A constant topic of controversy in the country, homosexuals are stigmatised by both society and state. Mariam Raymone speaks to six gay Egyptian men about their experiences, relationships, and what it's like being gay in a society that often does not accept them.
Homosexuality is an incredibly controversial topic and it is, more often than not, stigmatised by the Arab community. It is a series of never-ending dilemmas, blasphemy allegations, and accusations. Many in Egypt believe it is a choice, and in a nation that takes such a harsh stance towards it, being homosexual comes with great consequences. Society may be grappling with it, however the government has undergone phases of extreme condemnation on several occasions. In 2001, 52 men were arrested on Queen Boat in Maadi on the allegations of “habitual debauchery” and under the charge of prostitution; in 2014, several arrests occurred as a result of Grindr, where there was police surveillance on users and authorities arrested them, charging them with “indecent behaviour"; another episode arose when a few men were arrested in a Downtown bathhouse. Despite all this, a significant homosexual community exists in Egypt; according to sexologist Heba Kotb, between 10%-12% of the population is gay. With this in mind, I decided to interview a few gay men regarding the misconceptions, their religious beliefs, experiences, the future, and their relationships, to understand what it is like to be gay in a country like Egypt.
Mina*, 24, Jewellery Designer
First of all, homosexuality is not a sickness nor is it a disorder; it’s been around since the existence of mankind. It's not just that we want to have sex; in fact, we get attracted emotionally to our same sex more than physically.
When my mother found out, she was very broken of course. It also came at a very tragic time; I had just broken up with my first boyfriend. Everything in my life seemed dimmed and sad, and the fact that I could not possibly have a stable emotional life because of my sexuality was torturing me. I tried to commit suicide that day and that's when she saw the blood on my wrist. So, my coming out to her was very tragic. She couldn't help but cry and feel very broken and this was when we both decided that I should go to therapy. I spent almost two years in therapy. Then, the psychologist immigrated and that's when I felt that there was nothing that could be done to cure me, because I wasn’t sick in the first place. I sat with my mother and I told her that nothing had changed in me, and that I was not willing to carry on in therapy anymore. I told her that as long as I'm not married to a girl, know that I am still me. We never spoke of the matter anymore. She's also quite religious; she keeps saying that she trusts that God will interfere with a miracle and I will be better then.
I wouldn't have tried to commit suicide if religion wasn't in the picture. Let's admit it, the thing about feeling guilty because I'm gay derives chiefly from religion. I was religious back then and the idea of me not being able to please God was high on the list of things that made me think of killing myself.
Was it confusing? Well, back then it wasn't. I wholeheartedly believed that God hated homosexuality and that what I am is basically a big fat sin; I'm a sinner and I need to be in a perpetual state of repentance is how I thought. Later on, I started reading more about the subject in religious books. That's when I began to feel a bit confused; if I am born this way, why would God punish me for something that I didn't choose? After a long period of confusion, I came to the conclusion that God is merciful and just and because he's just he will not punish me for what I did not choose.
Ahmed, 26, Mechanical Engineer
I knew when I was 14. My mother denied it at first, thinking it's just a phase, then later on she accepted it under certain conditions – no sex basically. I remember she once told me, "If you asked me to kill you in order for you not to be gay and have sex, I’d do it." My father knows but he's in denial, and he doesn't want me to tell him that I’m gay.
I thought of religion as a factor; it was confusing thinking that God hates me for who I am, and then I read that in all religions God is okay with gay people as long as they do not act upon it. There are so many gays that pray everyday, but do whatever they want regarding sexual acts.
Do I think of gay marriage? No. Maybe if I lived elsewhere, but since I’m in Egypt, I can’t. I did think of families and kids, I love kids and I’ve always wanted to have two daughters, but then I learned that it’s a hopeless case and moved on, sadly. I’m not worried about the future, however, as pathetic as this may sound, I'm just worried of dying alone... If you're asking regarding marrying a girl, then also no. I would NEVER do that to girl (like most married gay guys do – they lie to their wives and tell them they're straight). I once asked a Sheikh if it's okay to get married to a girl if I’m gay, and he said of course yes, as long as I don't have a physical problem, but then I asked him if he would accept me marrying his daughter and he was silent... which says a lot.
Joseph, 21, Photographer
There are several misconception towards us. The most important one would be that I'm surprised about the amount of people that think being gay is a choice; take a step back and think about what they're saying. Why would I choose to be gay? Especially in Egypt where there's a lot of hostility towards us. I know people who contemplated suicide over this, and if anything, most gay people would probably tell you how they tried so hard to be straight. Myself included.
Like everyone else, I downloaded and deleted Grindr more than any app ever made. It's so addictive when you have free time or you're feeling bored. Usually it's for fun though, or if you're lucky, you can make a friend. Although you end up meeting all sorts of people, you can occasionally have a good meaningful conversation. This was a great outlet when I was completely in the closet and needed to just talk to someone.
It’s still confusing. I knew I was gay during puberty; it was scary, but then reading about it helped. I've read so much about it though because religion played a big role in my life during childhood. There's a very good documentary called 'Because The Bible Tells Me,' which discusses verses condemning homosexuality in the Bible in an interesting way. I encourage many people to watch it, regardless of their religion. Generally, there are a lot of gay people who still practice their religion despite their homosexuality.
Khaled, 22, Writer
It’s not all about sex; some gays are in long-term relationships. If you go to a party, everyone is all about the physical aspect but it’s only because of the scene you’re in; it’s not a gay thing. The problem is that in gay relationships, it never develops into anything other than casual dating simply because the country doesn’t allow it. On the other hand, it’s biologically proven that men are more sexual than girls.
Someone who was sexually abused as a child can become gay as a result. However, it differs from a person to another, personally, I was curious I searched through the internet and Facebook – each person gets exposed in their own way. I started seeing guys very early (at 15) and by 18, I passed all the phases.
Neither my mother, father, or brother accepted it at first especially in a society like ours. I didn’t tell them; they found out. They made me go to a psychologist, so I told them I’m no longer gay. However, now they know I am and they accept it, but we don’t discuss it and my father is still in denial. Me being at peace with myself doesn’t mean I accept myself; I’m a realistic person. I point out my flaws, but at the end of the day, I don’t force my beliefs on anyone.
Youssef, 21, Student Abroad
Being gay isn’t a choice you make; when did you decide you wanted to be straight? Homosexual men are not rapists, rapists are rapists – some people have this misconception. Also, not all of us are feminine and being homosexual doesn’t mean I want to be girl.
I always knew I was, probably since I was ten. I was never confused although I was in denial at first and wasn’t accepting of myself; religion was also a factor I considered. The more I grew up and started to accept myself, the less religion seemed like an obstacle to accepting myself and still having faith.
My first experience was at 18; a guy came up to me while I was smoking a cigarette and started flirting me. We exchanged numbers, went out for coffee twice, and then we slept together. I had no expectations really, I was just horny. I waited until I was 18 because that was when I first started being comfortable with my sexuality – I felt no guilt after we were done.
My parents always had an idea but never confronted me about it directly at first, but I knew they had a lot of questions to ask. Eventually, my mom brought it up and I had to tell her. It was very dramatic. I was visiting from university, since I study abroad and it got to a point where I packed my bags and left on the spot, however, she called me the same night told me she loves me no matter what and that she’s sorry for the hurtful things she said. My dad took it quite well, he was very calm although we don’t talk about it much anymore; they got over it.
Basem, 27, Sound Engineer
My parents don’t know. There’s no purpose in telling them because they’re from a different generation; their upbringing was all based on religion. My parents are fairly open-minded, however they would never be okay with this or accept it. I believe in Islam, however a few things I don’t understand. I believe if you’re a good person you go to heaven, and if not you go to hell, simple as that. I have the freedom of choice.
I knew I was gay since I was 12, however, I was confused until 16 and I tried to make sense out of it, but it was a struggle until I was finally at peace with myself. I consider my first real experience to be at 25; I thought that it wasn’t that common, and I didn’t know how to be in that kind of community, but then I found Grindr – it was my way in. I didn’t know there was a community, however through common friends, I was exposed to others and I was introduced to several people.
*In order to protect the interviewees’ privacy, all the names have been changed.