When deciding whether to take part is about more than just Pride

This post is for the May Carnival of Aces.

Asra recalls a particularly unsavoury incident. “There was an occasion at gay pride once where one of the marchers turned around and quite crudely said ‘we didn’t know pride was allowing suicide bombers on the march’ – it was really shocking to hear it from a fellow gay marcher.” (BBC News)

One of the major ways that the asexual community pursues visibility and awareness is through participation in Pride parades. I think this is great! I love seeing photos of ace pride contingents.

So far, no such opportunities have come up anywhere near where I live. But even if I did have the opportunity, the question for me isn’t as simple as, “Do I want to be visibly out?” – I also have to think about whether I would face harassment as someone who is very visibly Muslim. As the BBC report quoted above shows, Pride parades are not necessarily safe spaces for queer Muslims.

image

I wear hijab, the Islamic modest dress, including a headscarf (pictured, left). At various times out in public I have had random strangers yell, “Go back to where you came from,” at me, had people come up to me and ask, “Are you one of those people that killed our people?”, been called overt racial slurs by passing drivers, and even been stalked.

Going out in public always involves mental preparation for the possibility of Islamophobic harassment. While its occurrence is, thankfully, relatively rare, I can never rule out the possibility of having to deal with it.

As a matter of habit, I also usually try to avoid going near large crowds or party-like atmospheres, especially if I’m by myself. Even an apparently happy group can have that one person who gets aggressive in these situations and who happens to be offended by the presence of a visible Muslim.

A Pride parade could fall into this category. I would feel more comfortable about attending if I was with a group of people I was already friends with, such as a queer Muslim contingent or an ace pride contingent.

And I’m not just talking about attending the parade, but about potentially marching in it, which would make me that much more visible to everybody there. While asexuality is sometimes difficult to explain to queer Muslims (as it is to queer groups in general), if they had already accepted me as a member of their group, I doubt there would be any issue about me marching with them. They would also understand the need to prepare for dealing with Islamophobia, since that would be part of their own experience.

But what about an ace pride contingent? While most aces I’ve engaged with online have been friendly and accepting, I can easily see a situation where an ace group could decide that my veiling doesn’t fit the “image” that they want to present and that they might be uncomfortable having me present and visible in their group. This has happened to me before with non-Muslim groups. As with Islamophobic harassment, it’s something I always need to be aware might happen. Islamophobia is unfortunately common in American society at large. Aces aren’t immune from being like that, or from manifesting any other prejudice or bigotry.

I also think that the asexual community, as I’ve dealt with it so far, doesn’t always seem aware that these intersections exist, that a Pride parade is a type of visibility action that may not be safe for all aces to take part in, and that some aces may face harassment or other obstacles not for their asexuality (which is also an issue, incidentally) but for other characteristics entirely. I’ve certainly never gotten the sense that anyone proposing visibility actions has thought about how these might work for a hijabi Muslim like me. It’s this reflexive lack of awareness that not all aces are positioned the same way in the larger society, and do not all have the same types of experiences, that worries me more than overt Islamophobia.

About Laura (ace-muslim)

Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com and has written on asexuality for a number of Muslim sites.
This entry was posted in Intersectionality, LGBT and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to When deciding whether to take part is about more than just Pride

  1. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    I can’t make statements about the various groups of Aces marching, and their attitude towards Muslims. I only know one of those groups, and even there I’d hesitate to guess about the general level of acceptance. Though this wouldn’t be about who gets to present asexuality, but about the fact that wearing hijab is a decidedly political and politicized issue in Germany. Which means that I try to accept women wearing hijab, but it’s sometimes very hard not to make judgments about their level of agency or their families. Adding the fact that many hijabi Muslims I encounter speak very little German, if at all, hereabouts you’d have less trouble being thought of as a terrorist, but more questioning of your general level of intelligence and/or independence.
    I can agree about Prides not being necessarily safe spaces. Getting hostile commentary for being ace and handing out corresponding leaflets is to be expected. However, I once was accused of being a Nazi by a presumably gay man, because I was wearing a pentagram pendant. *headscratch* Extrapolating from that and a comment that we should hand out the leaflets near the neighborhood’s mosque (more headscratch), I’d guess that hijabi Muslims would have to face some harrassment, at least at the Pride that I was attending.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I do think that the context for Muslims is somewhat different between the U.S. (where I live) and Europe and since I don’t know much about the situation in Europe, I’m hesitant to speak too much to that. I do know that there are a lot of very deep issues relating to colonialism, immigration, and concepts of integration in many European countries.

      I do find it frustrating that we in the West often tout women’s right to choose our course in life, yet there is this assumption that hijab is somehow such an awful thing that no woman in her right mind would freely choose it, therefore she is assumed to be controlled by a man or by her culture. That is a very reductive view that is very frustrating to deal with.

      I’ve written briefly about being asexual and wearing hijab here:
      http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com/post/51610272046/a-few-thoughts-on-being-an-ace-hijabi

      To me, this discussion clearly shows that there is a large gap between many asexual and queer communities, and Muslims who identify as ace or queer and this is something I hope to keep exploring in my writings. There are around a billion Muslims in the world; if we take the 1% figure, then there should be a good 10 million asexual Muslims. How can we make asexual communities more welcoming for all those aces?

      • Carmilla DeWinter says:

        I can see how *aargh* this kind of reception must be for you.
        Solutions are, hm, difficult. No one can ever be without prejudice, however, one can be aware that one is prejudiced. It’s always amazing how many people don’t seem to realize this. Even then, it’s a frigging amount of work, examining all those things you “know”.
        Will have to ponder, maybe I’ll even get results. Meh.

  2. this is really intersting! Thanks for this article. And I agree with you that it would be good to think about these things as a community and work out how to provide a safe(r) space for everyone who wants to join the prides and other visibility work.

    I was wondering, as an ace muslim in a pride, do you think you’ll have to deal more frequently than other aces with the misguided judgment of some of the LGBT+ community that asexuals are “repressed” or a religious organisation which promotes abstinence? I’ve come across accounts of this attitude at prides a few times, where some people seem to immediately think that asexuality is the “non-practicing” gay thing in disguise, which comes from a Christian tradition.
    Though Islam is of course a different religion, I think that being a visible member of a religious community (with the added bonus of islamophobia and the view in the West of muslim women being “oppressed”) might be cause for an increase in such insults, or an increased likelihood that uneducated people will jump to such conclusions.

    • The question you’ve raised is a complex one and something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. In general, when non-Muslims see me in hijab, they tend to impute to me a particular narrative that they have about Islam. The example mentioned by Carmilla, that women who wear hijab are oppressed by some man or by their culture, is the most common form of this. I think that this completely disrupts any idea that the person making the assumption would have about Christian abstinence or being repressed or “non-practicing” gay. If we imagine a hypothetical example where I’m there wearing hijab and a Christian ace is wearing a visible sign of Christianity (e.g., a cross, a Jesus-related t-shirt, etc), then the visibly Christian ace would be more likely to be accused of repressing their sexuality in the way that you mentioned, whereas I would expect that I would be more likely to be asked why Muslims oppress women and gay people and the possibility that I myself might be gay would be erased.

      At the same time, I think that when people know me better they may look at my behavior (I don’t date, usually don’t make comments about other people who are attractive, etc) and read it as a religiously-inspired celibacy. I also think that they probably tend to assume that I’m celibate straight rather than celibate lesbian and thus even then they don’t impute the “repressed gay” narrative. However, in any case, I don’t see this dynamic coming into play in a situation with strangers in a crowd, as would be the case at a Pride parade.

      I’m hoping to write a post on this topic soon, actually, but my thoughts are still a bit inchoate at the moment. I’m glad you brought it up!

  3. Pingback: On being visibly Muslim and invisibly asexual (with apologies to Queenie) | The Asexual Agenda

  4. Pingback: Reconciling Asexuality with Belonging to a Muslim Community | The Asexual Agenda

  5. Pingback: Creating an asexual jurisprudence in Islam | The Asexual Agenda

  6. Pingback: Structuring asexual groups and communities to be anti-bias and anti-bigotry | The Asexual Agenda

  7. I would be proud to march with you at Pride if you ever were in the Chicago area! ❤

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