Faithful, Academic, and Queer

By Quinn Westlake ’17

(In this article, I use ‘queer’ as an adjective for people or persons who identify as LGBTQIA. This is a personal reclamation, not a heterosexual faux pas.)

My crowd of friends tend to waiver between queers and academics. Naturally, a lot of my closest friends are academic queers who I engage with regularly. As friends, we talk about personal lives and issues and beliefs. I am unabashedly Muslim and it intersects with my own work often, so I enjoy speaking and having conversations about it. Once it happens for the first time, I can see horror or confusion or disbelief underneath the surface, not necessarily because I am Muslim, but because I am religious. I rarely have to perform the placating “Islam is not a religion rooted in terror, I am not a self-hating misogynistic homophobe, etc.…” with my friends, but what I end up feeling compelled to do (if it isn’t asked of me) is explain my own religiousness. To this day, it still throws me off how unattached to one another religion and academia are perceived. Being queer and religious is even less common in academia, and being queer, trans, and religious in academia means you may as well be a Sasquatch. Religion gets dismissed as a homogeneous ‘opiate for the masses,’ but viewing religion as a homogeneous entity rather than an individual experience is a lazy analysis. Elitism, projection, and interrogation abound once I casually convey my faith.

Elitism can emerge quite easily out of academia. I have had professors and peers treat me poorly or lesser once they heard I was a person of faith. The reason for this, I personally believe, is that religion is viewed as an action of the under-educated working class. Conceptually, religion is putting your faith into something bigger than yourself and that faith and energy you put in comes back in love and support. This concept is unprovable by anything other than the faith itself, and the individual experience. It is a feat, it is effort, and it is hard to fathom once someone feels like they have more than an adequate understanding of the world around them. To put faith in anything other than academia and tangible fact is foolish to some academics. Hypocrisy abounds.

As I have experienced, many academic queers have an extra level of abrasion regarding religion. I’m not going to say it isn’t understandable, or pretend like the religious fervor of others can’t cause trauma for individuals who are queer. What I will say is that once that trauma is there, it can turn a person off from something for a lifetime. At the same time, I think that once someone maintains an unwavering ideology, not questioning or challenging it for years, that person tends to blur the line between personal boundary and fact. This isn’t to say that someone has to revisit their trauma to not be dismissive, just that perspective is key for empathizing with another person and understanding why the opposite of what gets them through the day is necessary for that other person. I try not to project onto other people that my personal dogma is the just course; I expect that to be returned.

Existing as someone who is a non-binary queer Muslim is as genuine as it is difficult and it is this genuine self that keeps me able to feel at home with myself. Entering college while maintaining that authenticity was one of my more difficult endeavors, and while there are still people present who make it all worthwhile, there are still pressures and demands that I must tear apart my identity in order to come across as a legitimate academic, a legitimate queer, a legitimate Muslim, and a legitimate trans person. Feeling authentic at times feels like an act of emotional labor that I could crumble under. Community, however, keeps me from doing so. Surrounding myself with people who do know the difficulties of being authentic, who don’t interrogate my intersections, or demand to know why I am all of these identities while ultimately accepting me as none of them. Surround yourself with people who understand your struggles, people who do not treat your identities and the way they intersect as character flaws. Those are the people that help you maintain yourself, physically and emotionally. Those are the people to keep in your crowd.