Islamic and Gay
Dear Patrick: My family immigrated to Canada from Pakistan. My father has a friend back home, and it was always assumed or promised that I would marry his daughter. I met her during a family trip back to Pakistan when I was eight years old, and she seemed nice enough, but I don’t think I know her well enough to say that we would be happy if we were married! It was also expected that I would work in my father’s business. I was only able to change that plan by getting admitted to a university that trains students for medical school.
Finally the pressure to marry got so intense that I had to tell my parents that I am gay. I know this is true because I am very in love with my best friend. Unfortunately, he will never love me, but I remain true to him. I cannot have sex with someone I do not love.
Now my father is telling me that I have to drop out of school and get surgery to become a woman, that this is the only way to remain a good Muslim and go to heaven when I die. He is very ashamed of me and does not want me to come home. I have to stay at school even during holiday breaks. I have not talked to my mother or my younger siblings for months, and I am very worried about them. I miss my family. What on earth should I do? I realize that I do not fulfill my father’s idea of what a man should be but I do not see myself as a woman.
Stand your ground if you can. Being gay is not the same thing as being transgendered. A man who loves other men is still a man. Unless you have had a lifelong feeling that you were really a woman, getting a sex change is going to make you feel terrible. I doubt you could get a western doctor to agree with such a plan anyway. There are a handful of Muslim countries where this is the accepted process for “curing” homosexuality, but it is a bad idea that creates a great deal of individual misery.
You are in a very, very tough situation. Your father is only trying to wield as much authority as his culture tells him he should have. I doubt that he was ever educated about homosexuality. He probably has no idea how gay people live or what their relationships are like. By cutting you off from the rest of your family, he is putting you under even more pressure. Nobody can live for very long with the isolation and condemnation that you feel.
Seek out support from other gay Muslims. There are support groups on-line. Establish an e-mail address that you can use for this purpose to protect your identity, and see if you can find some friends. There are probably gay organizations at your school or in the city where it is located. Make a point of going to those as well. See if someone can recommend a gay-positive counselor who can help you to talk through what is going on in your family. Look for a therapist who is sensitive to other cultures.
Immigrant families often experience conflict between the ways of their homeland and the mores of a new country. If your father wasn’t upset about this, he would be apoplectic over the way your sisters dress or what they expect from their own romantic relationships. Members of traditional cultures often don’t see compromise as an option. But compromises can be created, often after years of struggle, because family ties are so strong, it isn’t really feasible to exile someone from the family.
Religious fundamentalism has created more anti-gay persecution than any other element in western civilization. Many other gay people will be able to identify with what you are experiencing, even if their families are Catholic or Southern Baptist rather than Muslim. I hope you can find safe places where you can speak out so you don’t feel that you are all alone. Without help, you may become dangerously depressed, and you may not be able to finish school. Look for healthy ways to cope rather than becoming involved in drugs or alcohol. And feel free to write again.