This article was originally published here.
My social media timeline repulses me. It’s filled with cis-het conformity among other things, and there is nothing more alienating than the recurring reminder that everyone around me is not like me, does not look like me, does not live like me. Alienating, and lonely; but in cisgendered, heteronormative cultures, what truly shapes our innate sense of loneliness as queer folk, or as individuals?
I once believed that loneliness came from within, because there were parts of the self which were missing and you did not know how to find a Self which didn’t exist in your consciousness as yet. I had the good fortune of finding myself through feminist community and spaces, and yet, as Florence Welch sings, “the loneliness never left me, I always took it with me.”
For the longest time, I thought my loneliness stemmed from watching friends marry, have children, ‘settle down’ and thus, drift away from friendships. When you’re 31, nobody has the time to meet for dinner when they’re balancing work and family. In a deeply unsettling way, this loneliness and lack of close friendships as we grow older is how a heteronormative society ‘punishes’ us for our transgression in being single. Past a certain age, who will your friends be if not the parents of your child’s classmates?
And so, at times, I’ve been angry with myself because my loneliness is also borne of my non-conformity. Even as a child, I never wanted to marry, in order to be free; I wanted wild love and adventure. Growing up to realise my own queerness only changed things insomuch that my definition of love expanded beyond just cis-het men. But why make life so difficult for ourselves, why insist on being so different when there is no place or space for us, no form of community or love beyond traditional kinship structures?
I do not argue against seeking love and companionship, nor emotional or physical intimacy. I do, however, argue against the means for fulfilling these needs. We may accept the concept of dating even if it is in certain socio-economic circles, but to what end? Ultimately, there is always a pressure to ‘settle down’ and to ‘commit’ even when it is possible for couples to cohabit with their parents’ blessing. In which case, how many people, particularly women, choose marriage simply because it is the only legitimate form of being in a loving relationship? But this too, is problematic even when marriage is a choice, because it comes with the trappings of an institution which is inherently patriarchal. Particularly when that institution refuses to give people the freedom to enjoy life as a single person.
The answer to the loneliness of non-conformity lies in queerness, and strangely, in a religion I forsook a long time ago. For queer folk, our homes are usually the first sites of violence and intolerance, whether we can speak our truth to our families or not; for even the erasure of our identity through continuous imposition of cis-het normativity is an act of violence. The family institution was never created to offer social support, and that is why, in spite of many happy families, the traditional family must be, and is being, redefined. When the traditional family structure fails us, we turn to our true own: activists, feminists, queer folk, all non-conformists who do not belong, and come together to create spacesand communities of mutual love and belongingness.
As for my strangely Islamic personal philosophy… kun faya kun (Be! And it is!). This is part of verse 82 in Surah Yasin, which is Chapter 36 of the Quran. The verse speaks of Allah’s divinity: that by his command, a thing is willed into existence. But I am no god; I am too flawed and imperfect. So, where does my own divinity lie? In the phrase itself. Be, manifest, exist, and it will be so. For a queer person, or for someone who remains single by choice, everyday existence requires strength and will. That is the embodiment of kun faya kun as a personal philosophy: to manifest the person you want to be through sheer will. Consequently, embodying the person we want to be requires learning self-love, before seeking external sources of love. Being single doesn’t mean we are alone; it means we are with the one person who matters most, our own selves, and investing in knowing who we are is the best gift we can give ourselves.
Kun faya kun is not just personal but also political; an embodiment of a personal philosophy of love combined with feminist and queer politics, bringing both into our daily lives, our work, and activism. We are never truly free, and perhaps we will never be in our lifetime, but our daily existence is an act of defiance against the continuous social pressure to conform to heteronormativity. Loving our true queer, non-conformist selves is what allows us to come together in communities of our own, and to build lives based on our own rules. We are able to build lasting relationships without worrying about defining commitment only as marriage and ‘starting a family’. We are able to embrace a life where we celebrate our sexuality through fluid sexual relationships rather than basing them on romantic commitment. We have room to explore relationships beyond monogamy, and understand that it is possible to seek love and companionship from more than one person at a time. We are able to build the kind of relationship bell hooks talks about in Communion, platonic, non-sexual relationships which are filled with mutual love. And so, we find ways to fulfil our need for love and companionship without compromising either our freedom and choices or forcing ourselves to fit into heteronormative moulds, for even queer marriages have been criticised for their heteronormativity, have they not? And most significantly… we are free to remain single, and still be happy, to fulfil our needs for companionship and intimacy without conforming to heternormative relationships.
However we choose to live our lives, we find acceptance in community. But we also dare to dream of a better world where other ways of being and loving are just as legitimate as heteronormativity, because these communities are sites of resistance. That is why my answer to the loneliness of being single in a world where to be single is non-conformist, is to embrace my own queerness and queer community, because it is not enough to say that we must embody, or kun faya kun, who we want to be. Not only does that require significant privilege, but it is an act which requires social support from alike-minded community; no amount of privilege can enable anyone to remain single for long without a supportive community of similar misfits reminding them that it is okay to be different. So long as we can continue creating other ways of being and loving for ourselves, and building communities where we are accepted, I believe that there will come aday when how we live or love, will no longer be defined in such stringent binaries.
bell hooks, 2003. Communion. Perennial.
Surah Yasin, n.d. Retrieved from <http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsir%20Ibn%20Kathir/036%20Yasin.htm>
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