Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
A conscious goal I had when organising Pride Month at The Quiet Pond was to focus and uplift intersectional queer voices. I wanted to focus on intersectional voices during my Pride Month series because how an individual’s different identities are often excluded in conversations about queer identity and what constitutes as a valid queer experience. More specifically, how other identities such as culture, race, disability, and even social class can shape and influence how queerness is navigated and experienced.
When Fadwa reached out to me and said that she wanted to collaborate with me for my Pride Month series and talk about something that is vulnerable and meaningful to her, I took her in without question. Fadwa is one of my favourite people in the book community, and she is also a wonderful friend that I unequivocally support.
Therefore, it is my honour and privilege to have Fadwa, booktuber extraordinaire and the heart and soul behind one of my favourite book blogs, visiting us at the Pond today for Pride Month! When I first read Fadwa’s piece, I had chills – her post is so personal and important. I admire Fadwa immensely in general, but I am incredibly privileged and grateful to her for sharing her words with us all today. Fadwa visits us as a wolf wearing a dress and she’s holding an aromantic flag (the flag on the left with the green!) and the pansexual flag (the flag on the right)!
But, before I share with you what Fadwa has written for us today, I want to take a moment to spotlight the amazing work that Fadwa has done as a booktuber and book blogger. If you haven’t met Fadwa before today, then I am excited for you to see the wonderful work that she does!
Fadwa’s Blog, Word Wonders, and Her Booktube Channel!
I’ve had the honour of being Fadwa’s friend for a long time, and it’s been lovely to see her platform grow and thrive. So let’s start with her book blog, Word Wonders! On her blog, she offers book reviews, incredibly thoughtful discussion posts (I really enjoyed her discussion about the importance of ‘heavy’ YA), and she also provides a platform for diverse book bloggers to talk about something meaningful to them.
But, something that is really exciting – and just plain awesome! – is Fadwa’s fantastic series called #ColorTheShelves! (Fun fact: our very own Skye/Sprout designed Fadwa’s banners!) In this series, Fadwa spotlights authors of colour who have a book releasing in 2020. She’s hosted a variety of amazing authors and there have been such wonderful discussions that have emerged from Fadwa’s series. If you need an example, Fadwa’s latest interview with Leah Johnson, author of debut You Should See Me in a Crown is a great one!
Fadwa also has her a booktube channel, Word Wonders! Listening and watching to Fadwa talk about books is honestly the purest form of joy. She shares book recommendation videos (topical to Pride Month, she shares a ‘Rainbow Queer Recommendations‘ video!), wrap-up videos, and also vlogs! If you haven’t subscribed to her channel or if you don’t already watch her videos, then please do – you won’t regret it.
Fadwa Discusses: I am Muslim, Queer and Not a Contradiction’
I have been sitting on this post for the past week, unsure of how to start it or where to take it, because it feels like laying my soul bare. I’m opening myself up in ways I never have before. But talking about the intersection of my queerness and religion is something I have wanted to do for years but I haven’t had the words nor platform for it. Now CW gave me the latter, all I need is to find the former. I guess we should start at the beginning; with an introduction.
My name is Fadwa and I stand at the intersection of many identities, some of which are: I am African, biracial, Black and Amazighi, I am Muslim, and I am queer. Now to define the latter (not that you have to, if you identify only as queer, you’re valid!) I am grayromantic and pansexual. Many would tell you that my romantic/sexual orientations and my religion are inherently opposed to each other, that no one can be both. Many LGBTQIAP+ people are Islamophobic and many Muslims are queerphobic. So from where I stand, as someone who is both, being part of both communities has never been easy. And many times, I felt like I was part of neither.
Let’s backtrack a little. I have always been Muslim, born and raised. And I wish I could be one of those people who’d tell you that “I’ve always known” I’m queer, that there were signs, thoughts and events that set me on a self-discovery journey from a young age. But truth be told, I didn’t have the knowledge nor the language needed to explore that part of my identity. So eventhough, now in retrospective, I can see that there were many signs and laugh at them, relate to the “if you were X or did Y and Z growing up then you’re gay now” memes, none of that was readily available to me when I was growing up. I am from a country where being gay is currently illegal, I grew up thinking that homosexual people can’t be Muslim, my brain filled with queerphobia that took years to unlearn. I didn’t know that bisexuality existed, or what a transgender identity was, let alone what all the other letters in the acronym were. Asexual? Aromantic? Non-binary? Not even in the realm of possibilities.
Growing up queer and unaware of it was a very peculiar and sometimes painful experience, because not being knowledgeable enough to pick up on the signs doesn’t mean they weren’t there. I remember now a 12 year old me having these intense, and in hindsight, not strictly friendly feelings for this girl who shared my name at summer camp. A 15 year old me dreaming of girls and then waking up startled, laying in bed all night thinking of what that meant, because “I surely can’t be gay, I like boys!!!! And I am Muslim!”. And even 17 year old me daydreaming about beautiful girls and pretty boys (not knowing yet that people who are both or neither exist, or that I would start fawning over them too haha), having lingering looks, sweaty palms and a knotted stomach because of both. And then unable to figure any of it out, confused and scared, repressing it all like it never happened. Repressing it so much that I only started getting flashbacks to these bits and pieces of my life once I became more comfortable in my queerness.
It’s not until I became involved online at 18 that this tiny door at the back of my head, I didn’t have the key to access, opened for me, and that door led to years of self-exploration and discovery. So, technically, making a book blog saved me. That was my gateway to twitter and finding queer books and people, and those my gateway to finding and embracing myself.
Being online exposed me to queer folks for the first time in my life. I later on found out that all my neighborhood crew turned out queer in its entirety but that’s a story for another time. Point is, at that time I didn’t know I knew any and so, for the first time in my life I was exposed to this community I didn’t think I was a part of but felt a deep sense of yearning and protectiveness towards. I wonder why? Hm. At this point I had started unlearning some of my internalized biases but I still had a long way to go, because see, I was fine with other people being queer, most of my online friends were, but me? Nah. I can’t. “I’m Muslim” I told myself. And I still had so much to unpack with that statement. It’s not until I read How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake, a book about a bisexual girl that deeply resonated with me, that I started actively questioning my sexuality.
Fast forward a few months later, months of talking to my non-allocishet friends, relating to them, being attracted to people who aren’t men, and trying to make sense of my feelings. I couldn’t kid myself anymore. I am bisexual. But where does that leave me? I am still Muslim too. Those months between accepting I’m bi and actually embracing it were some of the hardest of my life: tears, anxiety, sleepless nights, mountains of unanswered questions and no one to ask. Then I met a queer Muslim person, someone I quickly bonded with and felt a sense of kinship towards. Finally someone like me. And they helped immensely, their existence and acceptance helped me. I didn’t accept myself just yet, but I finally felt ready to look at myself as a whole, not as two separate halves, one queer and the other Muslim. I was, and am, a whole, made of both and so much more.
So I started looking, both in and out, inside myself at my faith, and outside for resources and more people just like me. And sure, finding more queer Muslims out there, reading about their experiences helped but what helped most is looking inwards. Going back to basics and finding that my faith, although shaky when I was questioning, is here to stay. It’s an inextricable a part of who I am, just like being pansexual and grayromantic is. I AM Muslim, and that’s where I found my peace. Because when I came back to the bases of my religion and asked “but what does Allah tell us?” I realized that my answers were where I was scared of looking for them. That accepting myself didn’t mean divorcing my queerness from my religion, but relating it to it. Allah tells us that He creates us to our best image, that He makes no mistakes in His creation of us, and He made me the way I am, so why would that go against my being Muslim? It does not. And it never will.
That’s what it boiled down to. But getting there, taking the steps necessary to get there was heart-wrenching and I broke my own heart many times over in the process. Because looking inside of you when the noise outside is too much can be impossible. How can you risk looking inside, unsure of what you’ll find when everyone around you thinks you’re an abomination? No. I couldn’t risk it. I didn’t want to look in and face the ugliness I was sure to find, the ugliness that I was made to believe was inside of me. My loved ones talk about gay people in hushed voices and a mix of pity and disgust on their faces, they knock on wood and thank Allah their kids didn’t end up Like That while I watch (they don’t know). They think it’s wrong, and so do a lot of Muslims. But the thing is, Islam doesn’t. Not at its core, but interpretations of its texts do. I can’t and won’t let their interpretations, interpretations they have chosen to follow without ever questioning them, dictate my relationship with Allah, and with myself. I love Allah, and will always worship Him. And I also love myself, queerness and all. And those two truths can coexist. They do not contradict each other.
It hurts, knowing that the people who have loved me all my life will probably stop doing so if they find out who I really am, the whole of me, and not just the bits and pieces I let them see. And if not, then they’ll try to change me, to make me someone I’m not or to find excuses and caveats to make who I am more palatable to them. And for a long time, I resented everyone in my life for that, I hated them even. But I’ve cut my losses where I could and learned to forgive the people who were in my life where I couldn’t, such as family. It wasn’t easy. And I know a lot of people would want to argue my decision, but it is mine and mine alone. I grew up in a culture where family and community are everything, and I need mine beside me even if it’s not all of me.
But I also have a community that supports me, wonderful queer friends both online and IRL who have cheered me on, nursed my heartbreak, knew when to listen and when to give advice, loved me unconditionally, STILL love me unconditionally. Having these people helped make the bitter parts okay, because I know I’ll never be alone. Their love allowed me to love myself and to explore my identity even more because I knew they’d have my back and that was a comfort and security blanket for me. With their help, I later on came to be more comfortable identifiying as pansexual. I have never stopped labeling myself as bisexual, but for what other people call me? Pansexual works best. Which is why in the post I refer to myself as both: in the introduction with the label I prefer (pan), and in my story with the label I first came out with and kept for almost 3 years (bi). I also haven’t touched on my being grayromantic because that part of my identity was never a source of conflict, at least not from a religious point of view so it didn’t really have a place in this post.
This isn’t a sad story, I promise. I have struggled with the intersection of my religion and queerness but I don’t anymore. I am happy standing where I stand, at the intersection of the two and much more. I am pansexual, grayromantic AND Muslim. I love all of me. And I am not a contradiction.
About the Book Blogger & Booktuber
My name is Fadwa, and I’m the face and brains behind Word Wonders. I am a medstudent, and all around bookish content creator based in Morocco.
When I’m not running around the hospital or neck deep in a book or talking about books, you can find me watching tv-shows, working out, doing all kinds of outdoorsy activities or hanging out with my friends. Some of favorite things are sunsets, the beach, makeup and clothes. Some of my favorite books are the Daevabad trilogy by S.A Chakraborty, the Feverwake duology by Victoria Lee and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
I want to thank Fadwa for sharing her discussion with us all today! It was a pleasure to have her, and I hope that all of you enjoyed her discussion, found it thought-provoking, and are understanding why examining queer identity with an intersectional lens is absolutely necessary. Don’t forget to visit Fadwa’s blog, Word Wonders and her booktube channel!