“Hidayah; I Feel at Home” – Importance of Systemic, Community Support for Intersectional British, Gay, Pakistani, Muslim Males – by Muhammed Ali for Hidayah UK

This blog post provides a community perspective on the importance of community support for intersectional British, Gay, Pakistani, Muslim Males (BGPMM) by considering what impact sexuality-affirming environments have on individuals. To illustrate this, I will be drawing on primary research interviews. Whilst this blog addresses communal support, other findings from this research project, such as psychological wellbeing and colonial contradictions, can be accessed via my socials (Twitter and Instagram for other accessible formats), along with other blog posts referenced below.

This blog first highlights my own position in relation to this research project, then the project background is explored. An insight into the potential impact of communal support for BGPMM is then provided, supported by extracts from primary interviews. To conclude, the implications of these findings are highlighted and future directions for the field and population are suggested. 

Researchers Position

To start, it is important to clearly acknowledge the context from which this research is being produced, interpreted, and shared. This simply asks, “who is conducting it?”. With this, quantitative research approaches’ (commonly close-ended surveys, questionnaires, and experimental research etc.) preference of conducting research ‘objectively’ is challenged. Instead, my project and work follow a qualitative approach (commonly interviews, focus groups, and observations etc.). Within qualitative fields, ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ are questionable as only subjective (not objective) interpretations can be made. In this manner, different analysts can have different subjective interpretations, making ‘truths’ and ‘facts’ difficult.

Therefore, it is important to open this blog by describing my own identities as a Pakistani (Kashmiri), partially ‘closeted’ pansexual, spiritual agnostic, raised within a Muslim household, Non-binary, British male. Intersectionally, all of these identity components shape my worldview with a ‘lens’ from which I perceive my experiences from. From this personal identity context is where this research was conducted from and is now being shared. Below I go on to provide details of the research project.

The Research Project

The findings shared within this blog were collected from my undergraduate BSc Psychology with Counselling’s dissertation project (“Living a Double Life”: An Intersectional, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis on the Experiences of BGPMM), analysed by Smith and Osborn’s method. In line with my research interests, I preferred a qualitative methodology, as it allows me to investigate the meanings that participants make from their subjective experiences. 

Considering the population that I research, an intersectional approach naturally matched to consider BGPMM’s multiple identity components holistically (picking up on their whole identity, instead of select parts). Racially minoritised feminists coined ‘intersectionality’. Crenshaw, in 1991, described Black females’ unique experiences in which they experienced racism (due to their racially minoritsed identity) and sexism (being females) at the same time. Taking this into account I justified intersectionality as it could holistically highlight potential homophobia (homosexuality), xenophobia and racism (Pakistani ethno-culture), and anti-Muslim hatred (Muslim) that BGPMM’s may face simultaneously. 

Fortunately, before the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face, semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews were conducted. I again justified this, as remote interviews may have limited possible participants compared to those who have access to a safe space, where they can engage in interviews, which was crucial to be conscious of when considering a community perspective. I could have also only accessed those who were already ‘public’ about their sexuality which could have positively shaped the findings into a more positive overview for BPGMM. 

To recruit participants, I first snowballed my personal networks, with this my networks assisted in identifying potential participants from their own networks, hence the term ‘snowball’. I quickly experienced the ‘hard-to-reach’ nature of this population and took it on myself to immerse myself within BGPMM’s communities, as means of overcoming ‘access’ barriers. To meet the population where it was at, I contacted LGBT+ Muslim organisations (including Hidayah), joined Muslim LGBT+ forums and groups, and created separate ‘professional’ social networking accounts, including Tinder and Grindr. The studies’ interview questions explored identity components (holistically and independently), media and relationships. From extensively researching documentaries, blogs, vlogs, and journal articles, I constructed the questions asked for the interviews. I managed to conduct six interviews, ranging from 49:52 to 1:19:49, with an average of 1:00:56. 

After analysing the data, themes concerning families, marriage, self-conceptualisation, ‘coming out’, conditional acceptance, socio-cultures, honour-based abuse, mental health, and colonisation emerged. For the purposes of this blog for Hidayah, I will touch upon aspects related to community support, that is families, acceptance, and support networks. 

Findings

Community Support

Considering the socio-cultural spaces BGPMM’s navigate, with potential homophobia, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Muslim hatred occurring simultaneously (from an intersectional perspective, as touched on above), it can be said BGPMM navigate contexts where participation is challenging on all identity fronts. In managing the challenges this may present (which I have explored from a psychological perspective in my writings for the Brown Therapist Network and the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network), it raises questions on how BGPMM can be supported, and more importantly what loved ones can do, and how services and organisations can be beneficial. It is fine for sexuality (identity, expression, and enactment) to be seen and remain as personal and private, however, when met with honour-based abuse, suppression or coerced marriages, acknowledgement into the community’s contribution (or lack of in some cases) and deconstructing harmful these responses is crucial. 

Considering the above, a community (systemic) approach was justified to better understand the impact, influence and potential roles systems around us can play. This was done in light of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, which shows us the location of each system and its role. The below graphic by @creative.clinical.psychologist shows how we do not exist in empty space, but are instead placed within ‘systems’ (relationships, media and culture etc.) around us. Therefore, social identities interact with these systems (institutions) around us in a connected manner, with one influencing and shaping the other overtime. Below I provide brief details into the types of systems, which is also illustrated by the graphic below. 

    Credit: Instagram, @creative.clinical.psychologist 

  • Microsystem: the closest physical and social environment to the individual, includes their family, religion and peers etc.
  • Mesosystem: this system represents the connections between the individuals’ microsystem, for example the family (one microsystem) attending religious prayers (another microsystem)
  • Exosystem: this is the wider community setting in which individuals live in, including access to facilities and public transport etc.
  • Macrosystem: often referred to as the ‘societal blueprint’ as it includes the values and cultures of that particular society, including dominant ideologies 
  • Chronosystem: lastly, this system includes social and historical events and transitions overtime, for example, the passing of the Same-Sex Couples Marriage Act in 2013 

To contextualise the identities of BGPMM within their various communities, I have drawn on extracts from my primary research interviews with BGPMM and have explored these from a community lens, considering the impact communities have. To maintain anonymity, pseudonyms* are used (Walid, Syed, and Abdullah).

Impact of Support

“I love interacting with other LGBT people because it’s part of my community, it’s one of my community. I have very conflicting identities, so when I find people that I fit with- I like that, I feel at home.” (Walid*)

Hidayah for example, I love it here, because I feel at home here.” (Walid*)

Walid’s account includes his sexuality as “part of my community” whilst also distinguishing it as “one of my community”, acknowledging the multi-dimensional nature of his identities. With this, we can see various opportunities for community support (mesosystems); sexuality-affirming spaces do not and should not solely be within sexual identity-related spaces. It might, for some, be more meaningful for acceptance to come from their ethno-religious communities (micro and macrosystems), as Walid intersectionally goes on to say he believes he has “very conflicting identities”, alluding to his other identity components, positioning them at odds. 

The importance of community support is encapsulated by Walid’s following response; “So when I find people I fit with- I like that, I feel at home”. With this, there is the ‘hunt’ of ‘finding’ spaces that are unconditionally welcoming and accepting. With the exosystem of Hidayah (community service), Walid described feeling at “home”, therefore, with his account it can be argued Hidayah can be seen as a microsystem for Walid. I further probed Walid on what “home” looked like for him:

Interviewer: you mentioned Hidayah to be like a home, what meaning does that have for you?

Walid*: being around people that are like me, that respect me, that are similar to me, that understand me and allow me to be me.” 

He responded by providing various criteria for what can be considered as “home” for him; “people that are like me” and “similar to me” (representation) and people “that respect”, “understand” and “allow me to be me” (unconditional acceptance). It is, for Walid, simply not enough to have spaces that are welcoming, but also these spaces need to reflect his own identities for him to feel truly at “home”. Importantly, this provides guidance for services and organisations; for effective support of any kind, to maximise outcomes, representation and socio-cultural sensitivity is key when working with intersectional minortised identities. Considering BGPMM, this is where Muslim LGBT+ organisations play a vital role in the services they provide as individuals navigate their identities in their subjective contexts.

To provide a wider picture on the potential experiences of BGPMM’s, Abdullah’s account sheds light on his own ‘coming out’ process below.

Interviewer: Did your family understand, when you ‘came out’?

Abdullah*: Yea, they did [Interviewer: mm] my grandad was very, very understanding- he started telling me about certain gay clubs and gay bars and I couldn’t stop laughing, I was like “oh my god, he’s more thingy than me” he goes to me “there’s certain places for you” and I go “yeah, I know about that, don’t worry. I’ve been there, I’ve tried it, don’t worry” [Interviewer: yeah] but no, he was understanding and he- one word my grandad said to me was, he goes to me “who am I to judge you? If God created you like this, Abdullah, then, I’m going to accept you with open arms” [Interviewer: mm]

From a microsystem perspective, Abdullah felt understood by his grandad (family), who even suggested “gay clubs…and bars”, indicating the importance of sexuality specific and affirming spaces (microsystems), further supporting the points mentioned throughout this blog. Reflectively, Abdullah’s grandad questioned his own position in “judging” him, with God’s (Allah] creation unconditionally being accepted “with open arms”. With this account, Abdullah’s grandad accepted his grandsons’ sexuality as being created by Allah (macrosystem), and thus being a creation to respect as equally as heterosexuality. The importance of his grandad’s contribution is appreciated below;

My grandad was my pillar and he told the family to be accepting because I don’t think anyone would have been accepting if my grandad didn’t say that” (Abdullah*)

Recognising his grandad’s status as a “pillar” within the wider family (microsystem), he influenced how Abdullah’s sexuality was received as he acknowledged “because I don’t think anyone would have been accepting if my grandad didn’t say that” because his grandad “told the family to be accepting”. With this, we can see the profoundly positive impact of one individual’s ‘approval’ (grandad) had on Abdullah, regardless of others (family) potentially not being “accepting”, as Abdullah thinks. 

This section has explored the impact of community support, both from an organisational (Hidayah; micro/mesosystem) and family (grandad; microsystem) perspective, in light of Bronfenbrenner’s systemic theory. 

Below I go on to discuss the potential gaps in support, recognising the systemic location of identities within the socio-cultural contexts that they navigate (see graphic).

Gaps in Support

Syed’s sexuality was involuntarily discovered by his family going through his personal text messages. The below extract provides rich insight into the events that followed (for an exploration into the psychological implications, see references). 

Interviewer: How supportive were your networks and relationships?

Syed*: No. Not at all! I was alone only because when I get out of home, my boyfriend left me [Interviewer: uh-huh] when I left my home, when officers took me so they placed me in (inaudible, location place) [Interviewer: uh-huh] for a few- as a erm, support-er homeless, so they gave me accommodation for a few days to get in this apartment [Interviewer: uh-huh] so I was there about 3 days” … “on that time I was alone. All alone. And I was doing every single thing by my own

Interviewer: it sounds like you were forced out of home due to tensions and internal family struggles (as a result of potential ‘izzat’ loss), and then lost your partner due to this. But it does sound like the police officers aided and assisted you in your homeless period, with alternative accommodation.

Syed*: yeah, definitely, they was okay. I don’t know where or what I would have done without this. Er, because they were supportive and there was one officer who still I um-talk to him and he, whenever I got problem with my family or anything like that, I speak to him and he sorts it out.

Immediately Syed responded by raising the lack of support he received; “No. Not at all!” and “I was alone. All alone” (all systems). It was understood to have stemmed from cultural notions of ‘izzat’ (honour/reputation; macrosystem), which meant Syed had to leave his family home (microsystem). From a community perspective, we can see how Syed was ‘rooted out’ from his well-established social context and relationally from his family (microsystem), who are inherently positioned to be his loved ones. However, when facing conditional acceptance, this relationship (family) was denied to Syed, forcing him to leave what he knew as ‘home’. 

Although Syed was re-accommodated, it is clear within their account that there were significant gaps of support, as housing makes up one element of an individuals needs. This is where community support (exosystem) and support networks (micro and mesosystem) play a crucial role in lifting individuals when other systems fail to do so (in this context, the immediate family; microsystem). Systems should work together collaboratively to maximize benefits for individuals (mesosystem). 

Despite this, Syed describes “one officer who still I um-talk to him and he, whenever I got problem with my family or anything like that, I speak to him and he sort it out”. The officer’s support (mesosystem) was a reactive one (responding after the incident), not a proactive one. Proactively, Syed might not have initially felt “all alone” and would already have had access to extensive support networks to draw from, spreading the risk if one was to ‘let him down’. 

In drawing from systemic theories, having extensive support networks can be seen as a builders’ toolbox; a range of tools to draw from to match for the project’s requirements. In the same manner, different systems should act as a ‘safety net’, both to support when other systems fail but also to build on each other’s support as a collective micro-meso-exo and macrosystem. Collectively, this can go on to influence the chronosystem into one that is affirming for BGPMM’s homosexuality. 

Syed’s narrative has provided insight into his negative experience of being ‘outed’ without his consent and he explored with me the (lack of) support that he received at large, providing spaces for organisations and other social institutions to fill, from a community, systemic perspective. 

To conclude this blogpost, I now go on to discuss the implications of these findings and suggest future directions. 

Implications

It is important to note, from a community perspective, this blogpost does not suggest there is a dichotomy of support (unsupportive/supportive; two extreme binaries), but rather intersectionality indicates how support can come from various social group memberships and organisations. 

My research project’s findings shared in this blog give way to a broad overview into BGPMM’s lived experiences from an interpretative phenomenological lens (the analysis performed on the data). Here, these experiences are examined from a community lens, questioning who contributes towards constructing and shaping BGPMM’s experiences, whilst also highlighting gaps in support. 

We can see from the extracts drawn on within this blog that there are safe and open discussions to be had, both culturally and religiously. These conversations should challenge and question the dominant narrative of heteronormativity (normalisation of heterosexuality), which contextually and supposedly places BGPMM’s identities at “conflict” (as Walid saw it to be) due to their gay identity. The need of these conversations cannot be understated as heteronormativity comes with immense pressures for all involves, including, but not limited to, relationally, spiritually, psychologically, physically, and financially etc.

It is important to note that BGPMM’s need for community support may have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they navigated lockdowns in potentially difficult and challenging environments. As the data presented within the blogpost was collected prior to the pandemic, it is something I am currently unable to provide insight to.

My project further contributes towards services, by increasing intersectional understandings of the connected experiences of BGPMM, whilst highlighting gaps for community support, which can partially be addressed by psychotherapists. 

Lastly, the ‘small’ sample of this project (6 participants) does not minimise the findings shared here and through other streams, as within qualitative research, rich and detailed interviews are preferred to large-scale projects (which may be more preference by quantitative approaches). The purpose of the analysis conducted on my data set (Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis) is to follow case-by-case, as also echoed by Smith and Osborn, whose analysis methods I followed for this study.

Future Directions

Within qualitative fields, further research is always welcome to provide more depth and breadth, as such, other analysts will continue to build on the existing knowledge base, as I have done. With this, the research gap for BGPMM’s is addressed. 

For my own personal directions, I am currently building on this project by undertaking a Masters by Research, considering the language and identities of British, Pakistani, Non-heterosexual, Muslim Males. From my dissertation project, this was one of the suggested directions, which I am currently addressing. With this, I may be able to also add to the community aspect of these findings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In reflection of this project, I chose to explore ‘non-heterosexuality’ at a Masters level as I noticed the ‘gay’ sexuality was a component participants refrained from explicitly identifying with. As such, to increase access and representation in the findings of my work, I adapted the participant criteria in attempts to be more inclusive of BGPMM (now BPNMM), which still includes homosexuality.

I hope to continue disseminating findings from my work in an accessible manner, beyond the usual jargon-loaded academic journals, through blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and of course the craze with infographics!

Further Reading

Muslim LGBT+ British Support Organisations

If you have been impacted by the contents of this blog at any point, I strongly recommend you reach out for affirmative support, a couple of organisations are suggested below.

Hidayah 

Hidayah intersectionally supports those whose identity comprises of gender, sexuality and Islam, aiming to increase representation, acceptance and equality of LGBT+ Muslims by providing a platform and co-constructing safe spaces. Hidayah offers groups, educational workshops and a sense of community and belonging etc.