It’ll come out of nowhere, perhaps intentionally so. An unexpected phone call from the parents, outside the time range in which your regularly scheduled conversations occur.
It’ll start off innocuously, very much like the usual conversations you are bound by filial duty to have: conversations that reassure your parents that you, who live so far away, are still alive. Beta, have you eaten dinner, prayed maghrib, how’s the weather there?
Then the slight pause.
“So you know that wedding we’re going to in Long Island on Sunday?”
“Well, we thought we’d come a day early and stay the night at your place. Is that ok?”
Exhale. Put on your dutiful daughter voice, which you’ve perfected over the years to hide rising panic. “Of course. When should I expect you?”
“Tomorrow around 4?”
And just like that, you have less than 24 hours to prepare for their impending visit of your family. Hard enough for any normal person to do, to pull off the feat of sanitizing one’s life for display to the people who raised her, but what’s a closeted queer to do?
Here is a handy guide to lead you through the process of de-queering your apartment.
First, cancel all your plans. This is serious business and will take longer than you expect. Then, take a few moments to ready yourself. Chug a red bull, pray two rakat nafil, do whatever it takes to rally reserves of focus and energy. Bismillah.
Start by scrubbing your apartment clean: your parents have sharply attuned radars for finding the one dust ball that has rolled under the rug in the darkest corner of your living room, and any dirt is a sign of moral decrepitude. So sweep, vacuum, do the dishes, the laundry. Throw out the expired food in your refrigerator. Change your moldy shower curtain. You know, the easy stuff.
The harder part is figuring out what to do with the all the queer accouterments that you have acquired. The past decade of living on your own has led to the acquisition of paraphernalia that was impossible to accumulate and squirrel away in the recesses of your childhood bedroom. These effects must be now not only be hidden from sharp eyes that know all your hiding spots, but also from the wandering hands of your two younger sisters. Little hands that fit easily under mattresses, make tiered My Little Pony castles from prime hiding space under couches and tables, little hands that casually open drawers and closets. Little hands belonging to little people who – it is flattering, you must admit – are enthralled by your older sister things.
Needless to say, there is a modicum of creativity involved in the act of hiding. Contraband cannot be stashed together, cannot look like it has been deliberately hidden. Ideally, objects must be placed out of sight, but with an affected casualness, in case they’re found.
With those principles in mind, start with the obvious things first. Your vibrator, for example, can be placed in an unassuming gift box hidden under a layer of colored tissue: no one will open a box that sufficiently looks like it is in the process of being gifted. Your signs from various protests, rallies, dyke marches will slot perfectly, inauspiciously into the stack of outdated posters under your bed. The photographs of you and your flamingly queer best friends doing flamingly queer things. Those can be easily concealed in the inside covers of your old notebooks.
Your expansive collection of queer, muslim, brown books is not enough to arouse suspicion, especially since most of the books have unassuming titles and are randomly dispersed through voluminous shelves full of readings material. What may pose problems are specific books, which should be relocated, spine facing inwards, to the pile of books in the corner waiting to be returned to the library. Your well-worn copy of “Homosexuality in Islam” by Scott Kugle, for example, which could potentially have passed unnoticed, but for the detailed annotations inside the text betraying your intimate relationship with the subject. All the highlights, the underlining of alternative interpretations of ayahs, hadith with question marks next to the ones you think are a stretch, the ticks next to the ones that speak to you. The definitive yes! and the occasional this hasn’t been my experience. These might give away how you have carved out – from this book and others – a reminder that you’re not the only one struggling with these identities, an appreciation for critical engagement with text, solace. That you are not alone.
And then there is the random queer paraphernalia. Mostly from the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat that you’ve been going to for the past two years, that has been a source of rich conversations and community, but also tote bags and folders and glossy schedules and certificates for volunteering, all these things you can’t bear to throw away. There are little knickknacks from other events too: lesbian buttons and zines, even a rainbow tie that you found yourself buying in a fit of misguided enthusiasm for symbols. Small tchotchkes that aren’t special in and of themselves but evoke memories, tell the story of your life and consequently are more high risk. The certificate from the retreat, for example, with your name printed so unambiguously in proximity to queerness will have to go. Other things can be hidden fairly easily: tote bags fold neatly into other tote bags, smaller things can be discretely tucked into different envelopes and folders. Separated from each other, a lot of these objects will be stripped of their power to narrate your queerness. But the certificate will have to go.
You’re not done yet, not until you’ve done a last walk through your apartment to make sure you haven’t missed anything: a final sweep. And second and third final sweeps a few minutes later, just in case. And a last actually final final sweep right when your father calls to let you know that they’re 15 minutes away.
And then, when you’re reassured that everything is safely tucked away, you can relax into the purpose of this trip: loving, and being loved. Your apartment will be filled in ways that it isn’t otherwise: with the smell of food that your mother has spent the last 24 hours cooking for you; with stray toys and crayons and socks, courtesy of the sisters, that you’ll find for weeks afterwards tucked into crevices that you had forgotten existed; with giggles and squeals that will haunt the place. You will give in to loving and being loved, you will let yourself love back recklessly. Because, in the end, this is why you do this, this intricate and involved de-queering of your apartment: out of a love so deep that it makes it worth it. You chose not to share this part of yourself with your family because you don’t want anything to taint that love, to take this away from you, this feeling of being enveloped with love. You’re not ready to test this, and you may never be, but that’s okay. You’re not hiding as much as selectively sharing. You do it because you care.
They’re at the door now, you hear their boisterous voices and laughter and footsteps reverberating in the sterile hallway of your building. Take a moment for yourself before opening the door, and whisper a duaa. That it goes well.