I was dumbfounded to hear from my godson that after conversing with our Shaykh (religious scholar), they concluded that I had become a lesbian because I was a single parent and was both mother and father to my son.
This is the most outrageous remark I have ever heard, let alone from a scholar.
Some things that upset me:
- Apparently, 20 years of being a single parent magically transformed me into a lesbian.
- Why is it that two men, one of whom has never been a parent, feel the right to presume they know what being a single parent or being a lesbian is like?
- Due to his position in the community, the scholar’s nonsensical reasoning is likely to be adopted unquestioningly by many people.
It will not surprise anybody to learn that there are a lot of single mothers who are heterosexual. It will probably also not surprise anybody to learn that I had feelings for girls not just before I was a single parent, but even before I was married.
I realised I was a lesbian when I was really young, probably around 6 or 7 years old. I loved playing with boys’ toys, wearing boys’ clothes, and playing with boys. I remember once my mom bought me this big, plastic doll, and I yanked out the doll’s head and used it to play soccer with my brother. I remember when I was undergoing puberty, I wondered when my penis would start to grow from between my legs. Being masculine made me feel most like myself, and gave me the freedom to be who I was.
I had crushes on girls but suppressed them because I did not know what it was or how I should react to it, especially because most of my classmates had crushes on or were going steady with the opposite gender. Back then, there was no such thing as LGBT or gay or lesbian. But I knew that I was different. I even went for conversion therapy with an Islamic medium to try to be straight or ‘normal’ (more on that story another time).
I knew that I was not interested in men at all and I did not even think of getting married. Unfortunately, I was matchmade and married to a man whom I didn’t even have the chance to really know well. Five times, I tried to break off the engagement; Five times I failed. As the daughter of an ustazah (religious teacher), I knew that if I came out publicly or lived an authentic life, it would have devastating repercussions for her. She probably would not have been able to stay an ustazah. So even though I knew that I did not want to be married, out of a mix of fear and love, I sought to preserve my mum’s reputation in the community and lived a fairytale life as a married woman. I was trapped in my fake, closeted life.
It was only after my mother’s death, eight years after my divorce, that I began to accept myself. I finally let myself fall in love, and I came to terms with who I was and who I am.
But back to the religious scholar and my godson. First of all, both of them know me. If they wanted to know more about me or my sexual orientation, they could easily have asked me. Though I had previously come out to my godson, no one, not even my godson, has the right to treat my life story as a conversation topic, especially when it concerns a very personal and intimate part of my life.
I would much rather the scholar have clarified with me first. Unfortunately, this rarely happens because women have no right to speak to male scholars directly and need to have a (male) middle person intercede on their behalf. This is the 21st century. Why do we still need men to be the voice of women? Why can’t women have their own voices, their own opinions? I feel this needs to be stopped. At the very least, I would have preferred if the scholar had just concluded that he did not know why I was a lesbian, rather than making assumptions.
This is especially because his half-baked opinions can have a lot of consequences. His opinions are amplified by the fact that he is well-known and people look up to him. Furthermore, it is common in our culture for people to adopt an ideology wholesale from scholars without using their own personal intellect. They have let the scholars become their Quran and their intellect. This is ironic, given that in the Quran, Allah referred to these people as deaf and dumb.
“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)
So all the people he speaks to might go away thinking that all women who become single parents will end up as lesbians. His opinion also characterizes homosexuals as having psychological problems, rather than merely being Allah’s creation. It is baseless and it shows his lack of understanding about homosexuality. There are scholars who have gone to great lengths to explain homosexuality in Islam, such as Samar Habib and Prof Dr Siraj Kugle.
I really hope that one day, there can be a kinder consensus amongst scholars on the issue of homosexuality in the Quran like there has been on khunsa (intersex) people. We should go through the Quran in more depth, and not take issues of context and language lightly. Even if this consensus never happens, I hope that at the very least, we can refrain from assuming or judging before hearing each other’s stories.
Written for THC.sg, by Zuereka (5th Feb 2018)
Edited by edify (9th Feb 2018 )