Coming to Islam for me wasn’t an exceptional experience. The tendency for people who have converted to Islam to consider ourselves “reverts” holds a lot of truth to me – because submission to Allah (swt) is a sort of natural state, accepting Islam later in life is a return to something we’ve always known. I came to Islam while ambling halfway through my twenties and struggling to understand my place in the world. Reading the Qur’an for the first time felt like rediscovering something I had known a long time ago, yet somehow forgotten. Suddenly there it was: all the answers, the passions, the ethical framework from which I wanted to build my life. It was there, all unfolding in front of me in a way that felt so very much like divine revelation. I had come home.
I’m a Muslim woman of trans experience.
The only experience I could possibly relate it to came seven years earlier. I was a teenager escaping her sheltered lower-middle-class suburban childhood, learning about the real world in the big city and meeting new different people every day. In those cold exciting months amid a particularly brutal Toronto winter I discovered a truth that once uncovered, it was as if a lifetime of memories came into perspective and I understood that part of myself I had always known but never had the language to articulate.
It was when I came to the simple truth that the sex I had been assigned at birth and the gender that I knew and perceived myself as were at odds with each other. It was in those quiet months that I came out as transgender and began living my life as I was meant to: as a woman.
…the sex I had been assigned at birth and the gender that I knew and perceived myself as were at odds with each other.
Two simple truths, nearly a decade apart, in which I finally found an authentic understanding of myself. In these core personal truths, I flourished. To every person who tried to hold me back, I proved them wrong by living well and authentically within them. I never converted from one thing to another. I never became something new. In both my transition to womanhood and my conversion to Islam I was as a revert – returning to an absolute truth which had been with me all along.
Nearly a decade post-transition and a handful of years post-shahada, I’m a strong and successful woman just like any other seeking out truth, independence, and wellness in an increasingly complicated and contradictory society. For many years I kept my trans history a secret, passing for cisgender and passing through my communities and activist spaces in a pretty uncomplicated fashion. Watching the way our Muslim community treats its gender-variant siblings – the way we’re ridiculed, sexualized, excommunicated, subjected to abuse and violence – it’s pretty obvious why a person would want to keep that closet door closed. But that’s not gonna work anymore.
I’m a Muslim woman of trans experience, and the Ummah is going to have to find a way to make space for its sisters like me.
Reading the Qur’an for the first time felt like rediscovering something I had known a long time ago, yet somehow forgotten.
It was something to do with Caitlin Jenner’s spectacular coming out that thrust transgender people into the Contemporary Muslim Conversation. At the time, I was living in a small community in the dead-center of the American Bible Belt. I had been living entirely “stealth” for many years (meaning the only people who knew about my transgender history were my birth family and my boyfriend of seven years). A hijabi in Oklahoma, the Muslim community was the only place I could feel at home. I was accepted as a revert, and better developed my faith in a supportive and caring environment. Out of nowhere, a rich celebrity I knew nothing about was talking about her transition on national television and suddenly Muslims had something to say about transgender people. I heard from pop-culture imams railing against these new deviant Western tendencies on Facebook. Sisters from the masjid (the very same women who invited me into their homes and shared in iftars that Ramadan) talked about how disgusting these men-who-want-to-be-women are, swearing they’d never be allowed in our prayer spaces. It was a scary time. Living in Islamophobic middle-of-nowhere America, the Muslim community was one of the few places I felt truly welcomed and safe. Suddenly it became apparent that all that love and security I felt was entirely conditional.
In the diatribes I’ve heard about the impermissible nature of transgender people in Islam, what’s struck me the most is how misinformed and ahistorical most arguments are. Gender variance is portrayed as some kind of Modern Deviance of the West, when in fact people who may be interpreted as “trans” today existed in the times of the Prophet (pbuh) and Pakistan has legally recognized its third gender citizens since 2009. Hadith are misappropriated to condemn us, while the same collections contain affirmations of our right to live truthfully. Transgender people are portrayed as a symptom of deviant homosexual decadence, when the Islamic Republic of Iran (not exactly known for its liberal stance on “deviant lifestyles”) has had legalized and formalized modes of state-supported transition for its citizens since the 1980’s. What most arguments fail to realize is the simple fact that transgender Muslims do exist. As scholars treat us as hypothetical thought experiments we get by in our quiet ways, learning how to better and most authentically practice our faith without being subjected to discrimination and violence. We’ve always been here. We’re not going away.
My question for the people who would condemn me for my status as a trans person is this: what would you have me do? What would be the Islamic way? Do I deny that intimate truth I’ve known so long, and flourished so well in, because you don’t understand it? Do you claim to know your brothers and sisters better than they know themselves?
Being a revert, am I less valid in the eyes of Allah?
Life is a simple matter. It’s about embracing Truths, living them fully, and living in them well. Insha’allah, I would like to see a world where sisters like me won’t have to to through the kinds of struggles I have been subjected to. Already, the conversation has changed so much and support for trasngender people grows every day. I had come to Islam in much the same way I came to womanhood. I’ve always been this way – in my bones and in my soul. There is no way but through the blessings of Allah that I could come to these truths. I wasn’t born in to them, that I could come to them in the right moment and better live my life.
I had come home.
To the transgender and gender-variant Muslims reading this article right now, I have a message for you: You’re not alone. You’re not a freak. You’re not a mistake. We’re here, not only surviving but thriving in our own ways. You’re stronger than you know. Human beings are incredible things, the things we endure and the lives we go through. I believe in you.
My invocation to the cisgender people reading is this: stand up for your trans siblings. Be present. Be vocal. We need your voice.
You’re not alone. You’re not a freak. You’re not a mistake.
Written by Mahdia Lynn, a writer, feminist critic and activist living on the stolen and colonized land currently recognized as the United States of America. She lives in the city where she acts as coordinator for the [Transgender Muslim Support Network] (http://trans-muslims.tumblr.com), blogs about comic books, and works to build inclusive community and prayer spaces for LGBTQI and gender-variant people of faith.
Image Provided by Mahdia