Michael was 19 when he was naked, on top of the woman he married that day, and the only thing he could think of was his family.
He tried to be gentle like his uncle had taught him how to ‘break a girl in’. He was thinking of his father expecting a grandchild. He was expected to perform like a good Christian boy should.
‘No’, she quietly uttered. His 16-year-old wife Alfa couldn’t have sex with a strange boy, her first cousin no less, as much as he could.
But he was holding a much more dangerous secret. He knew he was gay, he was in Lebanon and he had just been forcibly married to a woman.
Thousands of gay people are arranged to be married every single year, even if their families know of their sexuality. It doesn’t matter. And some are forced, while others go along with it – brainwashed – hoping to not be a disgrace to their surname.
‘I didn’t want to push her into anything she didn’t want to do but was concerned that my dad would be angry with me for not having sex with my new wife. We slept that night, exhausted physically and definitely emotionally.’
The next day came at 9am, with Alfa’s mother and Michael’s father knocking on the door.
‘The first thing he said to me as he was still walking through the threshold was, “Did you?”’ Michael remembered.
‘I said, “No” and the look on his face can only be described as utter disappointment. Alfa’s mother took her aside and gave her a good talking to. Our parents gave us one hour to complete the deed and warned us that if it wasn’t done when they returned, we would have disgraced the family.
‘They left us scared and eager to redeem ourselves. Alfa jumped onto the bed, lay motionless and said, “Hurry up and just do it.’ Tears streamed from her beautiful green eyes. It was mechanical and sterile.
‘I thought about men the whole time as that was the only way I could get aroused, and foreplay was obviously out of the question.
‘Once it was in I felt relief and the act marked the end of our innocence and the beginning our our life together. Our parents returned to inspect the bed sheets for evidence of what had just taken place. They were proud and we were happy to oblige.’
When Michael and Alfa married on 31 July 1994, a Sunday, in Zgharta, north Lebanon – they knew a month in advance.
Before he left Australia for Lebanon for what he thought was a holiday, Michael was told by his father to ‘get to know Alfa’.
It was then he remembered his parents had talked about their union from when he was six.
Thankfully, the strict conservative religious culture meant the courtship for Michael and Alfa were strictly forbidden from doing anything until their wedding night – apart from holding hands.
But after that? The family wanted children and the honeymoon was a perfect opportunity.
‘I became sick. I was vomiting violently and having dizzy spells. Alfa called my dad and he picked me up the following night,’ Michael said.
‘I was taken to hospital. I had a strange bright red band from my belly button, stretching horizontally to the right side of my body. I stayed in hospital for three days attached to a drip.’
Michael later learned he had an anxiety-induced panic attack.
‘I had been under so much pressure to marry someone I didn’t really know, have sex with her and get her pregnant, all in the space of a few short days.’
After two months of recovery, he went back to Australia. Alfa followed six months later after her visa was approved.
And while they did have sex, he always had to think of men to get hard. They eventually had a baby boy two years into their marriage, and his goal was complete.
Three years later Michael and Alfa divorced after he realised he couldn’t hide from his family or from his sexuality.
He came out, and this time, he could only live for himself.
Quoted extracts from Michael El-Bacha’s book ‘Oh, My God! Am I Alright?’, available now.