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Gay Muslim single dad: ‘It’s time we challenge stereotypes’

Gay Muslim single dad: ‘It’s time we challenge stereotypes’

Max is a gay muslim single dad living in Fiji

It’s hard to be yourself when there’s a part of who you are that others can’t accept.

Like being gay in the army, being Muslim in a Christian country, or being a single parent in a traditional community. But imagine what it’s like being all three and being rejected for them all.

I’m Max and this is my story.

Being gay and Muslim are two separate and harmonious aspects of my life, in my personal view. I represent a very small group here in Fiji and, to some extent, the wider Pacific.

I feel pressure on how I am supposed to behave and how I am perceived.

Growing up, I was that ‘odd’ kid who didn’t fit in. I was neat, presentable and did what I was told growing up in the rough outskirts of the capital of Fiji (Jittu Estate) around the 1980s.

I was also bought up to fear Allah and that meant following the five pillars of Islam : Shahadah , Salat, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj.

How I found acceptance

Growing up wasn’t easy. Bullying was constant because I always stood out.

Joining the British Army and being deployed on operations overseas, I was heavily and physically assaulted which landed me in the care of the psychiatric ward.

Back in those days it wasn’t ‘normal’ to be out in the Army.  

When I enter the masjid (mosque), I am always judged and questioned. Sometimes it’s curiosity, but sometimes it’s borderline bullying.

I am banned from one mosque because I have tattoos, which is considered ‘haram’ (sin). In our religion, this means ‘changing the natural creation of God, inflicting unnecessary pain in the process’.

Max is a gay muslim single dad living in Fiji. Here he is giving a speech at a conference
Max (also known as Maivon) is a gay Muslim single dad living in Fiji. | Photo: supplied

For Fiji’s LGBTI communities, recognition and acceptance is an ongoing challenge.

But despite this, Fiji is and always will be my second home. Having left at the age of 19 to join the British Army and returning recently after 12 years, I now see Fiji very differently.

London was my home all those years and now I feel like an outsider again.

In Fiji, I find the need to hide so many aspects of my authentic being. In London, I found a place where I truly thrived; where I could by my most authentic self.

LGBTI rights in Fiji

While the 2013 Constitution in Fiji safeguards my rights as a gay man, Fiji’s deep infusion of religion mean its cultural and societal views remain unchanged.

This makes it at odds with the multicultural and diverse scene of a modern London.

Religion tends to split along ethnic lines, with most indigenous Fijians being Christian and most Fijians of Asian descent being Hindu or Muslim.

It took me a long time to appreciate who I am and understand my religious spin on homosexuality.

As a Muslim, there were no role models for me to look up to. I tried to take my own life twice because I hated who I was.

That was until three years ago, when I met an openly gay Imam at a conference in Australia. It was through him I was able to first appreciate who I was, then love who I had become and celebrate it.

Most importantly, I have learned to accept that we all have to find our own way to God and that there is more than one way to be Muslim.

I am thankful to have found my way and I am very happy with this.

‘We have a long way to go’

As a single parent to the most beautiful son – I was married to my ex-wife for nine years – learning to become and celebrate the person you want to be is about more than just me; it’s a legacy I want to leave for him and the next generation.

Although it’s hard to meet like-minded people (my dating life is non-existent!), in being myself, I believe I can show others it’s OK to be you, and to love whoever you want to love.

As a society, my wish is that we are all free to be ourselves and celebrate our uniqueness, instead of being so driven by intersectionality and divided by our differences.

Compared to the likes of the UK and more recently Australia, Fiji has a long way to go.

Same-sex marriage conversations may not be top priority here, but what’s really needed – what’s so vital for the LGBTI community and countless others – is cultural acceptance.

Fiji will never have same-sex marriage, said PM Voreqe Bainimarama
Fiji will never have same-sex marriage, said PM Voreqe Bainimarama

Inclusion benefits everyone, and is everyone’s responsibility.

I am thankful that I work for a company that is so willing to help me on that journey.

At Paradise Beverages, we recognize the value of inclusion and diversity and I am very lucky that my role in People and Culture allows me to not only advocate for inclusive cultures, but respectfully challenge stereotypes and change mindsets.

Whether you’re gay, Muslim or a single parent – or all three – there is a place and space for everyone.

I have found my place in Islam, and am comfortable being the best version of gay I can be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

See also

Fiji will never have same-sex marriage, says PM

I am a gay Tongan man trying to figure out how we all fit in

Fiji police pledge to investigate reports of LGBTI discrimination