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We are queer, and we are fighting for the acceptance of queer minorities

By Hoe I Yune, Jun 10, 2020

For part two of our “I’m queer, and this is what I stand for” series, we hear from 25-year-old singer-songwriter and creative entrepreneur Alex and 23-year-old writer and university student A’bidah. 

Muslim and queer, Malay Alex and Arab-Malay A’bidah want to play a part in the fight for the acceptance of queer minorities. Alex identifies as lesbian and non-binary (“they”/ “them” pronouns) and A’bidah as bisexual and cisgender female (“she”/ “her” pronouns).

They are the founders behind SKRRRT Central, a platform for artists and musicians, which gives priority to those who are queer and brown to showcase their work. SKRRRT Central organises artists markets, runs an online magazine, and recently launched their “Don’t Eat Your Feelings” podcast series.

On the podcast, they explore reconciling their faith with their sexuality, as well as speak with guests on mental health, parenting, religious institutions, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In their words, they recognise that they can’t speak for everyone but they hope that what they’re doing will help someone else feel less alone. 

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We started SKRRRT Central because we wanted to build something that our younger selves would have appreciated. 

As queer minorities, we’re often invisible in society. Internationally, the LGBTQIA+ rights movement is very white-driven. In Singapore, it’s dominated by Chinese gay cis-gender men. 

When there isn’t enough representation, minorities get pigeon-holed into stereotypes. If you’re a queer Muslim and if you practice your faith, you’re seen as “less queer” because many religions make it hard for people to live as a queer person. They invalidate your queerness because they wouldn’t expect you to actually live out your life as a queer person. 

We are expected to behave a certain way and uphold certain values. There’s a lot of doubt surrounding who we are. Maybe a part of that stems from not wanting to believe that we exist, maybe it stems from not being able to see that we exist. 

This can become a very isolating experience, which is why we created SKRRRT Central to be a voice and community for not only queer people of faith but queer people of colour, people of colour and women entrepreneurs. We want others, especially youths, to be comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality. Seeing someone who is like you or having a community that supports you can help you a lot in managing your mental health and self-esteem.

We lose many queer youths to suicide and mental health issues, and it’s incredibly important that no one is made to feel invisible. 

From personal experience, it can be scary to come out as a Muslim when to be queer and to be religious are seen by many as incongruent. There’s a lot of scrutiny within our community and the fear of being ostracised.

A’bidah (right) wears a hijab and others have expressed surprise that she is in a relationship with Alex (left). The underlying assumption is that because she is a hijab-wearing Muslim, she is probably conservative and would only date men.

A’bidah (right) wears a hijab and others have expressed surprise that she is in a relationship with Alex (left). The underlying assumption is that because she is a hijab-wearing Muslim, she is probably conservative and would only date men.

When Alex canoodled with an ex-girlfriend on a train, it caught the attention of an older Malay man who immediately yelled, “You’re embarrassing! You’re so embarrassing! You’re misleading people on what Muslims are all about”.

Not only do we face prejudice from other races if we wear a hijab but within our own community, we face the prejudice to uphold certain values that they see as necessary because of our religion. 

We were both outed to our families. A classmate sent a photo of Alex with their ex to Alex’s mum and A’bidah was outed to her dad last year by a relative. To come out is a personal decision and to be forced into it by circumstances was very hard to deal with.

For a lot of Abrahamic religions such as Islam, homosexuality is something that is frowned upon because traditional readings of sacred texts often uphold a heteronormative binary of gender identification and sexual orientation. Such interpretations tend to leave little to no room for the range of identities present in modern day society.

On our second podcast episode, we spoke with Zuby Eusofe, founder of The Healing Circle, which is a safe space for queer Muslims to embrace their spirtuality and beliefs. She shared how she was outed to a scholar who then manspained her sexuality to her. Experiences like ours — people trying to explain who we are and who they expect us to be — aren’t uncommon. Some think that they are doing us a favour but it can be damaging to a person’s mental health. There’s a very real risk of worsening the situation, especially when you consider how queer Muslim youths face enough conflict between sexuality and religion as it is. 

At first, Alex didn’t think it was wrong to like women but other people would shove opinions down their throat. They started feeling guilty. After completing polytechnic, they went through a breakup with a girlfriend and had guys expressing interest in them. Their mum also expressed strong disapproval against them dating women. Because of all this, for a period, they thought maybe it was a sign from God that they should “try being straight”. 

The thing is, growing up, we might’ve been certain about being attracted to women but when the people closest to you tell you that it is wrong, you start to second guess yourself. 

When A’bidah’s family members came to know that she’s bisexual, they responded by saying that she had to marry a man. For Alex, they had to overcome body dysmorphia in a family that didn’t really understand what it means to be non-binary. Out of respect, we don’t plan to further discuss our sexuality with our family unless they show that they’re open to accepting it. For some people, coming out to their parents might be seen as necessary but for us, we realise that seeking acceptance from our parents won’t help with us understanding our identity.

We both reconciled our faith with our identity and sexuality by recognising that religion is a personal experience. We spoke with queer friends and read a lot online, seeing evidence that Islam never explicitly disapproved of same-sex relationships. As long as God knows our intentions and that we love the religion and want to practice it as our authentic selves, we don’t think that other people have the right to judge us. Religion guides us through life but there is more than one “right” way of living. What matters to us is to be good people. 

Alex’s (right) hairstyle and dressing sometimes draws curious looks from onlookers, especially on religious grounds such as the Mosque, but it doesn’t deter them from their purpose to pray. Being queer is a part of their identity but it doesn’t change who they are.

Alex’s (right) hairstyle and dressing sometimes draws curious looks from onlookers, especially on religious grounds such as the Mosque, but it doesn’t deter them from their purpose to pray. Being queer is a part of their identity but it doesn’t change who they are.

Now that we’re in a comfortable place in terms of our gender identity and sexual orientation, we want to try to be a voice for queer Muslims and for all queer minorities to know that they’re not alone. 

Sometimes you never know if your parents are going to be homophobic or if your friends will stop hanging out with you once you come out. What we hope is through our podcast, we can be a form of companionship, and through our events, we provide a safe space for people to connect with one another.  

When things get rough, we turn to each other to talk and rationalise our feelings with. We want to be able to create a support system for others too.

When things get rough, we turn to each other to talk and rationalise our feelings with. We want to be able to create a support system for others too.

We are not the first queer Muslims to come out. There are elders in the community such as The Healing Circle’s founder Zuby who have voiced their experience and pain as we have. Yet we want to contribute to the conversation because we believe that it is thanks to people who are brave enough to share their story that others are brave enough to come forward. 

As creatives, we also want to provide performing opportunities and a platform for young queer musicians, spoken poets, artists and writers. It’s what we are most familiar with and passionate about.

This time last year, we organised SKRRRT Central’s first fundraising event Queer Central. Queer individuals aside, we also prioritised featuring brown artists and poets as well as women entrepreneurs, and donated proceeds from ticket sales to non-profit organisation Oogachaga, which provides counselling for queer individuals, couples, and families. 

Not all venues are open to hosting a queer event but we know better than to push. At the end of the day, we’re not about to drive anyone to a homophobic place!

Not all venues are open to hosting a queer event but we know better than to push. At the end of the day, we’re not about to drive anyone to a homophobic place!

We’ve had to take a bit of a break from organising markets due to COVID-19, but it is something that we hope to be able to host one again soon.

Recently, we launched our “Don’t Eat Your Feelings” podcast series. Introducing it during the month of Ramadan, we started off delving into queer Muslim matters closer to home. Mental health is also something that we want to address. It’s a thorny subject because some people who share our religion think that you can just “pray it away”.

But we see our podcast and SKRRRT Central as a whole to be something much bigger than the local scene. A recent episode had us discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in the US. 

So far, people have been showering us with warmth and support. Not just fellow queer Muslims in Singapore but queer people of faith and colour in other parts of the world. We’ve received kind words from a Madrasah student who is wary of how her teachers and classmates might perceive her queer identity. We also received a message from an American who lives in Thailand. 

It’s great that people feel loved and supported, even from miles away. Just the thought that we’re making people feel less alone keeps us going, because it is the very least that we want to do. 

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Photos were provided by Alex and A’bidah. Find out more about them and SKRRRT CENTRAL at https://skrrrtcntrl.com/

Part one of our “I’m queer, and this is what I stand for” series can be read here. Check in next Thursday to read about why and how a bisexual activist feels like her community is unseen and misunderstood".

 

Writer’s Note:

My name is I Yune, and you can find me at @i_yune on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about life goals, family squabbles, and reading more widely on social issues.

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