Amidst all the horror and heartbreak of Sunday’s coverage of the terrorist attack mass shooting that occurred in Orlando, two thoughts have kept creeping into my mind: “I should come out now,” quickly followed by “I can never come out now.”
I am an Arab-American young woman. I grew up with a family whose Islamophobia was only outweighed by their homophobia.
I have never fit in with my family–most of whom identify as white (we’re not), straight, and conservative Christian–but realizing I was queer terrified me. It’s not that my family’s Arab-American homophobia and the homophobia I see people facing every day in this country is different; they are not.
In fact, they look suspiciously the same: a sense of masculinity and whiteness that is harmful to all of us, a lack of understanding on what it means to be human, conservative faith and politics, dangerous and harmful rhetoric, learned hate.
The only difference is my family is homophobic in Arabic. Family dinners were nerve-wracking as my aunts and uncles and parents would nod approvingly with whatever anti-queer legislation they had recently heard about. I worry that one of my younger cousins will find my personal blog, one of the only places on the internet I mention in passing my unshakeable queerness (and I have tried to shake it), even if I don’t use my name on it.
I know that if my family were to find out I am queer, their response would destroy me. I worry about my parents’ anger, but I also worry that it would lead my dad to a heart attack or break my mother’s heart. I worry about losing my family.
I know that, right now, it is so important for queer communities be as vibrant and proud in themselves, their love and their community as ever. I know there is nothing wrong with being queer. I know who I would be, if I was out, and who I am–closeted–is the exact same person, except maybe I would be happier, more free, less scared all the time.
I know being a queer person of color comes with its own challenges and being a queer person of color is its own experience. I know all of this, but still, I am so so sorry I cannot come out and stand with all of you wonderful people who are fighting for justice for our communities. I feel like, in the wake of the tragedies that occurred this week, I should make it clear I am queer, like it’s my responsibility to come out, but I just can’t.
In the wake of what occurred in Orlando, I find myself feeling like a coward. I want to come out, I want to be proud, I want to go to the Twin Cities Pride and to queer clubs, I want to argue passionately for queer justice and I want to explore all the queer parts of me. But I can’t, not yet, not now.
I’ve stepped away from religion and stepped back into the most progressive, inclusive understanding of Catholicism I possibly can. Still, I wait hopefully by the TV every time the pope mentions the LGBTQ+ community. I know that, in this way, I am so much more privileged than my queer, Muslim brothers and sisters who are under attack for both their queerness and their faith.
I hope that in these days we can ally ourselves and defend the Latinx communities, queer communities, and Muslim communities—our oppression and our liberation are surely linked. I know that as a queer, closeted, Catholic, it is my responsibility to stand up and stand strong for our communities, to challenge those in positions of power in whatever ways I can, and to use my ally-ship as needed by our communities. It’s a responsibility I find precious to who I am and how I practice my queerness and my faith.
I know that living with this feeling of fear, of cowardice, isn’t healthy, nor do I think it’s the appropriate response. I would not want any queer young person discovering themselves and what it means to be queer to feel like a coward for staying in the closet when it’s for their own safety. I just can’t seem to apply the same standard to myself.
And, honestly, I don’t quite have the words for all the thinking that is happening in my head. Growing up in the communities in which I grew up meant going as far as getting a bachelor’s degree that will never be used, getting married young, and having many, many children, all of which I have rebelled against.
My father and mother grew up in a small town in the Middle East. Their families still live in that tiny village, which has two fundamentalist churches, and no queer people are allowed. And while the capital city might have a growing underground queer movement, the state newspaper’s article on the attack on The Pulse nightclub in Orlando does not even mention in passing that it was a queer club. The comments on the article argue passionately to what degree the country is homophobic and which Middle Eastern country is worse or better.
I want to be out and proud and Arab-American and a person of color and a young woman and, and, and, and. I want to be all the parts of me, but this will likely never happen. I desperately wanted to put my real name on this column. I want to shout “I’m queer too,” but I can’t figure out how to connect my hand, heart and head to make those things happen.
I want to be part of Minnesota’s queer communities, I want to celebrate us and I don’t want to have to mourn us, I don’t want to worry about talking about queerness so much that somebody might suspect I am anything other than 100 percent straight. I want to explore all the ways in which I can explore my queerness. Right now my exploration is limited to my head and heart. I’ve never, ever been in a queer relationship, but I want to explore that. I want to explore who I am as a sexual being, as someone physical, as someone real and solid and breathing. I want to explore my queerness through more than books, through more than just anonymous columns, through more than just wishing and hoping I can belong to queer communities and networks and relationships.
Mostly though, I am sorry, I really am so very, very sorry, I am not there with you. I promise you it’s not from hate, it’s not from a lack of love or caring, it’s not because I am trying to create distance. It’s because I am scared.