“What would you do if your kid was gay?”
The question lingers heavily in the air between all of us like pungent perfume. The six or so people gathered together at the table finishing up last-minute Arabic homework glance up slowly, tentatively. The vibe shifts in our previously joking little group, unbeknownst to the rest of the Saturday school Arabic class.
“I … don’t know,” someone says with a small, incredulous chuckle. It never seemed to dawn on us to actually think about this question before. Before I can think of anything else to follow up with, the teacher starts the usual vocabulary drillings.
When there’s another “individual work” period — aka “look like you’re working whenever the teacher looks in your direction” period — another friend from the same group turns to me.
“No, really,” she pauses. “I don’t know what I would do, either.”
“What can you do, really?” I add lightly, mainly just to give a response.
This isn’t an Islamic class, but everyone here is Muslim. Old Islamic proverbs are brought up regularly as examples, which many of us are familiar with. It’s a pretty religiously-charged environment, even if it doesn’t say so on paper. Still, none of us are diehard conservative Muslims, and my classmates’ stances on the LGBTQ+ community range from live-and-let-live to intensely advocating for gay rights.
That being said, most of the other first-generation kids that I know of (they’re all mostly Desi as well) were all raised with the viewpoint that being gay is unnatural and usually taboo to speak of. Most of us didn’t fully inherit that mentality, but, judging from our hesitance and our worried glances, it clearly still lingered in us, another struggle of haphazardly balancing the spinning plates of tradition and tolerance.
For the next week, I asked that question to almost every young Muslim I know, including my brother, who spent four years memorizing the Quran. Everyone gave different answers, but overwhelmingly, many of the people I asked, including those who openly advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, had never entertained the idea that their own child could be a part of that community.
The double-edged sword is difficult to come to terms with. You always want your child to be comfortable in their own skin and accepted by their family, obviously. You also ideally want to raise a child who values their faith. How can you raise a queer child in a faith that condemns queer people?
Every first-generation queer person I know hasn’t come out to their parents, and the rare out queer Muslims that I know never plan on it. It’s unnerving to me because at the surface, their families seem to be following their faith very well, and that’s mostly the reason why they’ll never come out.
I know in a heartbeat I would never want my child or loved one to be with me worrying that I have a lingering disapproval of them in the back of my mind whenever they talk to me or that they’ve disappointed me somehow. That would never be the case. It’s not that I would have a problem with my kid’s sexuality, but my upbringing taught me not to accept it. And clearly, a lot of people are not okay with letting that part of themselves go. Change from tradition is always rough and frankly really confusing to think about.
So many religious families are forced to answer this exact question, and they clearly do it in a wide variety of ways. It’s clear that when people come to a decision on how to respond to their newly-out queer kid, it’s a lot harder than people seem to think.
I admire the strength of those who still choose to come out to their strictly religious families in spite of obvious obstacles. And then I remember that so many families across the country are not even close to accepting of queer lifestyles. It can cause some serious damage on kids who have to go through that hate from people who are supposed to support them, especially if they have no other support system.
The truth is, there’s nothing anyone could say to stop someone from being LGBT if that’s who they truly are, nor should there be. If my child (or my friend, family member, etc.) is gay, it’s not about me. They’re just letting me in on their lives, and it’s up to me on what type of influence I want to be on it.
For those of you who already have, I hope I haven’t let you down.
Subaita writes the Monday column on Muslim identity. Contact her at [email protected].