Yiayia is home from the moon

She’ll be out of bed/ as soon as the nurse comes to hold her wires and tubes– those android veins delivering hospital food and hospital oxygen–and the cyborg nervous system reading the vitals of her body,/ a body more fleshy than ever/ and I to steady her cold bones/ and walk two, three steps with her to the chair “na sikothó” she says in her tired voice./ She’ll put her feet on the cold floor/ and walk like an astronaut home from the moon.

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Shameful Pleasures, Pleasurable Shame: Some thoughts on queer Muslim experiences of (re)citing the Qur’an

The Qur’an–or any book for that matter–can cause a lot of shame. And for those of us who find it most difficult to mold ourselves to Islamic norms, we might be more familiar with it than other Muslims. Because this emotion is so common among queer Muslims, it is worth thinking about. And how I want to talk about it is even more important. When shame comes up in conversation, I have the habit of framing it within some neat and tidy story about arriving at more liberating interpretations. I might say something like: “Oh, I used to feel shame but alhamdulillah not anymore.” I find that shame is much easier to talk about when I’ve imagined that I’ve finally surpassed it. Found myself liberated on the other side of some closet door. So my starting point is considering shame as something that, in reality, probably never leaves us. For me, it continually returns to me, unsettles me. It’s always resisting my desire for closure.

Perhaps the reason I find it so difficult to face the way shame actually operates in my life and in many other queer lives is that it is too uncomfortable to look at in the eye. But, following the lead of the late queer theorist Eve Sedgwick, I want to resist the urge to look away and instead reflect on it. I want to reflect on what it does to us queer Muslims, what it says about us, and how our experiences of it shape us.

I want to argue along with Sedgwick that shame may not merely be a common experience for us LGBTQ+ folks; it might actually be formative to our very identities, absolutely integral to the performance and re-citation of our queerness. I make this argument because we ought not to be allergic to talking about shame. Rather than pretend we’ve surpassed it or believe in its eventual disappearance from our lives, I think it is much more fruitful to talk about the ways it (continually) shapes who we are as queer people of faith. And shame, as something that we experience and perform over and over again, is also something that not only insists upon our existence but can remake us in enticingly queer ways too.

In a phrase, shame matters to our queerness.

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Queerness, Embodied Shame, and Saying “no” to Marriage

Recently, a gay Muslim friend asked me when I was getting married. I could have laughed. Kept the question in the realm of the jocular. Instead, I responded that I didn’t really want marriage anymore.

“Why? I thought that was your thing?”

It was this why that I did not know how to answer. Especially as it demanded an explanation for my giving up something that was apparently a constitutive part of me. Something that was my “thing,.”

I had had a lot of thoughts on the matter but I had already decided that anything I would have said at that moment would have been an insufficient explanation to what was no longer a mere question but a pointed accusation. Not wanting marriage carried so much more weight than a personal preference. The position required a defense. And it required a response to every question carried behind that weighty why: if you love him, why won’t you marry him? Aren’t you committed? Now how will you reconcile your relationship with your religion? How will you reconcile your sexuality with your religion? How will you finally make sleeping with your boyfriend right before God? How do you plan on being a good Muslim now that marriage is off the table?

I forgot my lame attempt at an answer. Maybe something like “it feels too straight to me” and then feeling terribly dismissive of the institution he clearly still valued. Luckily, our conversation moved on to other things. But his why remains with me, an important ethical and theological demand for me to take account of where I’m at today when it comes to regulating relationships, sex, and romance.

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Resurrection before resurrection

The altar was a home
where belonging was never settled,
around which every space and no space
was for those in love with God’s body,
every place and no place for loving Christ
with all our hearts and all our bodies.

We were all in the bridal chamber
waiting for the god-groom to enter,
yet every desire of un-divine flesh
the priest wanted us to confess.

God never really ever entered
the bridal chamber of this altar.
Every time Christ’s body entered my mouth
I remembered my lust for others.

Where, then, oh God
can I meet you in love?

Jesus, son of Mary said:

“when you pray, go into your room and close your door.”

Those of us who already worship behind closed doors
know this in our skin.

It is in my bedroom where I hear God say
that he was a hidden treasure and loved to be known.
Here, his other-worldly presence captures me in its gravity.
He makes me a hidden treasure,
And I want to be known by him.

His gravity does not pull down;
it warps the space time around me,
in the way he gently curves his presence into my bed.
The tighter my orbit around his existence,
the wider time becomes
and merely living no longer makes sense.
He makes my heart beat
as if it has never given me life before,
because his eyes have slaughtered me.
He creates me out of nothing,
then kills me,
then creates me again,
resurrected
before the day of resurrection.

As I touch him,
he has already taken into account my every cell,
measured every curve of my fingertips.
He was already closer to me than my jugular vein.
I am accounted for
before the day of accounting.

This life continues to eat away at me.
My body is decomposing in the earth
desiring the homeland I will never reach.
I continually fail to survive this diaspora,
but here in my bed, he brings me back to himself again and again.
Meeting me in my brokenness, torn-apart-ness.

He puts me back together,
Atom by atom, saying
kun fayakun,
be and it is,
just as it was with Adam,
gathered
before the day of gathering.

Here in my room,
behind the closed door,
I stay up late,
standing and prostrating,
my body meeting his.
As he meets me in my entirety,
I collapse into his eternity.
The “you” in kun
is where I’ll forever be lost-found,
for if the trees were pens,
and the seas ink,
his divine words would never be completed.
I drown in his speech,
this recitation on my lips, on my tongue.
Instead of pens, I am praying with these trees,
intoxicated by the musk of their flowers.
Instead of ink, these seas are wine,
and I am drunk off a cup bearer’s smile,
in a daze, stupefied
by this nur I see in a thousand faces
and I am polyamorous,
feeling this stupor of love
this sakratu’l-mawt
this intoxication of death before death.

Do I believe in the resurrection?
And my body responds:
Don’t you believe in the way
he gives you your every breath,
as much as he takes it away?

Notes: once during Sunday school our teacher wrote down the four Greek words for love (αγάπη, φιλία, στοργή, έρως). All these words label the ways we love God. The question he asked that so quieted that room continues to quiet my own spirituality: can we love God with éros? Can we love God erotically? Sexually? 

Love is about connecting to God and similar to my own worshipping, the worshipping of others (especially non-humans) has also followed me. Namely, the Qur’anic references to birds, or everything in the universe praising the divine. A friend at the 2017 LGBTQ Muslim Retreat reminded me of this, sharing a story of their mother explaining why the branches of the willow tree sway. They ended their reflection with a prayer: “may we pray with the trees this weekend.”

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Book Review: Anthony Petro’s After the Wrath of God

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After the Wrath of God, published by Oxford University Press (2015)

In After the Wrath of God, Anthony Petro writes about the role American Christianity has played in shaping the religious, political, and moral discourses on the AIDS epidemic. Christian responses to the epidemic were diverse and Petro goes beyond those which describe it as the wrath of God. These responses were focused on evangelizing for a particular vision of sexual ethics: abstinence and monogamous marriage. American Christians, specifically conservative evangelicals and Catholic leaders, believed that AIDS could not be solved by medicine alone; it required a moral stance on sexuality. In this way, moralizing the AIDS epidemic allowed the religious (and influenced politicians and public opinion) to formulate a new sexual ethics. Continue reading

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Book Review: Jahangir and Abdullatif’s Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions

Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions is an important contribution to the academic discourse that attempts to formulate queer-affirming approaches to Islamic texts and traditions. Junaid Jahangir and Hussain Abdullatif write about the juristic and exegetical work of Muslim scholars, both contemporary and classical, as well as recent research on sex, sexuality, and gender done by academics in Islamic studies. It is fitting that Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, the author of the groundbreaking Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims (2010), wrote the forward to Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. Kugle’s writing and Junaid and Abdullatif’s jointly authored work are both labors of love for their Islamic faith. Jahangir and Abdullatif take religious tradition seriously while advocating for interpretations of that tradition to center the humanity of queer Muslims. Continue reading

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Book Review: Najmabadi’s Professing Selves

In Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran, Afsaneh Najmabadi writes about the lives of contemporary transgender Iranians. In several ways, her book is a sequel to her Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (2005). This past work explored the shifts in Iranian constructions of sex/gender/sexuality from the Qajar period to the Pahlavi dynasty. She documented the adoption of the modern gender and sexuality binary and how that intersected with Iranian masculinity, femininity, family, and nationalism. Professing Selves picks up this social history after the fall of the Pahlavi state with the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In contrast to Women with Mustaches, ethnography forms the heart of her book. She started fieldwork in Iran in 2006, interviewing transgender men and women, psychologists, doctors, and clerics. Her book focuses on the lives of her transgender informants but with important considerations of how the scientific, medical, legal, and religious discourses inform trans and other non-heteronormative lives. Continue reading

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