| MUSLIM NO MORE?: Gwen Boucher, a.k.a. Khadija. |
IMAGE: BYRON BECK
Khadija could be a star spokeswoman for Muslims if they wanted to show off Islam’s teachings of peace and acceptance.
She doesn’t see the teachings of Islam as “harsh,” nor do the religion’s tenets make her feel like a “second-class” citizen, rejecting two common claims from some Western critics. In fact, she believes the neoconservative press has got it all wrong when it comes to Islam. “Arab terrorists are not Islam,” Khadija says.
But things get nastier when others interpret those teachings. Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, the imam, or spiritual leader, of Masjed As-Saber, won’t let Khadija back in his Southwest Portland mosque because Khadija is transgendered.
I met Khadija, who still uses her birth name—Gwen Boucher—for coffee after the 61-year-old Muslim convert had read WW’s “The Queer and the Qur’an” on a website for trans Muslims (groups.yahoo.com/group/transmuslims). She had posted a comment on our website about how, after finding acceptance in a local mosque, she was asked never to return. “I felt that it would’ve been better for them to kill me,” her comment read.
Look, I know readers will say, “Get off the Muslim kick.” That Christians and Jews crap on queer people every day. So be it. Send me those stories and I’ll be happy to write them. But Khadija came to me, and this story deserves telling.
Boucher was born a boy, but raised at first as a girl, in San Diego. “My mother always wanted a girl,” she said. “That’s why she named me Gwen.” Her family moved to Portland shortly after her fourth birthday. It was here that she says her stepfather abused her. By the age of 5, Boucher finally got beaten into step with the gender she was born with. “He said he was going to beat the woman out of me,” she said.
He did. Boucher did all the guy things. She got married, had three kids, was a policeman in the Army and eventually worked as an electrician. Her fundamentalist Christian family went to church at least twice a week. Boucher lived life as a man until the age of 56. But in the first week of January 2004 Boucher, who had felt different her entire life, finally said enough’s enough and came out as a woman. She transitioned surgically soon after and has been living as a woman ever since.
Fascinated by Arab culture since the 9/11 bombings and rejected after becoming a woman by her wife and kids and her funda-faith, Boucher started investigating Islam. What she found surprised her. “It’s more monotheistic than Christianity,” Boucher says, explaining that many Christians treat Jesus more like a god than a prophet. Rather than feeling like a freak, Boucher felt accepted as a woman by her newfound Muslim faith, especially after visiting a website, askislam.org, which told her it was OK to be transgendered on three conditions: if she wore the traditional garb of women, went to mosque and told the imam her history.
On Sept. 26, 2006, during Ramadan, Boucher underwent the final step, another personal transformation—she became a Muslim.
After meeting a Muslim woman soon after, Boucher was invited to a women’s feast at Masjed As-Saber—the largest of seven mosques in the Portland area.
Upon her arrival at the Southwest Portland mosque, Boucher had an emotional struggle about whether to go in the men’s section or the women’s.
She was escorted to the ladies’ section, where she tried to hide her trans status. “I wanted to tell the imam as I was instructed,” Boucher says. “But the women said they wanted to handle it themselves.” Boucher says that initially the women were very accepting, but after three months, a couple of them objected to her being part of the mosque. That’s when the imam got involved and, according to Boucher, talked with other imams about her situation. After a six-month investigation, she was told she could not return.
Imam Mamadou Toure of Beaverton’s Bilal Mosque, the only local imam whom Boucher says has been sympathetic to her cause, did not respond to several email requests for comment.
Upon that “death sentence,” Boucher walked into the middle of traffic on Southwest Barbur Boulevard. “I wanted to die,” she said.
After someone nearly mowed her down, she snapped out of her funk. But while she remains alive, so does her pain.
“In my heart I am still a Muslim,” Boucher says. “But I was shunned after that, and I’ve never been back to a mosque since.”