Aisha a 29-year-old Muslim lesbian living in the Middle East describes her life as ‘one blockade after another’.
Even though her father is extremely abusive, Aisha can’t move out. It’s not culturally accepted for women to move out of their family homes until they are married.
‘Being a girl with a Pakistani background and Muslim and lesbian, everything is hurdle after hurdle,’ Aisha told Gay Star News.
For her own safety, Aisha can’t reveal too much about her identity, she can’t even say publicly which Middle Eastern country she lives in. She wants to keep her identity private not only to keep herself alive but because of the ‘impact’ coming out on her family.
‘There’s legal issues that you face if they find out your sexuality. You can get deported, they can disappear people. They can deport your whole family,’ she said.
A qualified psychologist, Aisha describes the daily toil being trapped in the closet has on LGBTI people.
‘You’re frustrated in a lot of ways sexually, socially and even with friends,’ she said.
‘You can’t be true to yourself or bring your true personality.’
Aisha said living in the closet meant even being very paranoid talking to a close friend.
‘You let it slip out that you have a crush on a girl,’ she said.
‘Sometimes it gets to you. Its a dual life and not getting to be truly who you are.
‘I find it really hurtful and painful.’
Awakening the desire to make a change
A recent trip to Pakistan, awoke a strong desire to change things not only for herself but also for LGBTI Muslims everywhere.
Away from the vigilante eye of her abusive father, Aisha was able to live a bit more freely. After writing a research paper about Pakistan’s khawaja sira (trans women), she realized that she too could make a difference.
‘I wrote an article on the plight of trans people and while it’s not exactly the same as lesbian and bi issues it got me feeling passionate about these issues,’ she said.
The British born psychologist plans to move back to the UK to escape her oppressive life, but realized not everyone has that privilege. So, she uses her skills as a mental health professional to help other LGBTI Muslims.
She was put in touch with the UK LGBTI Muslim support group, Hidayah. In a short few months she has started counselling hundreds of queer Muslims. They Skype with her or send her messages on WhatsApp and trust her implicitly even though she’s never met them.
‘I don’t even live in the UK, but I feel I know half of the (LGBTI Muslim) population,’ she said.
Life saving counselling
Joining Hidayah and helping others has literally saved Aisha’s life.
She has a long history of self-harm and suicide attempts, but helping other people through their problems helps Aisha forget hers.
‘When I’m helping others, it makes me not think about my own harmful tendencies,’ she said.
‘It makes me happy and makes me want to live.’