I’ve heard about people who have struggled to reconcile their religious convictions and their sexuality but in truth I had never actually met anyone who had dealt with that struggle.
Well, I have now, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
I go from feeling sad for this woman, to being angry with the religious institutions that have made her life so complicated, to feeling judged by her because I am living a life that she considers sinful.
The woman is someone from the playgroup we go to. I like her. She’s funny and friendly and she mucks in when there’s stuff to get done. She’s also a hijab-wearing Muslim and up until last week I’ve wondered what she would think if she knew my partner was female (I don’t hide it in any way, but we hadn’t discussed it so I didn’t know if she knew or not).
At last week’s playgroup something came up in conversation about Mardi Gras and she said that eight years ago she was in it. When she said that, my initial thought was, “oh, so there must be a progressive faction in the Muslim movement and she must be part of that – cool”. Playgroup moved on and I didn’t think any more of it.
Then at the end of the group there were just a few people left and we got talking. In the course of conversation I came to ask her what led her to convert to Islam. I made an assumption that as an Australian-born woman who grew up in Tamworth (Australia’s country music capital), she probably converted because she married a muslim man.
Well, that was kind of right. In fact, her father is turkish and she’d been raised in a religious home. I’m not clear on what happened in between, but she was either never a strictly practising muslim, or she was and she moved away from it for a time, but she donned the hijab and has followed the religion’s teachings closely since she married.
I figured that was the end of the story, but then she volunteered that her “natural sexual orientation” was homosexual, to use her words. She said she made a choice to go back to islam, get married, have babies and live unhappily ever after because she thinks the alternative is to go to hell.
She believes that because the major religious texts (the bible and the koran are what she cited) say that homosexuality is a sin, then it must be true, and that her same sex attractedness is a test from god.
I really don’t know what to make of it all.
For days after the conversation, my brain was spinning, trying to think of how this could ever all work out for her. I can’t let go of the feeling that she might one day conclude that she is who she is and that being married to a man is a sham she can’t continue.
But what happens if she does reach that conclusion? She has two children. How can a lesbian and a strict muslim man who believes that gay people go to hell have any hope of raising healthy children together?
So then I think maybe now that she’s started down this path, perhaps it’s the best thing to continue it. And then I feel sad because she’s openly unhappy in her marriage.
And in between times I feel deeply judged. She says she has chosen this path because she does not want to fail god’s test. So she must see me as a failure, right? She hasn’t said or done anything at all to suggest that, but that’s the implication.
Of course, what I think and what I feel is totally irrelevant but I have a slight sense of panic about the whole thing, as though I’m somehow diminished while this person thinks her own sexuality is sinful and wrong.
It’s just thrown me a bit. I’ve met bigots and narrow-minded fools and religious zealots and simply uneducated people before and plenty of them have thought my relationship is not valid or sanctioned or morally defensible. I’ve never been too worried about those people. But I feel confused by this.
I can’t get clear in my head whether this woman is a friend or a foe. She’s gay: She must be a friend! She thinks gay people burn in hell: She must be a foe!
I don’t expect I’ll reach any real conclusions. I expect I’ll probably continue to enjoy her company and her conversation at playgroup, and I’ll try to just put all the other stuff aside because none of it has anything to do with who she is at playgroup. She’s just another mum there with her kids wanting to have fun and get out of the house.
I certainly don’t intend to discuss any of this stuff with her, because at the end of the day it’s her personal baggage to deal with and it’s not actually anything to do with me, even though it feels strangely like it is, right now. I’ll probably continue to feel a bit sad that she’s not able to accept who she is, but I’m going to make an effort not to dwell on it.