The compelling and confronting story about Australia’s first openly gay Imam Nur Warsame, which featured on SBS’s The Feed, really struck a chord with me. While I am not a Muslim man, as a gay man I can empathise with Nur - a prominent and well-respected man in Australia’s Islamic community who has encountered struggles with his sexuality and spirituality. Like me, Nur was married with children, raised to be religious, struggled with his sexuality, attempted suicide, and has encountered discrimination within his own immediate and spiritual communities.
As I do not have a solid understanding of the Muslim faith, I cannot comment on it, but being raised and educated under the Catholic Church definitely impacted the way I understood my sexuality and my coming-out process. I was repeatedly told that being gay was wrong, immoral, an act against God. There were never open discussions about sexual identity. If I or anyone else ever raised the topic, it was shut down with negative remarks or judgmental stares.
While I did not identify as being gay growing up, like many young people I struggled with my sexuality. I liked women, but was equally attracted to men. I didn’t understand or explore these feelings because I repeatedly told myself those thoughts were wrong.
Going to an all-boys Catholic school was tough. I was bullied by kids and many teachers for my somewhat ambiguous nature. When other kids would tease, hit or taunt me, many teachers (predominately male) would brush my cries aside and simply tell me to “harden up” and “stop acting like a girl”. One particular teacher (who at the time was the sports master) not only encouraged the bullying, but told me it was my own fault because I was “prancing around like a Nancy-boy” in the school musical, instead of playing sport. He then asked me if I was a "poofter". I was just 13-years-old and it hurt me. As a young kid, I never understood why he made those comments, considering I was also playing rugby league and was a member of the school swimming squad.
"These comments left an impression on me for years to come. I started to resent being raised a Catholic."
My family never forced the teachings of the Bible onto my siblings or I, but from time-to-time references were made about homosexuality and that it was wrong in the eyes of God. These comments left an impression on me for years to come. I started to resent being raised a Catholic.
My resentment towards God and the Church grew stronger and the hate manifested when my beloved Dad passed away from cancer in 2007. I thought taking my Dad was God’s most selfish act. I could never understand why he would punish my Dad the way he did, and take away the one person who was in my corner the majority of the time. My resentment came to a climatic head when my wife suffered a miscarriage shortly afterwards.
Soon after, I went on a work trip to Bahrain. I was away from my wife and kids, and within that silence I had time to think. It was then that I realised I was gay. Within a week of returning from the Middle East I came out to my wife and children, and embarked on a new life as an openly gay man.
While I am still a non-practicing Catholic, I have restored my belief in God and over the years my spirituality has grown. I love reading about different spiritual beliefs, and like Nur Warsame I have reconciled my sexuality with my spirituality. I feel by embracing my spirituality I have found my authentic self.
Many spiritual faiths believe that being gay is a sin and that it is our choice to be gay. I do not believe this to be true. I am attracted to a man the same way as a man is attracted to a woman. I didn’t choose to be gay and many people don’t. I believe, as human beings, we are all made in the image of what God has chosen for us as individuals. Bridging sexuality and spirituality can offer light at the end of the tunnel for many. Coming out is a freedom that we all have a right to experience and embrace.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.