“It Doesn’t Surprise Me That It Took Me Over Three Years to Speak Publicly About Being Muslim and Trans.”
The first time I spoke on a stage was at Reclaim the Night, Brighton in 2012. It was the first time I had spoken publicly about being trans. My audience were feminists, and we spent the night marching through the streets to raise awareness of violence against women and trans people, something that was definitely missing in other Reclaim the Night protests where trans people have been excluded and banned from attending. The evening was full of passion and rage, and I left full of pride.
I never hesitated to speak on stage, to tell my story. I knew from the moment I accepted I was trans, that my story was not one that was told. For queer and trans people of colour, our stories are often told for us. Our voices are silenced, our identities are erased, and our own stories become very quickly about survival.
It has always been apparent to me that queerness is not something visible in non-white cultures. This was the history I was told. But this was the history rewritten by those that colonised the land of my mother and father, who criminalised queer in our land, and from then on, queer became synonymous with sin.
We’re in a culture that teaches queer people that we don’t deserve to be religious. We are taught to put faith only in ourselves because self love is the only love we will feel. Queer people don’t deserve faith or hope, because why pray when you’re already queer?
This Ramadan was one of the toughest months of my life. It was the first time since I was a child that I put my open palms together, and spoke to Allah. I asked for forgiveness. I turned away from Islam when I felt like I couldn’t be myself, because I was being told I couldn’t be myself. I remember a clear memory of sitting in the backseat of my mum’s car, and I told her, “I don’t believe in God.” Without hesitation my mum replied, “You do, it’s just a phase.” It hurt that I wasn’t being heard, and it hurt because the faith I was trying to push away wouldn’t let go of me. What we run from does chase us.
What people taught me about God, meant that God was always going to something that would fail me because I learnt God was something that would never accept me.
What society teaches us about religion is that it’s a weakness, and I felt for years that it was being an Atheist that kept me strong. It wasn’t until I was in a relationship with an Atheist and I finally talked about my Muslim background did I feel like Atheism had taken something from me I never wanted to let go of.
Accepting that I am Muslim again has been the hardest part of my journey. Accepting Islam back into my life has been the most challenging part of my identity. It does not feel easy yet. But it does feel true.
Calling my journey a transition implies I am moving from a start to an end, from A to B, but my journey is one that keeps on going right through the rest of the alphabet.
This is my journey of discovery. This is my story of reclamation.
For more on identity, join me at TEDx Brixton as I take the stage on Saturday 10 October. The event will be livestreamed between 13:30 and 20:00 on 10th October at the Ritzy, Brixton and on http://tedxbrixton.com/livestream/
Meet me on www.sabahchoudrey.com
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Watch previous TEDxBrixton talks here.