“Don’t stand like that. You look like a man!” my stepmom would chide in a low, harsh whisper. She was born in the countryside of a suburb of Cairo and came to the states in her late 20s when she married my dad through an arrangement. My cousins, who all still live in Cairo, have asked me questions like, “Are homosexuals nice people?” not realizing that they loved and harbored a queer woman in their very own home. While their origin by no means justifies labeling them as “backward,” it’s clear that my family’s environment and language have shaped their ideas of femininity so profoundly that even posture can make one seem out of place.
When I first became sexually active, my dad, a Saeedi with origins in the Aswan region, found the little green package of birth control from Planned Parenthood on my desk one morning while I was—ironically—in my anatomy class. He was so outraged that I was subsequently thrown out of the house two weeks before my high school graduation. While that romantic relationship has long since dissolved, the event has stayed with me for years. Not because it irreparably destroyed my relationship with my dad—it didn’t—but because it was a tangible example of how my expression of sexuality and desire to fulfill my sexual needs as a woman so threatened the men in my life.
We never, ever talked about sex in my household. Acknowledging my vagina as anything else but untouchable, a selling point for future suitors, a source of shame, or a reason why I was restricted from having male friends and participating in sleepovers was liable to get me in deep shit, to say the least. Keep in mind, this is all under the assumption—and expectation—that I identify as straight. The subcontext to every argument and showdown I had with my parents throughout my adolescence was hinged on the shaming of my womanhood. For most of my life, I was gaslit by my inner circle to believe that any expression of self-discovery regarding sexuality was unacceptable and reserved for an unknown future male counterpart.
My identity as a bisexual woman was so forcefully repressed by these experiences that it wasn’t until I completely removed myself from the structure of my familial household that I was able to be truthful with myself. No one I know would dare describe me as soft-spoken, but when it comes to queerness, I still feel insecure. I never had a moment when I suddenly “came out” to the world in a bombastic display of queerness. Instead, I just kind of slid into it, like a hangout with my best friend after years of separation. Sometimes, the shift of being able to admit my queerness aloud is so profoundly uncomfortable that I feel like an imposter in my own body.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.