Hear From Nadya in Pride month

This is a strange way to start off this blog post, but please bear with me. In April 2016 I got my first telescope. I didn’t spend a great deal, and it took me awhile to learn how to focus it, but eventually one night I caught Jupiter, its red spot and the bright twinkles of the four Galilean moons. It was at that moment I started to believe in Allah again. At around the same time I properly and very bluntly came out to my father – the end of a rather long journey in me accepting that I was a gay woman. Soon after, I popped down to the LGBT inclusive Christian church at the bottom of my road, in a bid to be able to reconcile faith in god with my sexuality. It was welcoming, but it did not feel like my spiritual home.

I am of Arab Muslim descent and in my late teens I was a devout Muslim.

See, I am of Arab Muslim descent and in my late teens I was a devout Muslim. I wore the hijab, prayed five times a day, did voluntary fasts, only ate halal, didn’t drink, stopped listening to music, stopped watching films, and would only read Islamic texts or books written by Islamic scholars. I found peace in Islam and prayer, but that peace started to shatter as my attraction to a Muslim sister I attended Jummuah prayer with started to increase. This wasn’t the first time I had been attracted to a woman, but it was the first time I understood what my feelings meant. I buried that part of me, and met with a Muslim brother from my mosque to discuss marriage. Alhamdulillah that marriage did not take place as it would have been wretched for me and any children that eventuated.

I walked away from Islam. I moved out of home. I met a woman who I was absolutely in love with. I had my first intimate experience with another woman (the former was unrequited). The day after I felt horrid, dirty, wrong and ashamed. I stopped calling myself Muslim.

For the next decade and a bit, I would have relationships with women, self-sabotage them and then go back to dating men. Whilst I accepted and embraced seeing others in same-sex partnerships and unions, I couldn’t embrace me being in one. A current close friend of mine commented that it was uncomfortable to watch.

I have a lot of regrets, the women I walked away from that could have made me so happy, the relationships I had with men that made me feel broken and disconnected inside (not their fault), the impact the above had on my mental health and all those lost years not being who I truly was.

I feel whole and am the person I was meant to be.

With all those regrets riding heavy on my shoulder, I attended Stonewalls’ Diaspora Showcase last year. That led me to attending the Stonewall BAME/LGBT+ role models programme in November 2018, where I met a representative from Hidayah, a Muslim LGBT charity. I am utterly ashamed to say when I walked into the room, I automatically assumed that the person wearing Hijab and Abayah was an ally, not LGBT themselves. It was unconscious bias stemming from my own experience growing up with no LGBT+ Muslim role models.

Where am I now? After 20 years of struggling with my sexuality I have embraced being a gay woman. Hidayah has helped me reconcile my sexuality with my renewed belief and has shown me there is more than one way to be Muslim. I feel whole and am the person I was meant to be. I am not sacrificing aspects of myself.

I am also stepping up. It is hard. Whilst I have stopped caring if my extended family knows about me being gay, I am still petrified of bringing shame to my very supportive father. I have started to deliver talks about BAME and LGBT intersectionality. I was part of a panel on behalf of Hidayah in late March. It is nerve racking in the moments before I talk, but letting it all out and using my voice has given me a peace I thought was well and truly outside of my reach.

I want to change the outcomes of other Muslim LGBT people

And, most importantly I want to change the outcomes of other Muslim LGBT people. If I had been able to see someone like me growing up, I wouldn’t have felt so alone, isolated, scared and have lost so many years being an unauthentic me. I am doing that by working with groups like the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality and Hidayah, but also by being visible.

Nadya Fadih-Phoenix – Brit, Aussie, Arab, Muslim, Gay (pronoun them/they)