In a family that prides itself on so many things, like rare heritage and blood, anyone who doesn’t adhere can be cast out.
When my aunt said she was Muslim, her husband panicked and made her take off the hijab.
When my uncle married a Christian, relatives cut off relations with him.
You can see where this is going. When my cousin came out as gay, his parents threw him out and some of them retained cordial — yet strained — relations. It wasn’t right, I felt. So I reached out to him over WhatsApp — my mom tracked my text messages — and we started talking.
I had a secret confidant. I could talk about anything with him, even risqué stuff.
Then one day, he told me something scandalous.
He was posing as a woman, putting on glittering outfits, and dancing in front of huge crowds. I couldn’t say I was shocked — I always knew him as a performer. He showed me his routines, even saying that his first one was inspired by me. I was flattered.
We started bonding over things that my girl friends wouldn’t do with me — talking about boys, jewelry, makeup, and more.
Eventually, I had my own secret to tell.
I confessed to my parents that I wanted to be Muslim and a hijabi at that, and that resulted in being screamed at for hours. My father handed out prayers at the table from his religion. My mother kept criticizing me for wearing sleeves and pants in the summer. I knew from then on I couldn’t tell anyone else.
I was even hesitant to tell my cousin.
But you reap what you sow. He said that family is family, and he loved me no matter what.
To this day, my other aunt’s mother asks if I’m cold when I wrap my head in a scarf, and I don’t have the courage to admit to her I’m not the religion that my family has. My mother told me it looked like I had cancer when I started wearing turbans.
I’ve had to block my father on Twitter and Instagram because he can’t stand it when I talk about Islam.
Some say that opposites attract — that my cousin, dwelling in bars and stages, is somehow not as “good” as I am, and I’m somehow this sheikha expected to stay quiet and never sin. He’s done my makeup before, and he even helped me tie a hijab around my head.
I’ve comforted him when no one else in the family would.
Even if we are “opposites,” neither of us is perfect.
And that’s okay.