It’s been several months since coming out to my family. Normally, this kind of story probably wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary. After all, it’s 2020. Or at least, that’s what people say to normalize things. Here’s the story, though.

I grew up in a conservative, Shia, Muslim family (somewhere between cultural and religious) and for the most part, it was a great upbringing. At least when it came to everything but controversial “Western” topics. When I was a kid, I didn’t really know what was controversial and what wasn’t, though. I typically would listen and observe and if I could tell that the tone was a bit negative, I’d keep away from bringing it up. It also made homosexuality a hard topic to bring up naturally. I’d hear someone make a disgusted noise when anything related to homosexuality came up on TV and I’d bury whatever thought or question on my mind to keep my secret safe. So when I was six years old, I locked the closet I was hiding in, closing that part of myself. I thought that if I just ignored it, maybe it would go away.

It didn’t.

It festered. It flourished. It never left me.

There was this sinking feeling in my soul, like two halves of myself wrestling for dominance. I’d see a beautiful woman on the TV and I’d have to make some comment about how the male counterpart was attractive so that my parents or family didn’t suspect any of my feelings. I’d daydream about being a man so that I could be with a woman in my mind because that was my known “norm”. When I became “of marrying age”, I met and even got engaged to, several men at different times who I thought, “Sure, I could live with this guy. He seems cool enough. I think he’d take care of me.” Was that love? Maybe, in a sense. Not romantic love. I told myself that I was doing it because I love my parents and I wanted to make them and God happy.

Was I happy? No. But that didn’t matter, I told myself.

The truth is, I was afraid of what would make me happy. I knew it then, in every relationship, that the only thing that would make me happy would be a relationship with someone I loved. Truly loved and cherished. But I knew that meant deconstructing all my beliefs that I had been raised with. So again, I locked those feelings away.

Until I went to my Hajj in 2016. Surrounded by Muslims, God and my own spirituality, I bore my heart out to God when I touched the Ka’aba, His house. I told Him my feelings, I told Him to take them away, that I wasn’t strong enough to handle this test of His. I told Him to bring me a husband that I could love, really love. I cried and prayed and surrendered. When I came home, I downloaded an app for Muslims to meet and by chance, I met a man who, at the time, seemed perfect. He was smart, funny, tall, and not too shabby on the eyes. The beard would take some getting used to but sure, I thought. I could make this work. We talked for weeks and things were going great. My mom loved him and my dad was fine with it which was a rarity for a man who said no to almost everyone else that came along.

After a few months of talking and getting to know each other, he asked to fly out so he could ask my parents for permission to be engaged with my blessing.

A week after we got engaged, we ended things. Rather, I ended things. Turns out, he had issues with anger and his temperament and he told me he loved me after two weeks of talking to me which admittedly freaked me out since I felt next to nothing romantically for him. I mean, I liked him. He was nice and I could maybe see a future but he was way more invested than I was and after he lost his temper, I knew this wasn’t right. I mean, after he told me he loved me for the first time, I almost said the dreaded, “Thank you.” I didn’t but… I was close.

A few months later, my mom and my ex were still talking with each other and after she asked me for the 87th time why things ended between us, I had enough. I decided to come out to her when we were on a hike. She was quiet at first which made me nervous, but then she nodded and said, “Okay. That’s fine. If you want to be single, I won’t push you to get married anymore.”

That was… progress? But I knew I didn’t want to be single all my life. I honestly didn’t know how I expected it to go but I let out a breath, nodded, and let my guard down. The next week, I got a text from her begging me to take my ex back and to just marry him. Then to just marry any man.

“You don’t have to love him but you’ll save your soul.”

I was crushed. I mean I felt a literal weight on top of my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I just sobbed. For two hours from 7 a.m., my pillow was damp and gross from the once warm tears. From that moment, I knew I’d never feel safe sharing any part of my feelings with them. That realization was hard. It still is. I love my mom. I love her with all my heart and it breaks each time she reminds me that I’m not the daughter she raised and how I’ve made her sad and disappointed her more than any other child.

The only happiness I feel is from the person in my life who has made me feel like I’m worthy. Of her, of God, of blessings. Of happiness.

But I’ll be honest. Not having the support of family sucks. I mean, it really, really sucks. There’s no elegant way to put this. I get so much love and support from people I barely know and for a moment, it feels amazing. I feel happy and seen and valid in ways I never had been before. On the other hand, it’s like having this hollow cavity in my chest that can be filled, but it has to be filled frequently and regularly to make me forget that the majority of my immediate family want little to do with me because all they can see is this gay cloud hanging over me when in fact, it’s just me standing under a rainbow with the same happy smile and personality I’ve always had.

They just can’t see through the rain, yet.

If you’re reading this and you’re in a similar spot and are going through a rough time, I can’t promise it’ll get better, but I can say that it feels lighter when you reach the end of the crucible because whether you meant to or not, you’ve gotten stronger from it. You’ll rise from it.

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Story submitted by Shahrezad.

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