Suddenly, my distance from the United States was irrelevant and the adage: when America sneezes the whole world catches the flu, really hit home because of the ease with which this one event affected how people viewed, affirmed or dismissed my faith.
I was a fat kid and in 2001, my bulging tummy was at the core of my insecurities and for the longest time, it was the only thing that made me feel socially awkward or unattractive.
Strange, considering I always wanted to be a performer. Being fat made me shy away from people, and I was generally seen as this quiet kid, who given the chance and with the right amount of acceptance happened to be a lot more than an introverted boy.
Behind the scenes, I was a really interesting person who loved making others laugh, reading, and collecting pictures of my favourite A-listers to add to my growing gallery of magazine cut-outs.
In 2001, I was also the biggest Britney Spears fan in the world, and as insignificant as that may be to this current narrative, it will soon become clear why mentioning this is so integral to my story.
By now you probably know that I am male. What you don’t already know, unless you’ve made the inference from anything I said before this, is that I am gay. Which masculine, fully heterosexual bloke do you know that adores Britney Spears? In a world that thrives off stereotypes, it is normal to assume that any male who takes a strong liking to a female celebrity (in a non-sexual way) is gay. Obviously, right?
Someone once said: “Well, they (gay people) all of one; for blacks it’s Beyonce, and for whites and others it could be Britney, Rihanna, Madonna, or even Beyonce.” Take your pick.
I always managed to conceal my hardcore obsession with Britney, but doing so with my weight and the fact that I was Muslim was even harder. Islam itself, don’t be mistaken, was not the reason. How could it be when I lived in a country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and had the support of my liberal family?
I was gay, fat and Muslim and to the world, I was preordained to fail because God had given me three arduous obstacles in my life; two of which I’d most likely never overcome.
I loved being gay and my faith, so converting was out of the question because my experiences within Islam weren’t so much an issue for me that I ever felt like leaving.
It didn’t even influence my sense of identity and character. I found a way to merge them, however many times they clashed, I think I was always lulled by the idea that the God described to me by the Koran was a forgiving and merciful one, who would judge me on my heart and my intentions, before damning me to burn in hell forever just because I was gay.
Islamically, homosexuality is obviously frowned upon. Under Sha’riah Law it has been criminalised. The moral police as well as ordinary citizens are expected to report homosexuals and any homosexual activity so that those guilty of this unavoidable sin could be charged for their crime. For the bulk of Muslims; or those with whom I’ve engaged about the topic, it’s a matter of abstinence, or simply resisting your carnal and other desires… in other words, there is power, which presumably would be met with great reward in the afterlife, that comes with the ability to repress something within yourself that can’t simply be wished away.
“Allah made you this way,” my aunt once told me following a discussion we’d been having about coming out, and what it meant that I was Muslim and gay.
“But it doesn’t mean that you have to be that way. You must use your knowledge and willpower to praise Him, seek His guidance, and strengthen your Iman (faith), so that you can overcome it, and not let it come in the way of your religion,” she continued.
This had me wondering whether failing to accomplish any of the above meant that I would be damned. I made peace with the fact that it wasn’t acceptable, but found myself able to stay within the fold of Islam, while maintaining, instead of repressing my identity as a gay person.
No Muslim I know personally has done, or said anything hurtful or degrading to me. The only encounter with militant-type Islam I had was during varsity when a friend was kicked out of his home by his staunch Muslim parents. In their eyes he was an atrocity; a failure that couldn’t resist his sexual urges and tendencies, making him a social deviant who might as well be dead to them.
Other than that, there are so many other Muslim people I know who are also gay, bisexual, and lesbian but have no issues with either the faith or their families.
I’d never be able to muster the will to repress my feelings or emotions, and looking back on my life and experiences, I can’t recall a time I wasn’t in love, or even feeling loved. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a big family, full of Water Slamse, (expression used mostly by Cape Malays to describe Muslims who don’t fully follow the religion according to the book) who were far too happy-clappy to preach away anything, unless there was someone amongst us planning to convert to Christianity or Judaism.
Islam didn’t shape any of my experiences, it merely coexisted alongside the choices I made.
Ahead of youth day, South African LGBTI youth have a lot to be grateful for as the country moves towards fostering a continued environment of liberty, respect, and tolerance. Our segregationist past has taught us a lot about what it means to be subjugated and since then, we have also experienced what it is like to be free, and there are still many lessons to be learned.
Learning should be a priority for the youth as they pursue transformation and make their way towards securing a future that will harbour confident, comfortable, and accepting youth that won’t be faced with challenges, be it identity crisis, racism, or any other discrimination. Corrective rape and the attacks on LGBTI people in townships is still rife. Those are challenges we need to confront in order to move forward.
Knowledge was integral to my resilience in being able to merge the paradox that was my sexual identity and my religious convictions, and while it helps to be around people who understand and support me, they are not necessary for self-acceptance.
Today I don’t identify as: gay, skinny (because I have shed the kilos), and muslim, no. I simply identify as human, if not that, artist will do just fine. A performing one, that is. No matter how gay or un-Muslim that makes me look.
Words by: @RaeezJacobs
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