Learning How to TrustPosted: August 12, 2015
Sometimes you barricade yourself so securely into a safe space that you forget how to take the walls down again. Sometimes you close yourself up so tightly against being hurt that you forget how to open up again. Sometimes you hold on to a shape you were bent into so long that you don’t notice when you can straighten out again.
Even as a child, I was never one to have a lot of friends. The people I bonded with were loners like me, or on the fringes.
Still, I always had a best friend in those simpler days. Someone I shared the most important parts of myself and my life with, and was entrusted with the same by them. Carrie was my best friend in elementary school and Jenny saw me through junior high and high school.
Then came college. Then came my first real encounters with a sexualized world and sexualized expectations that alienated me.
I had a good friend in college, Sandy. We were put together as suitemates in freshman year and chose to be roommates our sophomore year. But the emotional intimacy I’d had with Carrie and Jenny was never there. After I moved into my own apartment junior year, Sandy and her boyfriend were just people I had lunch with.
The truth is that I didn’t know how to relate to people for whom sexuality and romance were a major part of their lives. I’d never learned this in high school – my friends then didn’t date and we didn’t talk about crushes or relationships. When their lives changed after high school, I had no experiences and no frame of reference to share with them.
I didn’t even have the concepts or language to talk about myself – I didn’t know then that asexuality was a possible sexual orientation and I wouldn’t know it for another 10 years.
Not able to relate to something that had become so important for everyone else, I no longer knew how to have a best friend.
My first few years out of college were difficult. I started and withdrew from grad school and alternated between short-term jobs and extended periods of unemployment. Without a steady job, I struggled to make friends at all since school and work were the main ways I knew how to relate to others.
In 1999, I accepted Islam. I’d been reading about it for several years and increasingly found comfort in how it made sense of the world for me. Mine was a solitary journey to faith – intellectual and reflective – not a story of community. There wasn’t a mosque near to me – the one I attend today wouldn’t be established for another three years – and at the time I converted, I had only connected with a few other Muslims on an email list I joined.
That email list was a turning point, though. Connecting with others offline remained difficult for me (especially since I don’t drive) but I realized that I could find friends who shared common interests online. Over the following years, I joined online communities of Muslims and liberal political bloggers; I finally found a stable job working from home providing online tech support; and eventually I even discovered other asexual people to connect with.
These online communities are an important support network for me. But in all that time, I never did figure out how to have a best friend again. Common interests are great but each interest is only a small part of me. I’m often the only asexual person in Muslim and liberal spaces, and one of just a few Muslims in asexual spaces. I’m the only one in both categories at work.
My life and my identity are a lot more complex these days than they were in high school. Where is the person I can share everything with? That I can be my whole self with? And if I find her, will I know how to open up to her? After more than 20 years of isolation, do I know how to trust anymore?
As I think about the future I want for myself, I keep coming back to those questions. Do I have the tools I need to build the queerplatonic relationship1 I seek? The emotional intelligence, the willingness to be vulnerable, the courage to reach out? Will I let myself be held back by all the challenges and barriers and by my own shortcomings, or can I learn to become the person I need to be?
Read more by Laura, here.
Laura P is a European-American convert to Islam, asexual, and queer. She is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda, a group blog for asexual spectrum individuals, and maintains a personal blog, Notes of an Asexual Muslim. You can also find her on Twitter at @muhajabah. She works in online tech support and volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.
1A queerplatonic relationship often takes the form of “best friends who are also life partners”, hence my focus on the best friend relationship.