Even though I long ago accepted who I am and am succeeding on my journey to find community, I have written this under a pseudonym, for my family.
And so, allow me to tell you a story.
Last weekend I was in Florida, visiting a cousin of mine. After several invitations, I decided to finally come visit her. She has been one of my family members who has been quite supportive of me, both in terms of my filmmaking and my queer identity. That Saturday morning, I found out that I got into a top MFA film program. I was full of joy and excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. Later that afternoon, I found myself in gay Miami, on South Beach. We enjoyed the sun and ocean and rushed to the car as the afternoon storm rolled in, getting soaked in the process. After iftar that night, I watched The Imitation Game and found myself sobbing after it was over. The film beautifully shows the trauma the main character goes through as a queer person. It’s a story that I and so many others can relate to. Through my tears, I realized that the day seemed like a sign. It was telling me that I was meant to make films about the intersectional stories of queer Muslims, stories that, so far, were not being told.
I woke up on that Sunday morning and strolled sleepy-eyed to the living room. My cousin’s two small children were playing and the TV was tuned to CNN. She told me that 20 people had been shot and killed at a gay club in Orlando, and that the killer’s name was Omar Mateen. A Muslim name. Immediately, my heart sank, and it has only continued sinking. That terrible night in Orlando confronted us queer Muslims with a harsh new reality.
I started crying again. I knew what this meant: that scores of people died, many more were injured, and that people will now think that all Muslims are homophobic. I realized that it was also an election year and that the xenophobic rhetoric surrounding Muslims was about to intensify even more, and that the larger LGBTQ community might turn their backs on us Muslims. The Pulse massacre happened during both Ramadan and Pride, right after the beautiful commemoration of Muhammad Ali, one of the 20th century’s greatest figures, representing the best of American Islam.
I also had just attended an annual LGBTQ Muslim retreat for the first time.
The retreat occurred over Memorial Day weekend. It was its sixth year, but my first time attending. I had promised myself that this year I would finally go. The LGBTQ Muslim retreat was exhilarating and overwhelming, though in a good way. It felt so affirming to be around nearly 100 other people like me, people who shared my core identities of being queer and Muslim. I was still processing all of the things I had experienced and felt when I woke up on that Sunday morning.