please don’t force me back into the closet
I’m fully aware that I’m publishing this post a full day late. Here’s a sort-of explanation for what’s been occupying my thoughts and causing me so much anxiety for those 24 hours that I forgot to write.
he makes me uncomfortable.
how do i validate being scared of someone who’s never touched me?
can i get a restraining order based on discomfort around a person’s presence?
should i abandon my living plans for next year because he’ll be on the same floor?
There’s this guy who hangs around my apartment building a lot. Doesn’t live here, just sits out by the couches more hours a day than I’m even here, smokes cigarettes that aren’t allowed on campus anymore (but I never tell him off — I always ask another RA to do it, so that I don’t have to go near him). We first met last year. He saw me in a hijab, walking to the masjid. A twenty minute conversation ensued — he’s Indian, and recently converted to Islam. Despite my attempts to avoid him after a few more encounters, we still run into each other frequently, and I’m often pulled into 5–10 minute conversations while trying to get to class on time. All he talks about is Islam.
When I talk about reconciling queerness with Islam, I am talking about my own faith, not the religion anybody else has claimed and fitted to themselves. When people pool their personal spiritual beliefs together in an attempt to define their collective faith, they form culture.
What makes me so uncomfortable about this guy is not his claiming of the same religion I claim. It’s how he stirs his brand of Islam into all the patriarchal bits of South Asian culture to create a unique blend of discomfort and condemnation. It’s how he says “there are a lot of non-Muslims on the 6th floor this year” with a disdain I haven’t found anywhere in my own generations-of-Muslims family. I made the mistake of letting him know I’m the RA on the Muslim floor of my apartment. This only increased his expectation of me being a Modest Muslim Girl (and I am only 1/3 of those things). When he saw me wearing a cropped tank once, he stared pointedly at my midriff and said “nice shirt” in a stiff voice that made it clear that he did not approve.
When I think about living in the same hallway as him next year, always running into him in the laundry room, sharing an elevator for six floors — my stomach turns and I want to cancel my contract immediately. Living at university, away from my parents, has signified freedom for me. It’s the place outside the closet, where I can acknowledge my queerness without constantly reviewing what my family perceives from the way i present myself. I do not want to be forced back into a closet by constantly worrying that I may run into this person, around whom I am not comfortable acknowledging my queer identity.
I really want to lighten up my goddamn posts, but it seems I’ve picked the wrong topic to do that. The funniest thing I can think about that relates to South Asian queerness is that at family gatherings, all the closeted queers in my family manage to find themselves in the same place — usually by the kofta salan, piling huge amounts of naan onto our plates in order to stuff our faces and avoid talking to anyone that might see through our straight/cis facades.
Seriously. Pigging out is all I can do to keep from screaming every time somebody asks me when I’m going to start looking for a nice Muslim boy, and then brings up about 8 family friends they think would make excellent suitors.
*shovels biryani into mouth at 5 spoonfuls a second*
THIS WAS LITERALLY THE ENTIRETY OF MY WINTER BREAK SPENT IN PAKISTAN.
Now that I don’t live with my family any more, I get dragged to considerably fewer gatherings of South Asian aunties and uncles and “cousins” (???), and have thus had more freedom to stop pretending that one day I’m going to marry Khalid or Ahmed or Hamza or Shariyar. God fucking bless.
So naturally, HELL IF ANYONE’S GONNA TRY TO TAKE THIS FREEDOM AWAY FROM ME.
For someone who complains so much about being surrounded by whiteness and not being allowed to show off my culture with pride, I spend a lot of time avoiding said culture. The current aura of mutual exclusivity that surrounds queerness and desi identity pushes me away from a vibrant culture I really want to embrace.
What I don’t want to embrace is the misogyny and queerphobia woven throughout parts of that culture.
What I don’t want to embrace is exactly the feeling of dread I get from seeing the guy I try so hard to avoid coming into contact with.
I’m not yet sure what I’ll do about this living situation.
But hell, I’ll fight for my right to be queer as fuck and desi as fuck without feeling threatened by my neighbors.
Have a gay day, folks.