Lamya H Is the Nonbinary Author Proving the Power of Queer Muslim Stories

In the Quran, the story of Hajar focuses on her husband Ibrahim, and his willingness to sacrifice their son who, in the end, is spared. But it’s Hajar’s untold story — her unheard voice, her sacrifice, and her saving faith — that interests Lamya. Drawing the parallel, Lamya writes, “This is why my story has to remain untold: I have everything to lose. I could lose my family’s love, I could lose my love for them.” In Hajar’s sacrifice, Lamya sees the sacrifice that they and their partner must make in order to maintain their relationship.

The fact that Lamya genuinely grapples with their faith is precisely what gives that faith strength. Without doubt, there would only be certainty, and no need for faith, the author contends. “Contrary to how I was raised, I think the Quran embraces its own doubt,” Lamya says. “The figures in the Quran are constantly questioning.”

Part of the significance of Lamya’s work stems from its ability to hold seemingly contradictory truths at once: that being queer can be hard, especially for those of us who fall outside of white, homonormative experience, and that in spite of this difficulty, our lives and our stories can still contain joy. “I’ve found myself repeatedly coming up against the tragedy of queerness,” Lamya tells me. When they began writing in their late twenties after encountering the braided essay form, they have consciously written counter to this characterization; one of the first pieces they ever published, ten years ago, was called, “Not Your Tragic Queer Muslim Narrative.”

“My queerness and my Muslim-ness do not need to be reconciled mostly because they cannot be disentangled from each other,” Lamya states in the essay. “I can’t remember ever not having been both.”

Even as Islam and queerness needn’t be understood in direct conflict, not everyone has the luxury of coming out in a safe and supportive environment. Lamya acknowledges that the “it gets better” narrative of coming out does not apply to them. “That was never going to be my reality, to be out in this white homonormative cis way,” they say. “I felt a need to push back on that, which is hard to do with complexity.”

Lamya might keep their identity a secret, but their memoir is rife with deep, unspoken truths. They don’t flinch in the face of the darker sides of their experience, like self-loathing and internalized homophobia. In the first chapter, the author proclaims, “I am fourteen the year I want to die.” As it happens, it’s the same year that they realize that they are gay. Upon coming out to a straight friend, they feel relieved that they are conditionally accepted as “not gay like that.” Afterwards, Lamya admits to feeling ashamed “for playing the part of the good queer, the private queer, the non-disruptive queer who doesn’t challenge the status quo, who doesn’t threaten the dominant paradigm.” Yet Lamya learns to accept the complexity of the gray area between visibility and invisibility, between safety and authenticity. As they write of their queer relationship in the context of their family, “Our hiding is an act of love.”

Ramie Ahmed

This calculus of hiding and not hiding is all too familiar to me as a Palestinian. On the one hand, we as Palestinians are desperately trying to make our voices heard and our lives seen, asserting our existence in an effort to resist erasure. On the other, we’re witnessing ourselves splashed across the media, against our will, in our most vulnerable and dehumanized states. For Lamya, so much of the gulf between these two states is signified by the hijab itself. The visibility of their Muslimness can lend invisibility to their queerness. “When it comes to my family,” Lamya writes in their memoir, “my hijab is my beard.”

Lamya admits that in the past, outwardly expressing their religion has helped them see their own internalized Islamophobia — something they feel ashamed about now. But through their work, Lamya has also found compassion for themself. “Writing about the prophets and finding empathy for them made me be kinder to earlier versions of myself,” they say. “If you don’t have empathy for yourself, you’re likely to keep making the same mistakes.”

As the day’s heat begins to subside, the subject turns to Lamya’s next literary project: a work of fiction that tells a story of a friendship set in a place where movement is constrained. “I want to write more about the geography of where I grew up,” they tell me, “and the way in which queerness and creative resistance went hand in hand.”

They’re also focusing on helping their toddler avoid some of the challenges that they encountered growing up. More than anything, Lamya wants to instill in their child the idea that faith and doubt go together — that it is practically canonical to doubt. “I want my daughter to have an experience of religion that’s thoughtful and grapples with messiness,” they say. “I wish I’d been raised with more of that.”

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