I want my American LGBTQ community to see that people like us exist.
O. C. (not his real initials) was raised in Pakistan in a devout Muslim family. By the time he was eight or nine, he knew there was something “wrong” with him from a cultural and religious standpoint. At eighteen he came out, and his home life exploded.
He moved to another city, and some time later began corresponding with a man in the U.S. The correspondence evolved into a long-distance relationship, and after six visits together in Pakistan, O. C. immigrated to the U.S. —for love, he says laughing, and—more seriously—because Pakistan had become dangerous for him as a visible gay man. But living in the U.S. as a gay former Muslim has its own set of issues.
In this interview with psychologist and author Valerie Tarico, he talks about what it’s like to move between two worlds and not fit the orthodoxies of either.
VT: What was it like being gay and out in Pakistan?
OC: There are two very negative aspects of being gay in Pakistan. One is hypocrisy and the second is fear.
In Pakistan there is hypocrisy on every level because we need to pay lip service to Islamic values, and Islam does not permit certain aspects of sexuality. Homosexuality is taboo in Islam and sharia. The religion and law both don’t permit it. The story of Lot in the Bible is the same story that the Quran uses to justify that homosexuality is an unnatural act. There are specific sharia teachings that if you see a man indulging with another man, he is supposed to be killed.
VT: That’s serious pressure to remain silent.
OC: Yes. A lot of men indulge in homosexual acts. They aren’t necessarily gay, but access to women is not allowed. There are realms that are devoted to men and realms that are devoted to women—women in the house and men as breadwinners. That segregation is applied to sexual issues as well. So, with no access to the opposite sex, some people are situational homosexuals. But they would never admit it or talk about it because that would lead to being ostracized.
VT: Tell me a bit more about what happened when you came out.
OC: I made the mistake of coming out to my parents at age 18. I was very naïve and got a severe backlash. My father had such a big problem with my sexuality that I moved to another city. My family is ok with it now, except my father. My mother is a very strict Muslim and she doesn’t talk about it. My brothers and sister are okay with me.
VT: Your home now is NYC. What is that like for you?
OC: Being an exMuslim in NY is more or less accepted. But I was in academia, and in academia, if you critique Islam, then people start distancing from you. For example, during a class one of my professors said, “I don’t care if 4000 people died in the 911 attacks because the attacks were a direct result of America’s bad foreign policies; so they were justified.” I spoke up, disagreeing. I said that there are roots of terrorism in Islamic doctrine itself. But in academia, terrorism stems from bad foreign policy on the part of the West. After that I was called Mr. Fox News, as if I thought people from Islamic countries caused terrorism.
More recently, I used to teach at a college, and I was talking about Raif Badawi, a Saudi Canadian who is a political prisoner in Saudi Arabia because of his secular critique of the government. I was discussing hegemony and government. A Muslim girl in my class complained that I was being Islamophobic. Afterwards, my supervisor talked to me and suggested that I talk about hegemony in an American context. He offered examples and asked, Why don’t you talk about those? I said I would like to talk about the experience that I had and that other exMuslims like me have in Muslim countries. Is that not permitted? The supervisor said, You are permitted to do it, but it’s better if you don’t. Soon afterwards I left the job.
VT: You have said that you bump up against this attitude, this refusal to interrogate Islam even in the LGBTQ community.
OC: I think there is a lack of independence of political thought and opinion in the LGBTQ community. People align across issues with the positions of the far left. That is because the left has supported us, but it leads to odd blind spots. For example, one of the worst mass shootings on American soil was by a Muslim against the LGBT community, but I have never heard members of the American gay community discussing that incident in terms of what Islam may have contributed, what Islam says about homosexuality.
VT: As a former Evangelical I criticize Evangelicalism in strong terms in left-leaning publications—for some of the very same attitudes and teachings you are talking about.
OC: Yeah. It’s not okay on the left to examine Islam like it’s okay to examine Evangelical Christianity.
I do understand that to safeguard minorities on the basis of color and religion is very important. But to critique an ideology is totally different from being bigoted against a group. I critique my ex-religion, but I don’t stop loving my mother and sister, and they don’t stop loving me. Many people say it’s a hopeless situation for gay people in Pakistan, but some Muslims are extremely loving and understanding toward sexual minorities. Not all Muslims are a single stereotype. Critiquing the ideology is totally different from bigotry against people.
VT: You lead ExMuslims of North America in the New York Pride parade on June 30. What do you hope to accomplish?
OC: This march is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and I hope to see more Stonewalls happening around the Muslim world. I hope to see the same spirit of fighting for freedom and justice in the Muslim world, that people who are Muslim minorities should achieve the freedom to love whoever one wants to love. As well, I want my American LGBTQ community to see that people like us exist. We exMuslims in the West are nowhere. We can’t be part of the progressive community because we don’t support Islam, and we can’t be part of the conservative community because of discrimination. I would like people to acknowledge us.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
Excellent article. Thank you.
Wonderful, deep, thought provoking article. Thank you!
Hi Valerie, great read.
I believe the left will gradually start speaking soberly about Islam, and pieces like this one are helping that trend along – especially when they feature firsthand accounts.
Academia, however, is that one section of the left where you’ll actually find opinions being passed down from authority. This gives it a special insulation against dissenting ideas. Thankfully, most left-leaning people out in the “real world” don’t have this insulation. I hope this man has found a more welcoming platform from which to share his ideas and experiences.
Is the problem in the debate not the confusion between causality and incidence? The Christian-Right anti-gay movement relied heavily on blurring those lines as they promoted “links” between homosexuality and paedophilia – or in the case of Cameron’s studies. Speaking for myself, when I see those tactics and techniques used against Muslims, a chill goes down my spine. It’s the attempted undoing of years of work teaching the public that, for example, one gay man having Aids didn’t mean we all had it. And just because one did this or that – you know what I mean.
“It’s the attempted undoing of years of work teaching the public that, for example, one gay man having Aids didn’t mean we all had it.”
That is such a false equivalency to the point of being hilarious. All the countries that have the death penalty for homosexuality have more than 90% Muslim majorities.
If you’re an observer of the Christian anti-gay movement, then you should have noticed there’s a massive resurgence of anti-gay campaigning going on, and they’re bringing back myths that were debunked long ago. If you’re interested in the history and type of arguments I’m referring to, the past 40 years are documented here: https://justmerveilleux.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/is-it-really-christians-who-are-under-attack-the-story-of-a-prolonged-aggression/
The Islamic matter is considerably more complex. In fact I think we can safely say the problem is much more one of not having the separation of church and state than of the religion in and of itself. In fact a Muslim country like Morocco acted as safe haven for European gay men who wanted to escape persecution and prison in Spain under General Franco’s National Catholicism. And there’s a long list of gay Britons and Frenchmen who also fled to North Africa to escape European laws and attitudes.
Obviously an argument can and should be made of religion being used as a tool of oppression, particularly in theocratic and authoritarian regimes – but in that context we have to be clear and responsible regarding the weight of each variable. The world capital of LGBT murders today is Brazil, where I spent my childhood. It’s a Catholic country where LGBT individuals are routinely attacked in the most brutal ways, from decapitation to stoning. One is murdered every 19 hours.
In regards to your blog post, if we are discussing whether Christianity is under attack on a global level then recent PEW data doesn’t leave much room for doubt on the subject, showing that Christians are currently being harassed in more countries than any other religious group:
Your Moroccan example appears to be cherry-picking based on the data I can find, at least in terms of legal status :
On a final and anecdotal note, I’m just going to say that I don’t agree at at all that it’s a case of a mere lack of separation from religious institution and state, in my interactions with Muslims I’ve noted persistent anti-gay sentiment among them. When you see this again and again it just makes the western liberals that argue in Islam’s defense look as if they are in total (and perhaps willful) denial on the subject. I’m sure Brazil’s LGBT community are much more likely to be open about who they are then the same communities in most Muslim majority countries are and Brazil probably wouldn’t hold the top spot for LGBT murders for long if this were otherwise.
It seems you didn’t understand my comment (at all).
1. Firstly, my post which documents anti-lgbt Christian hate propaganda over the past 40 years refers to the falsehood promoted by certain Christian groups that they are under attack by LGBT individuals. In fact the post begins with the Anita Bryant example where she said that non-discrimination statutes in Florida which protected LGBT people were an “attack on Christianity.” The point being gays are not, and never have been attacking Christians by merely existing or asking not to be discriminated against.
If your aim is to attack Muslims using the LGBT cause, you should do a better job pretending you understand and care about LGBT issues and history.
2. My Moroccan example is not cherry-picking. It’s not only historically accurate, but shows the religion itself wasn’t the determinant (causal factor) in oppression and persecution. In fact we can go further because as demonstrated in Viola van Melis’ (Nov 16, 2011). “Islam tolerierte früher Homosexuelle”. HPD Humanistischer Pressedienst. (available online), University of Munster professor Thomas Bauer shows how “for about a thousand years, up to 1979, there is no documented case in the Islamic world in which a man was prosecuted for consensual sexual relations with another man.” In fact majority Muslim Turkey (then Ottoman Empire) decriminalised homosexuality in 1858. A time when homosexuality was illegal in much of Europe where masses of LGBT people were marginalised, arrested, blackmailed and even sent to concentration camps. So the causality factor, cannot evidently single out one religion.
3. So what the evidence actually shows is we’re looking at a clear link between anti-gay ideology and authoritarian regimes across the globe, independent of religion. We see it in China, we see it in Cuba; We see it with Franco, Pinochet and Mussolini. And we see it in the theocratic modern Islamic regimes in rather brutal ways, Although it’s not a unique brutality. Until about the time I was born Spain had prisons created for the purpose of locking up LGBT people, and this happened in great numbers. And it happened based on National Catholicism. The way that was fixed in Spain wasn’t by abolishing Catholicism, but by removing it from government. In every case where church and state have been separated the rights of the individual end up being enshrined in law and respected – and that’s how we protect LGBT people.
4. Finally, I have great respect for LGBT people born in societies where they’re victims of anti-gay persecution. Especially ones like in the interview above who are contributing to the public discourse and making us talk about things. What I don’t have respect for is when people like you try to co-opt our struggle to score political points by lowering the debate into a point scoring, evidence-free, Sam Harris
correction: Sam Harris *style discussion*. Sorry, pressed return accidentally.
Very Good Article! Thanks!