In his novel Norwegian Wood, Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes: ‘Nobody likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.’
So I don’t think anyone would ever choose to feel lonely, isolated, or disassociated. However, there are still times when we all feel like we don’t belong.
And this particularly applies to the LGBTI community in Egypt, other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, it is our experience most of the time.
Of course, this kind of loneliness and isolation has been studied by our greatest thinkers for as long as philosophy has existed.
The Ancient Greek philosophers pondered it. And Marx presented a theory of alienation that ‘describes the estrangement (Entfremdung) of people from aspects of their Gattungswesen (‘species-essence’) as a consequence of living in a society of stratified social classes’.
As LGBTI people living in the world’s most religious and conservative societies we have an unenviable choice. Either we dress, act and think in a way that goes against our nature – concealing our identities – or face an even greater danger. As a result we are left socially lonely, emotionally isolated and with cognitive and self-mistrust.
Digital Pride is the only global Pride dedicated to enabling everyone to be part of a Pride, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. This year, we are focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.
How I ended up on antidepressants
As a gay Egyptian man, I have a lot of experience of the emotional impact. My sexuality was a huge burden to me for a long time. For much of my young life, it hindered me from communicating well with everyone around me – and it still does.
I always have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I even have to be careful and a bit evasive about where my eye looks, my behaviors and my clothing, in case it reveals my interest in men.
But it’s the cognitive aspect of this isolation that is the biggest nightmare in my life. I suffered from a dysphoria in which I couldn’t balance my feminine tendencies towards men with the role society expected me to play as a man – a man who must have a family and marry a girl and meet my own family’s expectations.
I felt stuck in this particular black hole for a long time, ruining my life for years. It pushed me into a wave of severe depression. Thanks to this, I lost an academic year in high school.
But I kept repressing these feelings while in college. That in turn pushed me to consult a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist prescribed me some antidepressant pills which turned my whole life into a kind of hell. I was totally dependent on them until I got my bachelor degree.
Even that wasn’t the end of it. I felt so strongly that I didn’t fit in to society that I became very introverted. And that cost me dearly in my working life, losing many good employment opportunities.
Unhealthy fixes for loneliness
I know I am not alone. Over the years I’ve met many LGBTI Egyptians, and had relationships with a few, who appear to suffer from the same syndromes. I felt really sorry for them. But ultimately they put me through a lot for nothing – because they were so insecure they couldn’t be themselves.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation are destructive. By nature, humans are social creatures. And if we can’t be ourselves and have open social relationships we can suffer from depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide. That is why it’s very important to make genuine connections as an LGBTI person.
As for gay and bi men here in Egypt for example, their options to overcome that feeling of isolation are limited.
Some turn to hook-up apps like Hornet, Grindr or Tinder. Others stay in the closet and only have gay sex in anonymous scenarios, while pretending to live a ‘normal’ life. And some consult psychiatrists about their sexuality and even try to take medicines to overcome it. That may be the worst of all because ‘gay cures’ never work and can be very harmful.
We can all help fight isolation
With such a widespread and varied problem, it can be hard to know exactly what we can do about it.
This year’s Digital Pride is asking people to take personal action, first and foremost. The Digital Pride team suggests you reach out to someone in your life who you think may be lonely or isolated. You don’t have to raise the issue of loneliness with them, just say ‘hello’ and start a conversation.
But organisations and professionals who serve our community already fight loneliness and isolation too. In fact, they have a key role in doing so. In places like Egypt, this work often means they are trying to undo the systems of oppression placed on us by the west.
I think these organisations and professionals will play an even bigger role in building a better community in future. They can do so by tackling some of the causes of isolation.
For example, they can run community-based outreach services to provide a space for LGBTI people to develop healthy relationships. And they can help young people find resources and services serving LGBTIs.
We need to create services dedicated to stopping child abuse, preventing homelessness, and enhancing family preservation and unity.
But of course, not everyone can stay within their family. For those who can’t we need to provide housing in a way that allows our youth to develop and master life skills.
We can’t hope to achieve all of this overnight. There are many obstacles we’ll need to overcome. So we have to be patient and believe in what we do. Remember, there was a time when homosexuality was illegal across Europe and the US – so we know we can achieve change here too. Nothing is impossible.
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is the online movement, by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.
In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.
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