There are no better words to introduce a writer than some of her own:
I AM DESERVING - Munera's story
“Do not be beguiled by the forlorn fools
That can’t help but try to grasp at the sexiness you exude
In a herd of goats
You are the lion
A Shepherd to the sheep
On a mountain, you are the peak
Say it with me
I am deserving.”
-excerpt from Munera’s poem, I am Deserving
Munera is of Somali descent and identifies as queer, Muslim, and non-binary. She is a writer and a poet. At 22, Munera has already seen a lifetime of pain. She has experienced rejection of her queer identity and has faced the intolerance of her black Muslim identity. She has broken down and built herself back up. Now, as she navigates the world as a queer Muslim, she feels stronger – ready to change the hate she receives into love and healing.
The Chosen Items
For the poster, Munera chose a beautiful sitting stool and a healing crystal as her items to visually express her Muslim and queer identity.
The sitting stool was the only thing she took from her home when she left for a shelter at 21. It belongs to her grandmother. She left because her queerness was not embraced in her home. Despite her challenging experiences, she feels strongly that this item represents her Muslim identity, which is deeply connected to her racial and familial identity.
“I have learnt to forgive – myself and those around me. And this sitting stool is a reminder of my journey from self-hate to self-love as a black Muslim who has finally embraced her own self.”
The healing crystal, Selenite expresses her queer identity as it depicts healing through the pain. She holds it like a wand, sings into it like a microphone. She clasps it against her heart. It has helped her to reconcile with herself and it continues to support her as she interacts with the world where homophobia and transphobia remain a reality.
On the Intersections
Leaving a hostile environment where her queer identity was rejected and creating a place of acceptance and celebration for herself did not make her safe in the outside world as a queer black Muslim – even within the queer and trans communities.
“My queer friends make terrorist jokes with me all the time. Or they insist that I should denounce my religion to truly embrace my queer identity.”
She questions people’s expectation of her to relinquish her Muslim identity to prove her queerness. For her, Islam is a place of love – one that she deserves and relates to.
“In my dating life, I notice, that my Muslim identity or my ethnicity, is conveniently ignored and side-stepped. No one wants to talk about it. It is like they isolate it from my queerness. It is such a taboo. People are afraid to talk about it.”
Her experiences in the world outside the queer and trans communities have also been disturbing. She remembered the time when she was staying in the shelter, and wore a hijab to attend a cousin’s funeral. The hate she got for it was traumatizing for her.
From interacting socially, and accessing services, to finding employment, she often feels forced to navigate the world with different umbrellas – each one to shield some aspect of her identity from the world – just to be safe, respected and accepted. She finds herself constantly evaluating and deciding which part of herself she has to hide.
With so many risks attached to her identity, Munera still chose to be visible for this campaign. She was eager to share her story and her journey so far.
“Growing up in Toronto, I didn’t hear much about lesbians or non-binary identities. It was always about gay men. I thought I was the only one and that there was something wrong with me. I wanted to participate in this campaign and be visible in my queer black Muslim identity – so that there is dialogue. So that there are role models like me for other people like me. I don’t want others to feel how I felt in my body growing up. I don’t want other queer/trans/nonbinary Muslims to think they are alone. I am willing to be vulnerable so someone out there looking at this campaign doesn’t have to be.”
Munera believes that we can create a place where you don’t have to hide, be judged, and be subjected to violence and abuse.
“We all need to take on a little role. We all need to choose one aspect and fight to change it. My little thing has been to change the way I see myself. To learn to love myself – all of myself.”
Munera’s journey to self-acceptance – to owning her body, life, and choices, and saying loudly and proudly that she is Muslim and queer hasn’t been easy. But she hopes someday it can be for others. Only if we all do our part. And then she said:
“Say it with me
I am whole,
I am complete
And I am
Next Story: I am compassionate – Maiesha’s story
Storytelling, design, and photography by Soofia Mahmood, The 519