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June 2015

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 http://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.