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March 2014

Asexuality, Islam, and Queerness

I am asexual, aromantic, non-libidoist (no sex drive), and sex-repulsed. I have no attraction of any kind to men except rare instances of aesthetic attraction. I have never had a romantic or sexual relationship with a man, I do not want one, and I would not know how to navigate one. I am not willing or even able to have sex with a man and I do not believe I ever will be able. This is not something I can compromise on. This means that a romantic/sexual relationship with a man would be a site of oppression for me. Marriage is out of the question.

My religion includes teachings like, "Marriage is half the religion," and "Marriage is part of my way and who goes away from my way is not of me."

This is what it's like being asexual and Muslim.

Marriage is not actually religiously obligatory in Islam. If you dig into enough detailed texts of jurisprudence, you'll eventually find statements that it's merely neutral and not even considered as recommended for people who do not experience desire. Marriage in Islam is understood largely as a way of regulating sexual desire and giving it a lawful outlet. If you don't experience desire, you don't have anything to regulate or need a lawful outlet for, thus the exhortation towards marriage is not really directed at you. Moreover, the "goes away from my way" saying was actually addressed to a married man who had turned away from his wife out of a misguided sense of piety. It was actually meant to say, "Your wife has a right on you, and it is part of the religion to give her her rights." In another instance, the Prophet told a man who said he was unable to marry that it was OK to not marry and to follow a course of lifelong celibacy (the phrase translated as "castrate yourself" (!) could mean figuratively "live as a eunuch") because God had written out that fate of inability for him (yes, I believe that God created me to be asexual).

In my searches, I also found this quote from an early mystic:

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.

That's talking to me right there. I could not find a healthful condition, integrity of heart, or peace of soul in marriage to a man. I take this quote as explaining the meaning of Quran 57:27, which says in part:

We [God] did not prescribe it [monasticism] for them except for seeking the good-pleasure of God.

I believe that through not subjecting myself to what would be a kind of psychic violence on me, but through pursuing a life of health, integrity and peace in celibacy, I am seeking the good-pleasure of God.

So, yes, there actually is a place for me as an asexual in Islam and I don't need to fear that I'm somehow failing in my religion by not being able to marry.

But...

It took me years to find the handful of texts I've mentioned here, to find these interpretations. Many Muslims might not know about them or agree with the way I understand them. Even if they did, that's an awful lot of explaining to do just to justify my being 40, single, and not planning to ever marry.

And then I have to explain that stuff in the first paragraph of this post. That, yes, it is possible for some people to innately have no interest whatsoever for sex. Even a lot of Western liberals seem to have trouble with that concept, judging from some of the reactions to asexuality. That I'm not just not interested in sex but that it would actually harm me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to have to engage in it. That it's because I am not straight, that God created some people to not be straight.

When your sexual orientation cuts you off from how your community or your society expects you to experience and express your sexuality, when you have to search for alternative interpretations and obscure texts to justify the existence of your sexual orientation and its validity within the religion, when you have to tell people that your sexual orientation is not "normal", is not how they believe God created everybody to be, you're queer.

I'm queer. As an asexual Muslim, I'm queer.

I'm still trying to figure out how to even have that conversation with anybody but LGBT Muslims, or if I ever will.

In the meantime, my not being married and not seeking marriage isolates me. Converts to Islam who don't have a larger community they already belong to are often very marginalized in Muslim communities in America. Many can find a way in by marrying. But I can't do that.

Being asexual and Muslim has often meant a profound loneliness and a silence about everything that made that loneliness. That's a queer experience too, to be isolated and alone because of where your sexual orientation puts you, and to not be able to explain why.

And another thing is, strawberreli is pretty much the only other asexual Muslim I've come across even on Tumblr, except for a couple of blogs that have long since gone inactive. I'm glad I'm not the only one, but that's really freaking lonely. I'm guessing that most of the other asexual Muslims (and yes, they exist and are out there) are like me, isolated and alone. Part of my motivation in finally writing this post is in case an asexual Muslim finds it and realizes they are not broken and not alone, not failing at the religion. There are a lot of answers I still don't have, but I hope I can give someone that, at least.


Caught between worlds

As an asexual and a Muslim, I sometimes feel myself caught between worlds, on the margins of both.

Although I call my blog "Notes of an Asexual Muslim", use the screen name ace-muslim, and post from time to time about queer Muslims or other issues relating to Islam, I don't post about my faith or how I struggle to reconcile being asexual and Muslim. The primary reason for this is that the asexual community on Tumblr seems to be mostly atheists and agnostics. I feel like people wouldn't understand or just wouldn't care. This is compounded by Islam being a religion that is badly misunderstood in the West, and often heavily stigmatized. I've never seen any anti-Islam sentiment here, and I appreciate that, but it's always something I have to think about and face the possibility of dealing with.

As an introvert, I often find it difficult to put myself forward and talk about myself, especially when I'm not sure of being understood. It's easier to avoid anything personal, to just post about things that fit in with the SJ culture on Tumblr, like queer Muslims, and figure at least that might give people here a better impression of Islam and of the diversity of Muslims. But being "too Muslim", that I hold back from. Plus, in some cases I'd need to give Islam 101 before I can talk about what I actually wanted to say. Or I wonder if something I say could be taken out of context or used to further stigmatize Islam and Muslims if it's not 100% positive.

Meanwhile, how do I talk about asexuality with Muslims? It's hard enough to talk about it even with Western liberals, even in LGBT spaces. People haven't heard of it, don't seem to have ever even imagined it can exist, sometimes refuse to believe it does exist. How can you have a conversation where you need to spend the first 15 minutes (or much longer) giving Asexuality 101 just to even be able to talk about what you originally wanted to say?

A growing number of American Muslims, especially millennials, are increasingly accepting of LGBT Muslims, but it can still be a very conservative religious community.

There seems to be this persistent belief in some quarters that somehow being religious and asexual is "easy" because religious communities and traditions supposedly love celibacy. I can only think that people who believe that don't have much experience with actual religious communities. Because what there often is in these communities is a HUGE pressure to be married. I've posted about this a few times before.

Maybe this misperception is because most people on Tumblr seem to be in their late teens or early 20s, often still in college. At that age, a family or community may think you're just "waiting" until after college or until you're a bit older and not be too negative (though of course some can be). But try being a 40 year old spinster who does not plan to ever marry. Do you really imagine that's OK in a conservative religious community?

And Islam is a religion that very strongly encourages marriage. It may be that Christianity is a bit more friendly towards celibacy than other religions (though I don't think this is really the case when it means never marrying), but... I'm not Christian. You can't apply your idea about Christianity to a Muslim.

For me as an asexual Muslim, the question of marriage is a huge thing to deal with. Maybe I finally will write about that one of these days... (ETA 3/5/14: it's here)

But what it means is that just as I hold back about being a Muslim with asexuals, so I hold back about being asexual with Muslims. I am whole in myself, asexual and Muslim, but I'm still trying to figure out how to actually be wholly myself with asexuals and with Muslims.

In the meantime, my interactions with each of these groups are carefully tailored to show only those parts of myself that fit in to that group.