Ramadan. Month of the Quran. Month of reflection. Month of forgiveness.
So many names. It brings up so much just to say the name in my head. I remember it as if it was from a past life. The laughter. The joy of breaking the fast. The beautiful food cooked by my mum. The scrambling towards the door for prayer. Falling asleep whilst standing and leaning against the leg of some adult as a kid. I have so many good memories, so much that brings me happiness. But it’s a framed feeling. I have it in my head on display, to look at, but I can no longer access it. I feel as if, by walking the path I’m on now, I have been cut off from this world forever.
When I walk down the street, I think people know I’m queer. In both senses of the word. Long hair with streaks of blonde. Clothes that would look at home on an 80s partygoer. Double piercings on both ears, and a nose piercing to match. I wear myself on my sleeve. Almost as an act of defiance to the years when that part of me was kept in the dark.
I am so different to who I was so many years ago, both inside and out. Growing up deeply religious, the structure of my life back then is at such odds with the world I exist in now. I struggle to remember it without the feeling of discomfort mixed with strong nostalgia.
“What I miss is the vast world that came with it. It truly was, for all intents and purposes, a pillar of my life.”
Ramadan wasn’t something that just walked into my life, it existed there from the very beginning. This holy month was simply something that existed as a building block of my early years, and so it became a foundational part of the life I was given. The fasting, the pride in my parents’ eyes when I prayed on time, the joy of seeing me fast on certain days – I have all these memories that are woven together, so that I may never forget them.
I don’t necessarily miss what Ramadan stands for, the religiousness of it, or the meaning behind it. What I miss is the vast world that came with it. It truly was, for all intents and purposes, a pillar of my life. And such a pillar is never really forgotten or replaced. I will never remember my early life without the shadow or the light of Ramadan.
Yet, I would come to know its loss. I would question it as I had so readily accepted it before. I would learn to distrust it, not in any way that questioned its sense of right or wrong, but as a part of a movement that I became displaced from. I would become distanced from the world it was an integral part of, and in doing so I would lose the chance to carry out the rituals. And so I lost something I had attached so much of myself to.
“As I grow ever closer to the truest version of myself – a happy, queer, non-binary, gender non-conforming person of colour – I grow ever further from that pillar I leant on in my younger years.”
I came out ‘officially’ when I was 18. The start of university. Spirits high as I began to really learn who I was and what the moving parts of my brain meant. The complicated feelings that had been running around my head all my life started to make sense.
My life became a perfect analogy of the term ‘bittersweet’. Here I was, aware of myself for the first time. The feeling of coming out is not something to be put down or thrown aside as an activity that means nothing in the grand scheme of the world. It’s a feeling that I will forever treasure. It’s freedom. You can finally lift your head from the rock you either had no idea was the weight hurting your neck, or were too scared to move for fear of what you would see when it’s removed. It’s a feeling of giddy lightness, of adrenaline rushing through your body, the power of self finally starts to gleam a little, and the comfort of self-assurance arrives to lay an arm around your shoulders.
That’s the sweet bit. The bitter part comes later.
Religion hasn’t been the kindest to the queer identity. Or at least, the orthodox side of it hasn’t. I have come out more times than I thought I would ever need to. And as I grow ever closer to the truest version of myself – a happy, queer, non-binary, gender non-conforming person of colour – I grow ever further from that pillar I leant on in my younger years. I made peace with the idea that in order to be happy and to feel satisfied within myself, I would have to lose the religion ingrained into my existence.
“There are Muslims out there who also identify as queer, who practice the love and the moral qualities of the religion, and still manage to welcome their true identities with open arms.”
I pegged the idea of religion to things I held dear. My family, my love of food, the movies I had watched, the memories of playing with my siblings, and of sun and laughter. But it was also associated with crying and sadness. I would have to give it all up. I had to tear myself away from these aspects of my life. Tearing my very soul from the cot it had lain in for so long.
I just couldn’t marry up the idea of religion with freedom of identity, however hard I tried. Not when they existed in my mind as complete opposites. I had beaten myself up for so long trying to reach one, because of being trapped in the other, so for them to work together just could never be.
And yet, I have actually learnt to respect religion, rather than blindly trust or distrust it, and understand that the narrow, harsh version I was taught isn’t the only version that exists. There are Muslims out there who also identify as queer, who practice the love and the moral qualities of the religion, and still manage to welcome their true identities with open arms.
“It pains me to remember what I ‘chose’ to leave behind, because of choices I felt that I was forced to make. I feel a loss that has never been explored, an open wound that has never been touched since it was made.”
But, even after knowing that, the pang of loneliness still seeps in. It pains me to remember what I ‘chose’ to leave behind, because of choices I felt that I was forced to make. I feel a loss that has never been explored, an open wound that has never been touched since it was made. I don’t have many Muslim friends these days or even very many friends who are of colour. That isn’t to say my friends are not the loves of my life. They are my strength, forever and always. But for all their love and support, they cannot access this world I have up here. There are parts they won’t ever experience and things they may never understand, just as I won’t for them.
Perhaps I would still practice Ramadan if I could. But all those I know who do practice are those who would shun the person I am now, in favour of the person I fought so hard to climb out of. It’s a part of me that never gets explored anymore, unless I’m alone, and so it feels almost too painful to reach out for.
There are so many of us. I know there are. We are the ones who still feel a connection, but have been disallowed that connection, simply because of who we are. We are the people floating in between two worlds: the queer folk who miss Ramadan.
Dawood is a freelance journalist and filmmaker, studying marine biology at the University of Portsmouth. They also speak and write about a range of issues, from diversity and politics to conservation and climate justice. @GoWildForBees
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