Editor’s Note: This essay was submitted by Laura for the May 2014 Carnival of Aces.
Asra recalls a particularly unsavoury incident. “There was an occasion at gay pride once where one of the marchers turned around and quite crudely said ‘we didn’t know pride was allowing suicide bombers on the march’ – it was really shocking to hear it from a fellow gay marcher.” (BBC News)
One of the major ways that the asexual community pursues visibility and awareness is through participation in Pride parades. I think this is great! I love seeing photos of ace pride contingents.
So far, no such opportunities have come up anywhere near where I live. But even if I did have the opportunity, the question for me isn’t as simple as, “Do I want to be visibly out?” I also have to think about whether I would face harassment as someone who is very visibly Muslim. As the BBC report quoted above shows, Pride parades are not necessarily safe spaces for queer Muslims.
I wear hijab, the Islamic modest dress, including a headscarf. At various times out in public I have had random strangers yell, “Go back to where you came from,” at me, had people come up to me and ask, “Are you one of those people that killed our people?”, been called overt racial slurs by passing drivers, and even been stalked.
Going out in public always involves mental preparation for the possibility of Islamophobic harassment. While its occurrence is, thankfully, relatively rare, I can never rule out the possibility of having to deal with it.
As a matter of habit, I also usually try to avoid going near large crowds or party-like atmospheres, especially if I’m by myself. Even an apparently happy group can have that one person who gets aggressive in these situations and who happens to be offended by the presence of a visible Muslim.
A Pride parade could fall into this category. I would feel more comfortable about attending if I was with a group of people I was already friends with, such as a queer Muslim contingent or an ace pride contingent.
And I’m not just talking about attending the parade, but about potentially marching in it, which would make me that much more visible to everybody there. While asexuality is sometimes difficult to explain to queer Muslims (as it is to queer groups in general), if they had already accepted me as a member of their group, I doubt there would be any issue about me marching with them. They would also understand the need to prepare for dealing with Islamophobia, since that would be part of their own experience.
But what about an ace pride contingent? While most aces I’ve engaged with online have been friendly and accepting, I can easily see a situation where an ace group could decide that my veiling doesn’t fit the “image” that they want to present and that they might be uncomfortable having me present and visible in their group. This has happened to me before with non-Muslim groups. As with Islamophobic harassment, it’s something I always need to be aware might happen. Islamophobia is unfortunately common in American society at large. Aces aren’t immune from being like that, or from manifesting any other prejudice or bigotry.
I also think that the asexual community, as I’ve dealt with it so far, doesn’t always seem aware that these intersections exist, that a Pride parade is a type of visibility action that may not be safe for all aces to take part in, and that some aces may face harassment or other obstacles not for their asexuality (which is also an issue, incidentally) but for other characteristics entirely. I’ve certainly never gotten the sense that anyone proposing visibility actions has thought about how these might work for a hijabi Muslim like me. It’s this reflexive lack of awareness that not all aces are positioned the same way in the larger society, and do not all have the same types of experiences, that worries me more than overt Islamophobia.
Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com.