Several years ago Samra Habib began traveling the world to photograph and interview queer Muslims, to discover the ways in which Islam shapes their personal identities.

“Often when I would interview and photograph young people, they didn’t really know that much about me,” says Habib, a Toronto-based writer, photographer, and activist. But her subjects’ generosity inspired her to share her story in return.

“I hoped that sharing my experience might provide them with a sense of comfort or a belief that it does get better,” she says. “When you read about queer Muslims” in the news, most often, “many of the experiences are traumatic. Terrible things have happened in my life, but I’ve used that insight to find the things that make me happy and inform my life choices, and I’ve had extraordinary experiences as a result.”

Habib explores evolving relationships to religion, sexuality, art, and love in her triumphant and powerful debut, We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir.“A moving example of resilience and healing in the face of racial, sexual, and familial trauma,” Kirkus writes. “A poignantly told memoir about a life fiercely lived.”

Growing up in an Ahmadi Muslim family in a working-class neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, Habib was taught to hide laughter and joy from her father, because “good” Muslim girls should be seen and not heard.

“I’d only ever been surrounded by women who didn’t have the blueprint for claiming their lives,” Habib writes. “There were my aunts, who would never be caught socializing without their husbands present—certainly not publicly. They couldn’t drive their cars without their husbands, let alone ride a motorcycle. And there was my mother, who was notified of her own name change only when her wedding invitations arrived from the printer.”

Habib was taught to hide her religion from her classmates, because Ahmadis faced government-sanctioned persecution and extremist violence. At age 11, she and her family sought asylum in Canada. She weathered persistent sexism, racism, bullying, financial insecurity, and an arranged marriage at age 16, complicating her relationship to Islam as well as her burgeoning queer sexuality.

“People often ask me, Why didn’t you come out when you were younger?” Habib says. “I think it’s something that someone who’s had a lot of privilege Samra Habib Cover might ask because, for me, there were so many things I feel that I had to overcome before I could even explore the fact I was attracted to women. My priority was just to be safe and to survive.”

With age and experience, the examples of her queer chosen family, and the acceptance of her siblings and parents, Habib was able to ask, “What would it feel like to walk through the world daring to present myself without apology?” and answer, in part, by proudly claiming her identity as a queer Muslim woman.

“[Being queer] means…fighting every day to exist, to be accepted for all the intersectionalities that are part of my experience,” she says. “And for me, personally, because of my specific experiences with the [photo] project, with the book, and what I do in my everyday life, I feel a sense of duty to do whatever I can to help others to be their authentic selves. It’s understanding that you have to go to battle every day to be who you are.”

Megan Labrise is the editor at large and co-host of Kirkus’ Fully Booked podcast.