Reading two new books on LGBTQ identity gave me pause to reflect on the fact that identity is an ongoing issue for all of us -- particularly those of us in the LGBTQ community. Perhaps this is particularly true as the mainstream widens to assimilate us.
A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultural Well-Being by Ellen D. B. Riggle and Sharon S. Rostosky (Rowman and Littlefield, 2012) talks about the unique strengths that being LGBTQ can engender, including looking at relationships differently, having compassion for other oppressed groups based on our own "outsider" status, and using the introspection that comes from the necessary self-understanding about your sexual orientation or gender identification to be true to yourself in all ways.
For example, a 68-year-old lesbian living in Kentucky is quoted as saying:
Being lesbian gives me the freedom to be who I am, rather than trying to figure out how to become the woman society expects me to be. That is very empowering! It seems to clarify the ways that I interact with the world. It makes the patriarchal world stand out in contrast as limiting to women (and I might add, men too). It feels like a totally normal way to "be in the world" and I wonder why everyone isn't as lucky as I am.
A 57-year-old trans woman from Arizona is quoted likening her transition to a spiritual experience:
The transition in crossing genders was a spiritual adventure to me. Facing all the fears that are there, such as losing one's job, losing friends, losing finances and one's home was very fearful. Facing those fears, and realizing that I was willing to lose all these things to be myself was a sacred and spiritual experience. To walk thru the possibilities of losing everything gave me an understanding of what the Buddhists call "attachments to desires," and when I lost those attachments, it felt as though I had entered a new world, where everything is possible, and magic is all around.
Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims by Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle (New York University Press, 2014) examines the lives of Muslim LGBTQ people who live in democratic countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States, where it is safe to be out and to be activists.
The book emphasizes that a key tenet of the Muslim religion is to protect the vulnerable and help the downtrodden. The book is based on interviews designed to "capture something of the unique personality of the activist interviewed while highlighting themes that many have in common."
All those interviewed have a very strong relationship to their faith. One lesbian recounts her struggle with getting her family to see the situation as she did:
I didn't see any contradiction between my being Muslim and my being a lesbian. ... Islam ... is a loving faith. It is accepting of diversity and it is about justice. ... [M]y faith ... has always kept me going."
Some of those interviewed in this book also talk about being alienated from "mainstream" LGBTQ culture:
Gay and lesbian Arabs in Amsterdam established a different sort of organization, called Stitching Habiba Ana ("My Beloved" Society). It began as a cafe run by and for gay and lesbian activists who felt alienated from Dutch homosexual venues, either because of racist attitudes encountered there or just because they missed Arab dance music.
While Living Out Islam will be of the most interest to Muslim people who are LGBTQ, it also serves as a helpful resource for their families and friends, as well as for those in the non-Muslim LGBTQ community who want to better understand and empathize.
Reading these books back-to-back reminded me that identity is almost always multilayered and, at the same time, fragile. It's important to remember who we are.
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.
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