One of the most aggravating experiences of living between the intersections of being someone assigned female at birth, being from a muslim background and being non-religious– easier expressed as ‘exmuslim’ (though I have my reservations about this term), is enforced and gender-specific modesty. What this means is through the simple fact of being born a girl child, people will and do expect of you to carry the burden of honoring their preferences in how to live your life. Most prominently for people of my background- Somalis, it manifests in clothing choices, or rather, lack thereof. It’s not abnormal for Muslims of all backgrounds to bring up girls as young as five years old, with this scarf hovering over their heads.
We could speak for millennia about how the hijab originates from a despicably misogynistic history of subjugation (free women’s rules of covering vs slave women’s ‘freedom’ from modesty rules), an inherent lack of choice (how much of a choice do you have when the alternatives are sanctions in this life and stories of burning in hellfire in the supposed next?) and mass-surveillance of women’s bodies. Perhaps one day I will write about this- but for the limited space I’ve been granted, let’s have a practical look at how the hijab manifests for millions of women-aligned people in the world, that is rarely, if ever spoken about.
Being a woman and being an ExMuslim often invokes a heavily restricted life and choices. It includes a constant surveillance from a larger community whose interest is keeping women-aligned people in line, always making sure they don’t dishonor their families, tribes and communities. This can be done covertly or implicitly- an example is how there in many communities exist older women who will purposefully gossip about specific, often disobedient or openly defiant women in their friend groups. If you’re witnessed doing anything considered dishonorable, it has consequences– these can sometimes be deadly. But in turn, what about being assigned female at birth and being treated as a ‘Muslim’ woman, while being non-binary or trans-masculine and a non-believer? It’s no secret that transgender individuals are a highly persecuted community around the world, with unfathomably high rates of killings of brown and black transgender people in the US. One can concede this fact, while also acknowledging there are unique challenges connected to being an ExMuslim person with a queer or trans experience.
The psychological results of being forced to wear the hijab creates not only discomfort and stress as a result of not having bodily autonomy for AFAB people (assigned female at birth), but it adds a dimension of gender dysphoria. It also forces you to play a role that never should’ve been forced on you. With being perceived a woman in a Muslim context, you must also follow different rules of fasting and praying that further expose and emphasize your gender in a tight-knit community. The only way you could possibly avoid succumbing to these rigid rules, would be coming out, no? Perhaps in another world. Coming out is not even an option and would surely for most people of this background, result in extreme violence or death. As such, the hijab plays a huge role in the subjugation of trans-masculine and non-binary individuals.
For many years I spent a chunk of time and resources attempting to figure out whether my discomfort with my body was a result of sexualization (which the hijab can also play a role in), or if it were a more covert gender dysphoria emerging. Some days I still struggle with it. Even putting aside the dangers of simply being a woman and openly leaving islam and taking off the hijab, there’s added stigmatization and harassment as a gay or trans person. So for those non-binary and trans masculine people that are able to share their experiences and truth publicly and openly for #NoHijabDay, we need to realize the utter bravery and sacrifice that necessitates. Naturally, their stories belong to this discourse. We also owe it to them to uplift their voices and make them a vocal part of the community. Though more often than not, hijab is a female-specific issue, there’s a minority of us that are not women, but who know how this oppression touches and affects one’s human spirit.
Mika is a last-year student of social sciences. They currently live at an unspecified location in Europe and have lived for some time out of the public eye after escaping homophobic violence in Egypt. Their twitter @ is @mikaisangry.