“I’m Queer”: Grappling with Orthodoxy as an Asexual Muslim Woman

Note: This was originally published at Love InshAllah.

Recalcitrant. Disobedient. Deserving punishment. These words filled my mind one night in March 2014 as I bowed then dropped to the floor to prostrate before Allah.

Prayer before bed is usually my quiet time. Standing alone in a darkened apartment as the rest of the world goes to sleep, I often find stillness of mind. A renewed connection with Allah after a busy day.

Not always. Sometimes my mind is sticky, refusing to let go of a problem that frustrates me. Or a minor comment from the morning looms large. They’re wrong and this is why, I think. How dare they? Other times my thoughts, though still distracting, are more productive. The solution to a puzzle presents itself. Words form a lovely turn of phrase for an essay.

But that night my thoughts were darker. I’d been reading commentary on Qur’an 4:34. The verse reads in part:

…And those [wives] who, you fear their recalcitrance, so admonish them and separate from them in bed, and hit them…

The Qur’an doesn’t explain exactly what “recalcitrance” (nushuz in Arabic) is, but most traditional scholars agree that sex is a man’s right in marriage and for a wife to withhold that from him is the most fundamental form of recalcitrance.

Sex is not something I will ever want to do. I have no interest in it and the very thought leaves me cold. It’s not something I can compromise on.

Does Allah want me to be hit for that? For a way that I am innately?

The Prophet never hit a woman and that, I believe, is what Allah really wants. For too many Muslim men, however, it seems their nafs comes before this Sunna of the Prophet. Looking at how 4:34 is commonly understood today, I’d long since decided that what the verse really means is that marriage is not a possibility for me. To protect my own integrity (and perhaps my safety), I can’t and won’t put myself in that position.

Those were old thoughts, though. What pulled at my mind that quiet spring night was different. What does it mean that my religion, as traditionally constructed, sees me as innately disobedient, as led by my created nature to act in a way it has set as haram?

My mind still swirled as I finished my prayer and crawled into bed. A sleepless hour later, I sat down in front of my computer and typed out, I’m queer.

Queer.

A modern word. A word with a long and sometimes painful history. At various times it’s been used as a slur against gay men and lesbians, especially the former; it’s been contrasted with “gay” as the more radical or political identity; and it’s been used in sometimes abstruse academic discourse to talk about subverting dominant paradigms.

Many LGBTQ people today use it to refer to anybody whose sexuality or gender is non-normative, or as an umbrella term for LGBTQ communities. It can be used as a non-label label (“I’m not straight but I don’t fit into any of the existing identity boxes”).

In some LGBTQ spaces there’s a debate about whether asexual people can or should use queer as a label. Is queerness associated with same-sex attraction? With experiencing certain types of prejudice or oppression? If queerness is defined narrowly so as to exclude asexual people, but we’re not straight, where do we fit?

No matter how many times I’d grappled with those questions, I’d never come to a definitive answer. Perhaps there is no way to answer in a Western context whether asexuality is queer. Perhaps the word’s meaning is too tied to a specific history.

But in an Islamic context? My sexual orientation cuts me off from how my community and the traditional authorities of my religion expect me to experience and express my sexuality. Within marriage, it would lead me to act in a way those authorities consider deviant. I've had to search for alternative interpretations and obscure texts to justify my choice to go away from marriage, to defend the validity of lifelong celibacy. I've kept silent for 15 years about why I've chosen this path, because explaining it means telling people my sexuality is not the way they believe Allah created everybody to be. That I'm not "normal".

I need a word to describe how excluded I feel by Muslim orthodoxy, to express the frustrating impossibilities of my life, the marginalization, the alienation, the silence. I need an alternative to the harshness of nushuz. Whether or not I’d ever face physical hitting, that word pummels me.

When the tradition makes no space for you, you have to create your own. Queer that night offered me a new way to think about myself, a new way to help others understand me. My emotions beat down by the refrain of recalcitrance, disobedience, and punishment, I found comfort in a word from a different tradition. Neither orthodox Islam nor Western LGBTQ discourse alone had given me answers. It was only when I wove them together, created a new meaning for myself out of my unique experiences, that I found the place I needed.

I’m queer, I wrote, and my heart found peace. An hour and a thousand-word blog essay later, I settled back into bed and immediately fell asleep.

Sometimes Allah answers the prayer of night in the most surprising of ways.


Building an asexual Muslim community

One of the items on my asexual community wishlist is to have some kind of online asexual Muslim community. In this post, I look more at this goal.

When I first joined Tumblr in 2012, I came across exactly one other asexual Muslim. Since then, I’ve discovered a number more (I’m curating public posts in my asexual Muslim tag) and last week muslimaces launched. While there are likely many other asexual Muslims on Tumblr that I just haven’t found yet, I think the total number that I know of is still less than a dozen. (The 2014 asexual community census found that 0.5% of respondents were Muslim. That’s a grand total of just 70 people!!)

More than this, most of the asexual Muslims I know of are not posting much about their experiences. Almost all of the content I’ve found on asexuality and Islam is written by one person - me. The other posts tend to be one-off personal narratives, submitted to series like “We Are Not Haram” and “Ace Of Color Stories”.

It’s great just to know that other asexual Muslims exist. I love reading the personal narratives. Don’t get me wrong. I completely respect that many asexual Muslims may not be ready to post their stories (I wasn’t myself until last year), or don’t feel they have much to say, or just prefer not to.

But subsisting on just this handful of posts is not really “community”. It’s merely occasional ships passing in the night every few months.

The broader asexual community on Tumblr has helped me immensely over the last three years. Through reading posts from other aces, I’ve been able to see the different ways people have handled situations similar to the ones I’ve experienced in my life. I’ve learned about aces who are leading lives and building relationships that I’ve come to realize I would like to do as well. Very often, I didn’t even realize I wanted these things until I saw other aces talk about them.

I hope that in some small way, my posts on asexuality and Islam have already helped other asexual Muslims in these ways. What I’d really like to see is other people contributing to these conversations so that I can learn too!

Moreover, I’m aware that, as a white convert and as someone who lives in the U.S., my experiences are not typical of most asexual Muslims. Limited by my own perspectives and background, I’m hardly able to provide a representative illustration of asexual Muslim life. I’ve sometimes hesitated to write for this very reason. I ultimately decided that I needed to put my voice out there anyway, in the hopes that it would inspire others to speak up as well. If not me, who?

With that in mind, here is a list of topics I’d like to see other asexual Muslims writing on, inshallah. This is not meant to be a complete list, just a potential starting place.

  • Marriage - Are you married? Do you want to be? If not, have you faced pressure from family or community to get married and how have you dealt with it? Do you feel like the Islamic jurisprudence around marriage is helpful or harmful for asexual Muslims? If harmful, how would you like to see it changed?
  • Relationships - Do you want to have a primary partnership (where you share residence, resources, or future plans) in your life? Who would this be with, ideally? For instance, are you only interested in ace-ace relationships or would you want to have a relationship with an allosexual person? Do you only want a Muslim partner or would you be willing to have a relationship with a non-Muslim? What type of relationship would it be? Sexual, romantic, queerplatonic? Something else? Are you interested in a same-sex or polyamorous relationship? Do you have a primary relationship now? If not, what obstacles have you encountered in building one?
  • Queerness - Do you identify as queer or LGBTQ? Are you part of any queer Muslim communities and, if so, what have your experiences been like? How do you think queer Muslim groups and communities can be more ace-inclusive?
  • Hijab - If you wear hijab, have worn it in the past, or want to wear it, what have your experiences been like? For instance, I tend to find that it desexualizes me and, being asexual, this is actually a relief in some ways. Is this true for you? How do you feel hijab expresses or relates to your asexuality?
  • Community - Are you out to anyone in your local community? Would you consider it? Have you found a progressive, feminist, or queer community (perhaps online) that you would feel comfortable being out to? Do you feel that asexuality marginalizes you within Muslim communities? In what ways? What would you like to see here?
  • Faith - Do you feel that asexuality is part of the natural diversity of Allah’s creation or do you have a different view? Do you feel that an asexual identity or your way of living life as asexual is haram? Are there verses of the Quran or rules in fiqh that you struggle with and how have you come to terms with them? What changes would you like to see in theology or fiqh to better support and include you as asexual?
  • Intersections - Are there other intersectional identities that you have that impact how you live as an asexual Muslim? For instance, disability, transgender identity, neurodiversity or mental health issues, being a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, race or ethnicity, being a convert or part of a minority group within Islam, gender, etc. How do these weave together with your asexuality and your Muslim identity in your life?
  • Asexual communities - Are you part of any (predominantly non-Muslim) asexual communities, whether on Tumblr or elsewhere? What are your experiences? Have you encountered Islamophobia or other forms of prejudice? How can asexual communities better support you as an asexual Muslim? How would you like to see them develop?

I hope that as more asexual Muslims begin to write and share their stories, this will encourage a still larger group to come forward and that we can begin to learn from each other and support each other in our experiences until we can be a genuine and sustainable community, inshallah.


Asexuality, Muslimness, and accessibility

elainexe‘s recent post Ace Problems, Non-Ace Solutions helped me to crystallize some ideas I’ve been thinking a lot about this summer.

In Obstacles to therapy as an asexual Muslim convert, I wrote about how my identity as an aromantic, sex-averse asexual, my being a hijab-wearing Muslim convert, and my accessibility limitations due to not being able to drive all come together.

This is true almost any time I think about accessibility to offline spaces. Whether it’s deciding where to live or what jobs I can take, figuring out how to get to anything from a medical appointment to a march, even my experiences at the mosque, it’s always those same three things.

They don’t always combine in the same way. Being a convert is the most relevant in Muslim spaces (where converts are often marginalized), while being Muslim itself and wearing hijab is more relevant in non-Muslim spaces (where I may face prejudice or stigma). Being asexual instead of some other flavor of queer matters in some contexts, particularly LGBTQ ones. Other times, the key is the lifelong celibacy I have chosen as the most authentic way to live in my asexuality, aromanticism, and sex aversion.

Being celibate means I can’t rely on a partner to drive me places I can’t get to by myself. There are practical benefits - there is security, as elainexe notes - in being married or having another type of long-term primary relationship. In fact, part of the reason I’m interested in forming a queerplatonic relationship is simply to have somewhere there to help with the practical details of life, especially as I get older.

What would make my life easier? Above all, changing society so that people do not have to rely primarily on family and marriage to get certain types of care and support. Reform of family law and of societal structures of care is, in a way, my top political issue as an ace. Better public transit would make a big difference too.

It would also make my life easier if both the larger American society and also many Muslim communities would stop treating Muslimness and being a white American as mutually exclusive, recognized that some of us are both at the same time, and were more welcoming and inclusive.

And finally, it would help if asexuality were recognized as a valid sexual orientation and people were familiar with it and accepted it.


Potentially Asexual Women in Early Muslim History

Summary

This post explores the stories of two potentially asexual women from early Muslim history, Sawda bint Zam’a (d. 674 CE) and Rabi’a bint Isma’il (probably lived before 845 CE). I discuss how one might identify potentially asexual people who lived before modern ideas of sexual orientation, then present each of the two women, her history, and the evidence for her potential asexuality. I conclude by looking at common themes in these two stories and and at the untapped potential for finding asexual history in Islamic biographical collections.

Introduction

Identifying Potentially Asexual People

Asexuality as an identity has only existed since around the start of the 21st century; however, it is likely that people who are asexual by orientation (i.e., who do not experience sexual attraction) have always existed. I myself did not know that asexuality was a thing until I was 31, but I existed as asexual without a label long before that. I use the term “potentially asexual” to refer to people who may meet the definition of asexuality but who do not identify as asexual.

How can we identify potentially asexual people who lived earlier in history? This can be especially difficult if the people lived before modern concepts of sexual orientation (which primarily developed during the 1800s in Europe and America). They would not likely have used modern terminology to describe their sexuality, and might not appear to meet the technical definition of asexuality - for instance, if they don’t talk about sexual attraction as a defining characteristic (many people seem even today conflate it with either sexual desire or romantic attraction/love).

Continue reading "Potentially Asexual Women in Early Muslim History" »


Obstacles to therapy as an asexual Muslim convert

In her call for submissions for this month’s Carnival, Elizabeth asked people to write about their experiences with therapists, or the considerations they would need to take into account if they wished to seek therapy. I’m not currently in therapy, nor seeking to do so. I have thought about it a few times, however, and realized there are a lot of obstacles.

When I think about visiting a therapist, I have to take into account that I am:

  • a sex-averse, aromantic asexual
  • a hijab-wearing Muslim convert
  • someone with accessibility limitations due to not being able to drive

I don’t tell my primary care physician that I’m asexual. It’s not relevant to any treatment that he might provide me with. What he needs to know (and does) is that I’m not sexually active, have never been, and don’t plan to be. As far as I’m concerned, why is none of his business.

Having said that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about asexuality, aromanticism, or especially sex aversion if it was relevant unless I trusted that my provider understood these identities and accepted them. I feel like someone who wasn’t ace-competent might try to “fix” my sex aversion or tell me that I should try to “get over it”. I also suspect that they might feel that my aromanticism (not falling in love, not having ever dated) was “abnormal”.

If I went to a therapist, it would be to seek help with dealing with how the world treats me as sex-averse, aromantic, and asexual, not for trying to change any of those characteristics.

Another thing I don’t want to deal with from a medical professional is thinking I’m “repressed” or “oppressed” because I wear hijab, or who thought it was strange of me to have converted to Islam. I don’t think my PCP necessarily knows a lot about Islam, but he accepts it without reservation and is able to provide me with culturally competent care.

Earlier this year, I developed knee bursitis, which made it difficult to kneel - something I do a lot of in my five daily prayers. My doctor didn’t try to tell me I shouldn’t pray like that, but instead he helped me find workarounds (such as using a yoga mat under my prayer rug) to continue to pray while my knee recovered. That’s the kind of attitude I need from a provider.

If I did go to a therapist at the current time, it would most likely be to seek help for dealing specifically with the issues I discussed in Coming out of hiding: How isolation, erasure, and invalidation over asexuality have affected my mental health. This is primarily burnout from interactions within online Muslim social justice spaces (which serve as my primary Muslim community).

For a therapist to understand these dynamics, they would probably need to be Muslim themselves in order to have sufficient knowledge, and I would also need them to be familiar with the unique issues that converts face.

Finding an ace-competent therapist seems challenging enough. Finding a convert-competent Muslim therapist probably isn’t easy either, if only because Muslims are a small percentage of the U.S. population and thus of therapists. Finding a therapist who was both Muslim and ace-competent seems like trying to find a unicorn.

And that brings in a third issue. I’m very unlikely to find such a therapist in the city where I live. And if they were in another city in this area, getting there by bus would take up a lot of my time and make it difficult for me to get there very often without having to take time off work regularly. Or what if they could only be found in another state? Do therapists offer sessions over Skype?!

Sometimes I feel like my life is a catch-22. I’m marginalized in multiple ways both in the larger society and in Muslim communities and those multiple marginalizations often seem to intersect (especially with my accessibility limitations) in ways that make it very difficult to get to things that I might need from others.

I also feel like I’m such a rare intersection as an asexual Muslim convert that only a handful of people would even understand my experiences, and those people are other ordinary asexual Muslims and not likely to be therapists.


Faith, Islam, and Asexual Community Politics

Note: This was originally published in f-ace-ing silence, issue 3.

Five times a day, I stand before my Lord in prayer, bow and prostrate. This June and July, I’ll be doing a month straight of 18-hour fasts for Ramadan. I do this because my faith grounds and centers me.

This isn’t the queer Muslim story that it seems most people in LGBTQ and asexual spaces want to hear.

The queer Muslim narrative that people in these spaces seem to want to hear is about how I struggle with religious rules that were not designed with my sexuality in mind.

That is an important story, and one worth telling. Islam, like many other religions, has something to say about sexuality and I can’t exist as an asexual person in Muslim spaces without eventually running into that.

But my asexuality is not all of me. I exist as a whole person, a flawed human being seeking a structure for shaping my life according to moral guidelines, a believer who seeks reminder of and connection with the divine, a perspective that this world is not all that there is.

When I accepted Islam in 1999, that faith was why. When I continue to practice it, that faith is why. Being asexual means I may run into more obstacles in living my faith than a straight person does, but the faith is already there, rooted in my heart, before it meets those obstacles.

I am an asexual Muslim – Muslim is the noun, modified by my asexuality.

According to the 2014 asexual community census, 58.6% of respondents identify as atheist, agnostic, or other non-religious. But I believe it’s not just because aces of faith are in a numerical minority that faith perspectives can be marginalized in ace spaces.

Rather, I believe that when faith perspectives are marginalized, it is because of how LGBTQ communities – and the asexual communities that are modeled after them – tend to define themselves in relation to religion.

Specifically, these communities often perceive religion as seeking to repress sexuality, and part of the “ideal queer narrative”[1] is a triumphant progress from repression to healthy, sex-positive Pride.

In such a narrative, religion often appears only as something that a person needs to leave behind in order to become liberated.

In such a narrative, there seems to be little or no space for faith as a positive force in a person’s life.

In the case of Islam, this narrative is further complicated by stereotypes common in Western societies that Islam is uniquely oppressive to women and to LGBTQ people of all genders.

In this view, Islam is such a negative force that no one in their right mind could choose it freely. LGBTQ Muslims must exist in a state of victimization by their families or cultures, ready to be “rescued” to a secularized (and usually capitalist-friendly) Western identity.

In the context of Western political and military interventions in Muslim-majority countries, LGBTQ politics can become homonationalism[2].

The invisibility of asexuality means it is not overtly deployed in these types of discourses.

However, nearly half of asexual-spectrum respondents in the 2014 community census identified themselves as “sex-positive” and just over half consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community while the vast majority think asexuality should be part of the LGBTQ umbrella[3].

This means that sex-positive LGBTQ-inspired politics are a significant factor in online asexual discourse.

Online asexual communities have begun to analyze sex-positivity and how it affects those on the asexual spectrum[4].

As we do this, we should also examine how sex-positivity impacts aces of faith, especially aces who belong to non-Christian religions such as Islam.

We should examine whether we make assumptions about religion that allow no room for faith as a positive force in the lives of many aces.

As an ace of faith, I don’t need the majority of other aces to share my experiences. As a member of a tiny religious minority within asexual spaces[5], I know that they do not.

But I often feel that I cannot talk freely about my experiences of faith, or that when I do speak about it, it is ignored.

I feel that I need to leave an important part of myself behind when I enter asexual spaces. Given the lack of awareness about asexuality in the larger world, I feel that there is no place I can be wholly myself as an asexual Muslim.

Footnotes

[1] A good examination of these narratives (and how they can have negative effects on aces) can be found in “Stunted Growth” by Megan Milks, in Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives (partial content available online at https://tinyurl.com/lzdcrcf ).

[2] For more on homonationalism and its impacts on the Muslim world, see “The Empire of Sexuality: An Interview with Joseph Massad”. For a book-length treatment, see Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, by Jasbir Puar.

[3] According to the census, 44.3% of ace respondents identify as sex-positive. 52.1% consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community. 88% think that asexuality should be part of the LGBTQ umbrella.

[4] For example, see the June 2013 Carnival of Aces on sex-positivity.

[5] According to the census, just 0.5% of respondents are Muslim.


Integrity of Heart, Peace of Soul: Finding My Path as an Asexual Muslim

Note: This was originally published at Love InshAllah.

I’m not able to be a “good Muslim wife”. In fact, I’m not able to be in a conventional marriage at all.

I’m asexual, aromantic, and sex-averse. Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by experiencing little or no sexual attraction to any person1. Aromanticism means that I do not experience romantic attraction, or falling in love, to any person either. As for the sex aversion, that’s what ultimately makes marriage out of the question for me. While not all asexual individuals are sex-averse, a majority are2 and, like me, the vast majority3 of asexual people prefer not to engage in sexual activity and do not do so.

Muslim discourse around marriage, especially the fiqh of marriage, tends to present the purpose of marriage as being the regulation of sexual desire. Sex, we are told, is a right that each partner has on the other. To withhold that right is to commit nushuz (recalcitrance) and to put the marriage in danger. For women especially, the consequences of nushuz can be severe because of the degree that Quran 4:344 gives husbands over their wives. Add onto that the difficulties that Muslim women can face, in fiqh and in real-world situations, in seeking divorce, and marriage comes to seem like a place of entrapment. With nothing to draw me toward it, given my lack of sexual and romantic attraction, it’s always seemed best for me to just avoid it and to choose a celibate path in life.

Celibacy is a safe course for me, but it can also be profoundly isolating. I have a pretty high tolerance for being alone – I’m an introvert and I like living by myself. But being unmarried often places me on the margins of Muslim communities, especially since as a convert I do not have a Muslim family. And this is, after all, the religion which teaches that, “Marriage is half the deen”.

I am not half a person, and I don’t have only half a faith. But trying to explain why I can’t be married, why marriage could end up as a site of oppression for me – a place of being coerced into sex I don’t want to have or punished for refusing it – and that this is because of having a non-straight sexual orientation… yeah, that’s a conversation I’ve always actively avoided getting into.

For much of my adult life, I didn’t know that asexuality was an actual sexual orientation. I thought it was just something weird about me, that I wasn’t made the way other people are. It wasn’t until I was 31 that I learned about asexuality through a news article (even today, most discussions of sexuality do not mention asexuality or present it as a possibility). And it was only in 2012 (by which time I was 39) that I found an active asexual community online that I could join.

Knowing that there are others who share my experience, that I am not alone, has made a big difference for me. But, more than that, asexual discourse has given me a new way to look at things. For instance, I had previously characterized myself simply as “not interested in sex” but I learned to tease apart lack of sexual attraction, lack of sex drive, and sex aversion as different phenomena and that asexual individuals may differ significantly from me in some areas while sharing a lack of sexual attraction. I learned that many asexual people have a distinct romantic orientation and to identify myself as aromantic. I’ve also learned about other attraction types including sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction, and emotional attraction and determined which of these I do and don’t experience. As well, I have a much deeper understanding of sex aversion after reading the experiences of others and have learned to parse out the different elements that comprise it for me.

Another area of asexual discourse I have benefited from is exploration of non-conventional relationship types. In contemporary American society, we tend to create two boxes, one for romantic relationships (which will always involve sex at some point, it seems) and one for “just friends”. There isn’t really a cultural model for a relationship that is non-romantic and non-sexual while also being emotionally intimate and deeply committed, and which is the primary relationship in a person’s life. However, for many asexual individuals, such a relationship (often called queerplatonic5) is ideal.

As I’ve read about queerplatonic relationships that others are building, I’ve come to realize that I would like to have such a relationship myself someday, inshallah. It would provide me with both emotional support and the practical benefits of having a partner, while not asking of me feelings I am not able to give or putting an expectation of sex on me.

I’ve also come to recognize in myself a quiet but consistent emotional attraction to other women and that I would only want to be in a queerplatonic relationship with a female partner. Finding such a relationship and such a partner seems a very distant possibility at this time, especially since I would want her to be an observant Muslim who can share prayer, fasting, Quran, and learning with me – I’ve only come across four other asexual Muslims6 total so far. Still, it is a source of comfort to know that the potential is there.

The path to a committed love may be extremely narrow for me, and fraught with many difficulties, but it does exist. All praise is due to Allah, al-Latif, al-Wadud.

Coda

The title of this post is taken from The Sustenance of Hearts by Abu Talib al-Makki, as quoted in Celibacy and Religious Traditions:

God has decreed neither marriage nor celibacy… But he has decreed integrity of heart, preservation of faith, a soul at peace, and the execution of commands needed for these… And if one’s healthful condition, integrity of heart, and peace of soul reside in celibacy, then that is better for him, since these are the things that are desired of marriage. If one can reach these without marriage, then celibacy causes no harm.

Notes

1To learn more about asexuality, I recommend reading The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.

2According to the 2014 asexual community census, 55% of asexual respondents are sex-averse.

3According to the asexual community census, 87.5% of those on the asexual spectrum are not currently sexually active. Specific data for the asexual subset is not available at this time.

4I’ve written more about how Quran 4:34 could impact asexual Muslim women at Islam, Patriarchy, and the Recalcitrant Asexual Wife. I’ve written a number of other posts on asexuality and Islam as well and I hope that you will check them out if you are interested in learning more, inshallah.

5To learn more about queerplatonic relationships and where the terminology comes from, I recommend downloading the Queerplatonic Primer.

6Fun fact: according to the asexual community census, 0.5% of respondents were Muslim. That comes out to around 70 people out of 14,000! It is likely that there are many more asexual Muslims than that, they just aren’t in online communities where they would have found the census survey. About 1% of the general population is believed to be asexual.


The Year of Writing about Asexuality for Muslims

I created a Tumblr blog in June 2012 and began writing long-form original posts soon thereafter, mostly for the Carnival of Aces.

In March 2014, I began writing on asexuality and Islam. A month or so later I was accepted as a contributor for The Asexual Agenda.

When I first started writing on asexuality and Islam, hardly anybody else had written anything on this topic. Even today, there are only a handful of posts by other asexual Muslims, primarily from elainexe.

In October 2014, I first took the idea to submit a post on asexuality to a Muslim site. I even knew exactly which one I wanted to write for, a Muslim relationships site called Love InshAllah. I had been following the site for some time and had seen that it included a diverse range of stories, including some that were not about romantic love at all, and was LGBTQ-friendly. I started writing a draft post but stalled on it and moved on to other projects instead, hoping that this would help me break through my writer’s block.

Then in February 2015, Love InshAllah suddenly tweeted out an open call for contributors and they specifically stated they were looking for LGBTQ Muslim submissions. I trashed the incomplete draft I had started several months earlier then wrote a whole new post from scratch in about 48 hours and submitted it. The time was clearly right!

As it turns out, Love InshAllah was inundated with submissions and inquiries, far more than they had expected to receive, and it took them a long time to get back to me. During this period, I began thinking about which of my Asexual Agenda posts I could repurpose for future submissions, and I also began looking around to see what other sites I might submit to if it didn’t work out with Love InshAllah.

The thing is, “asexual Muslim stories” is a really narrow market niche. There aren’t any well-known or mainstream LGBTQ Muslim group blogs or magazine-style writing sites that I’ve come across. There are sites for “LGBTQ people of faith” that take submissions - but they seem to be entirely focused on Christianity (pro-tip: “People of faith” is not synonymous with “Christians”. Other religions exist!). Most general Muslim writing sites, including ones that are feminist or progressive in orientation, do not advertise themselves as LGBTQ-friendly and have not published any LGBTQ Muslim stories that I can find.

I expect that I’ll have to introduce Islam to asexual sites, and asexuality to Muslim sites. I’m not so sure about having to introduce both asexuality and Islam to LGBTQ Christian sites, or about having to introduce both LGBTQ topics and asexuality to Muslim sites.

As of right now, I have one other site that I might submit to, a Muslim feminist site that focuses on underrepresented perspectives. I recently found out that Love InshAllah will publish my submission on March 25, and I’m waiting to see if they might accept me as a monthly columnist. Until I know for sure on that, I’m not planning to take any action on this other site, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what types of writing and what topics are best suited for where. I have so many ideas!

I certainly didn’t expect it even as recently as six weeks ago, but this is starting to look like the Year of Writing about Asexuality for Muslims.


Carving out a space for myself

This post is for the February Carnival of Aces.

About a year ago, I wrote a post called Caught Between Worlds about feeling caught between asexual and Muslim communities. I reflected that I felt I couldn't really talk about Islam or being Muslim with aces, while I couldn't talk about being asexual with Muslims.

Since I wrote that post, I got over my hesitation about talking about Islam in asexual spaces - I've written 15 posts on asexuality and Islam for this blog (seven of which have been cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda)!

I've come across a few more asexual Muslims in that time, some of whom (particularly elainexe) have also written on their experiences with asexuality and Islam.

However, there isn't yet any sort of asexual Muslim community and it's still a topic I largely have to myself.

As well, for the most part the only asexual bloggers who seem to have engaged much with my posts are those who are specifically interested in intersections of asexuality with religion.

On the negative side, I had to leave a Facebook group for aces some months ago after another member posted Islamophobic comments and there was no response to my call-out. Thankfully, this is the only instance of overt Islamophobia I've encountered so far in asexual communities.

Despite these limitations, I'm pleased with what I've been able to achieve in this area.

What about talking about asexuality in Muslim spaces? That's proven more challenging. Talking about Islam in asexual spaces is relatively easy - everybody knows I'm Muslim from my handle and my avatar, so it was just a matter of deciding to stop caring what people think. But talking about asexuality outside of ace spaces runs into all of the issues of invisibility and erasure that aces tend to face. Even in LGBTQ Muslim spaces, most individuals have never heard of asexuality and most groups don't acknowledge its existence or include it under their umbrella.

I actually hope to focus more this year on visibility work in Muslim spaces. Even as I write this post, I have a piece on asexuality on submission to a popular Muslim relationships site that is LGBTQ-friendly.

I feel that starting out in asexual spaces helped me to gain a clearer understanding of what I want to say and what issues are important, which will make visibility and outreach work much easier.

Here are a few other things I've learned in the last year about being one of just a few people at the intersection of two very different communities:

  • Pick the space you feel most comfortable in or most free to discuss your whole self in and start from there. This helps you build confidence for more challenging spaces.
  • Be willing to be the first one to talk about your particular intersection, even if you're not sure whether your experiences are shared by others. Somebody has to start.
  • Write for yourself and for people who may share your intersection (even if you're not sure such people are out there), not just for your current audience. Don't let the limits of your current audience keep you silent.
  • Understand what your ultimate aim is. For me, it is to create a space where I can be wholly myself, both wholly asexual and wholly Muslim.
  • Look for allies and safe spaces - and be open to finding them in unexpected spaces. One of the more helpful blogs I came across this last year is A Queer Calling, a blog by a celibate LGBT Christian couple. I've learned a lot from reading this blog about integrating faith with a queer identity, even though their tradition is very different from mine.
  • Take the best you can from both communities. Even if you can't share all of yourself in one or both yet, you can draw support and feel less alone by sharing what you can with each.
  • Do what you can to stay strong. It can be profoundly lonely, and at the same time scary to break new ground. But in my experience, it's easier when I know I'm not hiding or silent anymore.

This year has been one of personal growth and healing for me and I'm glad I found the courage a year ago to hit Publish on the post that started it all.


Creating an asexual jurisprudence in Islam

It took me awhile to decide what to write about for this Carnival. Not because I don't know what I want to say, but because I've already written so much on the topic. Not including this post, my asexuality and Islam tag includes 14 original posts.

I've written a few posts (1, 2, 3) on hijab (the Islamic modest dress) and how people's perceptions of that intersects with my asexuality. I've written about belonging (and not belonging) to communities and about compulsory sexuality. I've written tips for straight Muslims and other allies. But the topic I've written about most extensively is marriage.

The (so far) eight posts in my "Asexuality, Islam, and Marriage" series tend to be the least-read of all my asexuality and Islam posts, which doesn't surprise me. They're dense and they also discuss topics that are foreign to most asexuals on Tumblr - both because Islam is not well-known to most non-Muslims and because most online aces tend to be secular or atheist.

However, these posts are the ones that I most hope that other asexual Muslims will read and benefit from, and they're the most important to me. They're the result of 15 years of independent study of Islamic jurisprudence as it relates to sex and marriage.

Although only one of the posts explicitly proposes a new framework, I see all of them together as constituting a fledgling asexual jurisprudence. Why is an asexual jurisprudence needed? Because traditional and orthodox jurisprudence doesn't work for asexual Muslims, especially those who cannot, do not, or will not engage in sexual activity. For asexual Muslim women especially, the traditional jurisprudence of marriage can result in oppressive and harmful outcomes because it tends to consider such women as inherently deviant.

Whether asexual Muslims are seeking to enter a marriage with an allosexual Muslim, and need safeguards if the relationship falls apart, or if they want to legitimize a queerplatonic or other non-sexual relationship with another asexual Muslim, they will need to go beyond the orthodox jurisprudence of marriage, even in a cross-sex relationship. And, yes, asexual Muslims may need to create a jurisprudence of same-sex marriage too.

In practice, there are many obstacles to implementing asexual jurisprudence, which to me emphasizes just how unorthodox it can be - and why asexual Muslims need it.

Presenting any kind of challenge to orthodoxy, whether it is Islamic feminism or queer theology*, can evoke a strong backlash. Moreover, I have no formal Islamic scholarly qualifications (let alone the advanced ones many traditionalists claim are needed to engage in independent reasoning). This is often very difficult for women to obtain, and I have extremely limited access to any kind of Islamic learning from where I live, except online. Right now, my fledgling asexual jurisprudence is too obscure for anybody to have had much of a reaction to it. And it may only ever be a niche interest.

But for me it's about leading a livable life as an asexual Muslim, and that's why I've embarked on this. I claim the right to do it out of sheer necessity.

*I could also have called my work an "asexual theology" in the broader sense of "religious discourse" but in Islam the term "theology" (kalam) tends to refer to discourse about the nature of God, so "jurisprudence" is a more precise term.