This post was originally published at The Asexual Agenda.
I attended the Creating Change conference in Philadelphia from January 18 to January 22, 2017. I had several different goals for the conference, reflecting different facets of my identity and work:
- connect in person with other aces
- connect in person with other queer Muslims
- attend anti-racism workshops to further my volunteer work with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)
- attend organization building workshops relevant to the needs of MuslimARC
- attend sessions on spirituality and self-care to help me in coping with burnout
The fact that I could further my interests in so many different areas of my life is why I was so excited to attend the conference. MuslimARC is not an ace or queer organization but since I have access to the resources that Creating Change offers due to my own ace and queer identity, I figured I might as well take advantage of it.
To my delight, I was able to attain all of my goals for the conference and benefit in each of these areas of my life.
Due to the way my asexuality, my being a Muslim convert, and my accessibility limitations intersect, I have difficult in connecting with groups in my local area. The Muslim spaces nearby that I am able to get to are usually not welcoming to me and not places where I fit in at all. I have been making efforts for the last several years to show up anyway because I hoped that even a flawed space would be better than nothing, which is what I have otherwise and what I had for most of the time since I converted.
Creating Change offered a chance to participate in spaces that are more inclusive of my identities. These spaces were limited - just one panel and one official gathering for each of my core identities (the ace inclusivity panel and ace caucus on the one hand and the Islamophobia panel and jumu’a prayer service on the other) - or on the margins (the unofficial ace hospitality suite and the unofficial queer Muslim caucus) but they did exist. While I could see ways these groups might fall short of providing all the support I need on an ongoing basis, within the context of the conference just the fact that they were there at all was enough.
Beyond just finding community spaces where I could meet others who share identities with me, I was able to have deep conversations with David Jay and with queer Muslim activist leaders Imam Tynan Power and Palmer Shepherd telling them my personal story and the issues I experience and even advocating for greater inclusion of asexual Muslims. The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD), which both Ty and Palmer are actively involved with, has not made any efforts so far to reach out to asexual Muslims or even acknowledge in their public materials that we exist and I emphasized to Ty and Palmer how important it is to mention aces by name because otherwise we will assume that we are not welcome. Meanwhile, I gave DJ a reference to my Asexuality and Islam website and a printout of asexual Muslim data gleaned from the ace census, so that he can amplify these resources.
The most valuable thing about these three talks was that although each group represents only half of my identity by itself, I was able to share all of myself with them. These were probably the most deeply validating experiences of the whole conference for me. And while there is still no actual asexual Muslim community (a continuing frustration of mine), I hope that my work in these conversations can help other asexual Muslims as individuals find the same validation I did.
Meanwhile, as I attended the Racial Justice Institute and a session on building sustainable funding for nonprofit organizations, I found that I was able to reference MuslimARC frequently, contribute usefully to the conversations based on my experiences volunteering there, and learn some tools and frameworks that will be useful to MuslimARC’s work. I even decided it would be useful to list MuslimARC as my organizational affiliation at future Creating Change conferences to continue building in this area. This was a pleasant surprise.
Two other workshops I attended with a racial justice focus, the Police Violence Institute and the alternatives to law enforcement session, gave me something I hadn’t expected - an insight into how Creating Change can be useful to connect ace youth, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, to LGBTQ resources that already exist to help address the larger systemic issues they face. I was able to talk with the head of an LGBTQ center in Colorado about asexuality, discover that they are already seeing ace youth seeking out their resources, and connect them with Asexual Outreach to get information and resources on asexuality. The opportunities for networking at Creating Change are amazing and next year I might print out some resources from Asexual Outreach to be able to give to people!
On the spiritual front, I made use of the Many Paths Spiritual Gathering Place as a prayer room - with five daily prayers, the logistics of being Muslim at a busy conference can be tricky and having that dedicated space out of the crowds made things a lot easier. I got to know the spiritual care team there and through the centering care workshop and the session on building an authentic spiritual path. Because of the limited space provided for Muslims specifically at the conference, and because Ty is only one person, the spiritual care team ended up providing me with a lot of support and friendship I didn’t expect to receive. Beyond this, some of the practices and ideas I gained from these sessions are things I am slowly working to implement in my life back home with links to both queer spirituality and anti-racist self-work.
Speaking of the unexpected, the conference pushed me way out of my comfort zone in multiple ways. I was initially very anxious about wearing both hijab and obvious ace gear at an LGBTQ conference where I wasn’t sure either identity would be fully welcome - but I spent five days as a very visible asexual Muslim and most people hardly blinked.
I did experience a few microaggressions, all related to being Muslim (none were related to being ace). While I was attending the Police Violence Institute a white woman acted to me in a way that I found rather tokenizing (”I’ve never seen a queer Muslim before! Can I have your business card?”) and I had to spend several minutes educating her about effective allyship (build relationships with the affected community and learn what they need you to do, then do that).
Also, at the end of the ace caucus, a white ace came up and asked me if I was a nun (yes, I consider this a microaggression). I also got this question from a random stranger while I was buying food in Reading Terminal Market one afternoon. Still, I was expecting a lot worse than this and I was really very pleasantly surprised by how unfazed most attendees were by me. Shout-out to the hijabis who have attended past conferences and paved the way for me.
Besides wearing hijab and ace gear all the time, I ended up on stage during the opening plenary session (me? shy Laura?) and even attended the lesbian caucus. I wasn’t forced to come out as anything (except as Muslim because I was wearing hijab) since there was just a large group discussion I listened to but didn’t take part in. But this was the first time I had made a public connection for myself between being homoplatonic and lesbian identity. I’m still hesitant to identify as an asexual lesbian specifically, but I took a baby step that evening and I’m proud of myself for that.
As if all this wasn’t enough, I participated in the Philadelphia Women’s March draped in an ace pride flag (and wearing an ace pride hijab) and shouting slogans like “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us” alongside Mary and Brian, which was pretty freaking awesome. Between that and being at a session on combatting Islamophobia and then at a queer Muslim prayer service during Trump’s inauguration, I figure I put a distinctively asexual Muslim stamp on my resistance that I plan to continue.
Creating Change 2017 was a life-changing experience that for the first time brought my whole self together in a single activist space. I’m still struggling every day with burnout but this was just the self-care I needed to help me get through a very tough time.