until Jihad’s jihad for acceptance, is first achieved. Perhaps a Muslim Jason Collins, or a figure of similar stature and standing, is the essential first shot of the game.
But until that individual openly steps into the center, the ball is in our court — as heterosexual Muslim Americans — to unabashedly demonstrate that we are on the same team as our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Khaled A. Beydoun is a professor at the UCLA School of Law. Critical Race Theory and Criminal Law are his primary areas of expertise. He has published at top law reviews, including the Harvard Journal of Policy and the Howard Law Journal, and frequently writes for Al-Jazeera English. He is a native of Detroit, Michigan, and tweets @KhaledBeydoun.
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