From Plymouth, MI, USA:

“My first crush was a girl named Deona in middle school. I remember trying to convince myself that she was just really nice and it didn’t mean anything. I felt so left out whenever my friends talked about guys they liked. I really wanted to gush to them about how amazing Deona was.

Being Desi and being born into a very religious Christian family, marrying a man was what was expected of me. No one ever talked about being queer. I remember bringing up LGBTQ+ issues to my friends and family hoping that someone, anyone, would feel the same way I did. I only got blatant homophobia in return. I was told that “the West” was changing me. I suppressed what I felt and never talked to anyone about the girls I liked. I just seemed like an overly passionate ally of the LGBTQ+ community. My friends spend so much time suggesting different guys to me and I kept rejecting them. They thought I just wasn’t a “relationship person” and I went along with it. It was easier than coming out and losing everyone I cared about.

It took me until senior year of high school to stop hiding my sexuality. I told my best friend about it and she told me it might just be a phase. I was heartbroken, but I didn’t say anything; I was kind of hoping it was a phase, too. Senior year was also when I started learning about Islam. I ended up converting.  The week after, I went to my first Muslim event – my high school MSA banquet. The speaker, Dawud Walid, thought it was appropriate to bring up homosexuality and he used the word “disgusting” to describe it. I remember sitting in the audience trying so hard not to break down and ended up leaving shortly after. I never talked to anyone about my sexuality after that. I tried to distance myself from the Muslim community and barely went to the masjid. Whenever I talked about being queer and Muslim, I felt like I was putting people in an uncomfortable position of choosing between me and Islam. I spent the next year and a half with a lot much shame and self hatred.

I ended up meeting the founder of this project this year, who introduced me to other queer people in my area. It finally felt like I belonged somewhere. I didn’t feel the need to be ashamed of who I was anymore – a queer, Muslim, Indian woman.”