Being LGBT in the Middle East
For the most part, I am a normal teenager in Amman, Jordan. I wake up when I hear my alarm and get ready for school. But perhaps unlike other 15-year old-boys, I have never fantasized about beautiful girls in my classes, have never imagined being with them. In fact, the idea of that has always terrified me.
At the age of 10, I became fully aware that something made me different; I was crushing on my male friend while everyone else was dying to get to know girls. I closed my eyes and pretended nothing abnormal had crossed my mind. But the idea of him touching me and feeling my skin was beyond fascinating—one I could never get out of my mind, especially when we were swimming. He was pure magic. It’s probably just a phase, I told myself. This can’t be real.
At least that’s what I had learned in school and from my parents. In my Muslim family, we were always taught that homosexuality causes HIV, and that homosexuals destroy the community fabric. People call gay people “sluts” or “prostitutes” in the streets. I can clearly remember when my teacher discussed the topic in class. He cussed and claimed that it was only a “Western idea.” It doesn’t normally exist, but when it does, he said, God punishes those disobedient sinners severely in hell along with the other kinds of non-believers, like those who believe in evolution or who are simply not bound to God’s perfect plan. It was painful to see everyone around me agree with him. When my mom once caught me on gay websites, she cried and told me not to tell anyone that I was “like that.” She told me to stop thinking about it because I would go to hell and she didn’t want to lose me.
Accepting myself, acknowledging what I desire, was hard. I worried that one day I wouldn’t have a family: that they would disown me or even kill me out of shame and disgrace. I knew that if I broke all the cultural norms with which I was raised, I would risk being the victim of an honor-killing. Eventually, though, it just became clearer and clearer that all I ever wanted was to be with that guy in my class. No matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t get that boy out of my head. My heart raced whenever he smiled at me, and even though I tried every day to get him out of my head, the concept of being with him was still breathtaking. Yet, the mere idea of getting rejected also stopped me every time I tried to tell him that I wanted to be with him.
Then, I noticed that this boy would sometimes stare at me. When we were together, he was even sometimes extremely touchy. I began to believe that he would rescue me and would be my own pathway to heaven. I was thrilled and finally got confident enough to make my move. I got close to him but just before I could feel his lips, he pushed me away and yelled, “Ew, this guy is a fag.” He joked about it with his friends, and soon after the news was all around the school.
The day everyone found out felt like the Earth had shattered beneath me. Once I was outed, the whole student body began to mock me. They laughed at the way I look and dress. My teachers talked about how my upbringing must have been bad considering how corrupt I had become. Even my so-called friends said things like, “He is so disgusting. I hope he commits suicide one day.” No one backed me up, supported me, or told me to move on because one day things would change. I cried every day, wishing that that day would be my last, and that the people who mocked me would get what they wished for. I prayed for a “cure” to my gayness, but it turns out those cures are false ones made up by extremists.
But I eventually came to see that there was a bright side to being outed to the whole school. I shut down the rumors because I wasn’t ready to be out in my conservative Middle Eastern country, but the rumor sparked the curiosity of an inquisitive girl in my class. She wanted to know more about me, and I have since gotten to know her well. She is my one and only source of support in the world, and her kindness restored my faith. As time went on, I told a few more friends the truth and was rewarded by feeling the kindness of love and friendship everyone deserves. I learned that even though I may still struggle with my identity, there are other people like me and people who like me for me—and that feeling of acceptance, love, and compassion is priceless.