Eight years old – you hunch over the Quran reciting verses, as Maulana peels a golden star off a sticker sheet – that he’ll soon stick onto the back of your hand with an affirmative nod and a “Shaabash, beta, Allah is very happy with you today.”
You sit up straighter and tighten the scarf draped around your head, eager to assure Allah that you’re a Good Muslim. Your finger stiffens as it traces the delicate curves of the Arabic alif and laam and meem engraved into the pages of the Quran, and you fervently hope that Allah is observing your antics. You imagine Him perched on a throne with a notebook and a pen, placing a tick against your name to confirm your presence in Heaven.
It’s a chilly, Friday evening when Maulana – with his wide, expressive eyes and ochre, paan-stained teeth – announces that Islam considers the marriage of a man and a woman to be a contract. You giggle and blush, unaccustomed to conversations about the M-word.
Raising your head shyly, you stumble over your words as you ask if you can marry a woman instead. Instantly, your lungs seem to fill with a tsunami of panic, as you witness his usually warm eyes crackle – the first grey clouds of a storm saturating the brown hue of his eyeballs.
His voice morphs into a deep, animalistic growl – “Beti, men can never, ever, ever marry men, and women can never, ever, ever marry women! It’s haram ( forbidden). The Quran says that anyone who breaks this rule should be stoned to death. Allah will never forgive those who commit this sin. Do you understand, beti?”
You don’t tell Maulana that your best friend has the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. You don’t tell him about her lips – soft, plump and pink; and the acid that drills holes into your gut each time she touches you.
You merely remain silent,
but your scarf hangs more loosely than before.
Fifteen years old – you stare at your worn rubber chappals until they form a befogged kaleidoscope of squares and triangles. You’ve just come out to your mother.
Her voice echoes harshly in the background of your mind until it forms a robotic screech; and all you can make out amidst the befuddled cacophony of syllables that seem to be jigsaw pieces of an imaginary puzzle- are the words “unnatural”, “abnormal”, “freak”…
Learn to ignore the searing pain in your heart that starts creeping in from the creased edges, and slowly makes its way in.
Don’t fall into the trap of wishy-washy Boo hoo, how can my owm mother treat me in this cruel, insensitive way! Poor me! sentimentalities.
All you can do is wonder why Allah created you, if all he desired was for you to live an empty, broken life. One devoid of happiness or meaning.
“If homosexuality is “abnormal”, why was I born this way?” You demand indignantly.
Your mother sighs.
Don’t ask questions you don’t wish to know the answers to;
Merely purse your lips and agree with everything your mother says.
Do not think about the girl you saw last week – the one with hair the color of midnight. Swallow a mouthful of acid to kill the butterflies in your stomach that flutter each time you recall the taste of her voice.
I’m an abnormal freak, I’m an abnormal freak, I’m an abnormal freak – whisper it to yourself until you sound sincere enough;
Whisper it to yourself until it sounds like poetry. Until you believe it to be true.
Whisper it to yourself until you convince your pitiful heart that there is no place in this world for Muslims or for bisexuals – and God forbid you’re born a mutated hybrid of the two.
“Allah created homosexuals as a divine test. Being gay isn’t a sin, but acting on your urges is,” your mother finally murmurs in response. You avert your gaze and wonder why Allah chose you to be his guinea pig. Isn’t God supposed to love his people? Isn’t he supposed to be a guiding light in our darkest times? Why then, must he subject you to a life of abstinence and misery – merely because you dream of devouring the crimson, velvet fruit that lies in the apex of a woman’s thighs.
The exhaustion of leading two separate lives often manifests itself as a painful longing to question the fundamental values of life and religion, to fuel a rebellion, to challenge the Shariah which tells me that my love is dirty or impure.
You play Good Muslim around chacha and chachi – who pinch your cheeks, draw your scarf of lies over a forgotten strand of stray hair, and shower praise upon your mother for raising a Namaazi beti.
At school, you assume the Comfortable In Her Bisexual Identity role around your friends who tell you that you’re brave, and a fighter. And you smile and thank them, ignoring the sinking feeling that you’re living a lie – a feeling which accumulates in your chest and hardens like month-old tartar stuck in the crevices of your molars.
You wonder why your two identities form a null set, and never a convergence: A ? B.
And you hope and pray that someday the Venn diagram of your life will display two converging circles: being bisexual ? being a Muslim.
And maybe someday, it will.
Someday, your love will stop being dirty – and the pain won’t hurt anymore.