What is it like to come out as gay or as an LGBTI person in Egypt? I have to take a deep breath while typing this and think where best to start the story.
Let me first introduce myself to all of you. I’m A R Fathy and I’m an Egyptian. I was born in 1990s to a typical rural traditional family in the north-east of the Egyptian delta.
I was born to a middle-working-class family. My parents did their best to afford a good, dignified life for my younger brothers and I.
In particular, I still remember our dad often had to be away, working abroad to earn money. It was the best way he could afford us a good quality of life. Meanwhile, my mom stayed at home and tried to raise us in as righteous a way as she could.
It is largely thanks to their hard work for us that I have had the life opportunities I enjoy. I’m a BA degree holder in English arts and teaching and work as a teacher.
I guess my parents long suspected something ‘abnormal’ happening with me although they didn’t understand its nature.
Since I was very young, I enjoyed chatting with women and being part of their gatherings.
My mom didn’t approve. As an Eastern woman, her response was to beat me to grow up as a man and stop acting sissy.
But did she really understand I was gay? I don’t believe so. After all, I remember this happening when I was 12-years-old, but back then I couldn’t have said what my sexuality was myself.
Of course, there were other clues for them as time went on. They may have noticed my mannerisms or my clothing style. Sometimes they checked my cellphone behind my back and they probably saw I wasn’t following their own strict upbringing.
Other boys mocked my masculinity
Naturally, nobody finds growing up easy. But for me it was a nightmare as I never felt myself normal like other boys attracted to girls. I even tried using my mom’s make-up when I was young, so I was not like the others.
I felt I was in a lose-lose relationship with my male peers. Unlike them, I was introverted. I was very much a boy in a closet – not fearing them as such, but not interested in what interested them. They would mock my masculinity when I failed to date girls – and they called me a ‘weak-chick’.
I don’t hate being a man but I feel female
My first actual gay sex experience happened with my neighbor. He was older than me, around 20, while I was just 14-years-old. Some may say his actions were child abuse and even that is what ‘made’ me gay. I don’t agree, however.
In fact, I never felt that I am actually ‘male’. I sound like a man, behave like a man, act like a man, but deep within me, I don’t feel like one.
Honestly, I don’t hate my being a man. But at the same time, I feel like I have a heart, a mindset, and personality of a female.
Challenged by my mom
My coming out really started in 2014, at the beginning of my 20s, as I was finishing my degree studies.
It’s the kind of age where young men in Egypt usually get married, or at least engaged. But it wasn’t the same as me.
One day, my mom asked me about all this:
Mom: Hey Bodi [my mom’s nickname for me]! How are you doing sweet man? [Kissing me.]
Me: I’m OK Mom. How about you?
Mom: I’m OK. And I will be happier when I see you married and giving me grandsons.
Me: Mom, would you please stop pushing me to do that all time? I love you, but marriage isn’t only about this. It’s a responsibility.
Mom: What’s wrong? I’ve never seen any man refusing marriage before. Men marry women and this is how life goes.
Me: Yes, this is how it goes for you. But it is like an able-bodied person asking a disabled one to walk like him just because he is just a person like him. Would you please understand that I’m not like everyone else?
Mom: What’s wrong?
Me: Well, nothing Mom. Forget about it.
Mom: I feel like something abnormal is happening with you, but I can’t tell what. Are you hiding anything from me?
Me: Nothing mom.
Me: There is something awfully screwy happening here and I have to know what.
So we ended the conversation. But my mother’s desire to find out what was happening with me didn’t end. At the same time, my own struggles with my sexuality and buried feelings continued.
I got myself busted
My mom was working in a hospital as an x-ray technician. And one day I felt so stressed that I asked her to help me find a good neurologist.
Actually, it felt to me like a lot of accumulated bad experiences hit me at once, like me like a typhoon.
Anyway, my mom told me about female neurologist. I met her and she acted like a sister and friend to me. She diagnosed me as suffering from PTSD symptoms due to my repressed feelings and some Sexual Identity Disorder. It even made me a little bipolar.
So she prescribed some medicine, like Anafranil and Zyprexa, to help me balance my screwed social life, sexual identity, and my last year of college study to get my degree. They had bad side-effects but they helped me get through.
However, my mom hadn’t given up on trying to find out what was happening to me. She kept pestering the doctor, until she eventually revealed I am homosexual.
Mass havoc broke out.
Forced to have an anal examination
It didn’t stop at that. My mom told my dad. Naturally, he is also conservative and it was one hell of a night for me – and my whole family.
The worst was yet to come. My mom submitted me to an anal examination to discover if I was still a virgin or not.
My parents banned me from leaving my home for a while. Moreover, they stripped me of my cell phone, my PC and any way I could keep in touch with other people.
Everyone knew my family was watching me strictly. So I was kept in a kind of solitary confinement.
But as time went on I was eventually able to start a new chapter in my life.
Hope for a better LGBTI Egypt
As for me, I have simple hopes. My ambition is to have some peace of mind, to rid myself of these bad memories to start a new chapter in my life.
I hope to see LGBTI identity legalized in Egypt. I hope I live long enough to see two men holding hands in the street freely.
At one time, I seriously considered leaving Egypt. But firstly, I was aware of a wave of xenophobia around the world which would make it harder to get a job abroad.
And, of course, getting to live and work in an LGBTI-friendly country is not necessarily easy for an immigrant.
Moreover, Egypt is the place I grew up and have all my memories of – both bitter and sweet.
Meanwhile, I just want to do my best to be a voice for so many voiceless LGBTI people in Egypt. Despite everything we face, so many of us are still struggling and hoping for change and for a better destiny for ourselves and our country.