The teenager was forced to endure repeated exorcisms by religious leaders. (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty)
A non-binary, pansexual teenager has described how they were burned, psychologically abused and told being gay was worse that rape during conversion therapy enforced by their Muslim parents.
Iani’s story is one in a series on conversion therapy in Singapore being released by queer brand Heckin’ Unicorn.
While religious conversion therapy is often thought of and reported on as a Christian practice, the Singapore teenager’s experience shines a light on the similar experiences of queer Muslims.
Throughout their childhood Iani had a close relationship with their parents, but that all changed when they were outed as queer.
Iani’s extended family began organising for them to go through conversion therapy, and one day their uncle, an Ustaz [male Islamic religious teacher], came to their house.
Their uncle began calling out and trying to commune with an “evil spirit”, but it soon became clear that the “spirit” he was speaking to was Iani. After asked them a series of questions he declared that they were “possessed”.
The evil spirit, or jinn, needed to be expelled from their body in order for Iani to become “normal”, he said.
While the bizarre session was difficult and upsetting, Iani was not prepared for what would come. Their uncle returned a week later to perform an exorcism, or ruqyah.
He forced Iani to recite verses from the Qur’an, while whipping them with a cane. Their body was draped with a blanket before the whipping, to ensure there would be no visible marks. Then, making Iani get on the ground, the uncle held a lighter under their feet, burning the teenager to “cast the jinn away” while they screamed in pain.
Iani’s parents continued to arrange exorcisms, and their mental health deteriorated. Reaching the point of a breakdown, their parents invited an Ustaz to restrain and “treat” them with another exorcism, instead of seeking professional help.
One day, their father forced them to watch a documentary on the story of Lut, often quoted by Muslims to insist that being LGBT+ is wrong. The teenager, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, told their father that the story also warned against rape.
Their father said: “Rape is everywhere, but being gay isn’t. That’s why being gay will always be the biggest sin.”
Eventually, Iani fell into a mental health crisis and was hospitalised at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for emergency treatment of a psychotic breakdown.
Now older, Iani is unsurprisingly still non-binary and still pansexual, yet they are forced to live with the mental health repercussions of the abuse they suffered every day.
While conversion therapy in Islam is not so well-known, its core ideas are almost identical to Christian conversion therapy; that being LGBT+ is unnatural and wrong, and that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed through religious practices.
Heckin’ Unicorn is sharing stories of conversion therapy in Singapore because there, like in the UK, the horrific practice is still perfectly legal.
The company is calling for a full ban on the practice and advertising of conversion therapy in Singapore.