“Denying who you are leads to acceptance.”
In Egypt, laws on public morality are severe – homosexuality is seldom openly acknowledged. Whilst being gay is not technically illegal it is unacceptable in Egypt, it is frowned upon socially, culturally, religiously and politically. Gay people are vilified by the press and the public, Al Balagh Al Gadid, an independent weekly newspaper, was banned after accusing actors of homosexuality.
The personal struggle of many young gay Egyptians is constant- they must deny who they are to survive. Yet despite hostility, there are many Egyptians out there hoping that society will change its strict laws and accept them for who they are.
“Mohammed” is a good-looking man in his early twenties with a successful career and a very open mind. I met him for the first time in a quiet little coffee shop in central Cairo. In perfect English he tells me that he hides a secret most of the time: he is gay.
Below is a full transcript of our conversation. Mohammed touches on various issues: social perception, acceptance amongst his peers and family, as well as the personal struggle that he faces everyday with his religion and himself:
Theodora Birch, Out Impact: I wanted to start out by asking you, when you first realized that you were gay?
“Mohammed”: When I was eighteen, I knew.
TB: Did you struggle with this realisation?
M: Yes. I tried to fight my urges for a couple of months.
TB: Have you come out yet to your family and friends?
M: No. My family and none of my close friends know, only my friends amongst the gay community. I am seeing a therapist, and she suggested that I don’t tell them. I come from a conservative family, and they would not accept me. There is also a possibility that I might change, therefore it is best to keep quiet.
TB: Do you find this difficult?
M: Very difficult, some of my best friends do not know me. I have to pretend to be something that I am not. You will find that very few gay people in Egypt tell their close straight friends… slowly this is changing but mostly, you only come out to the gay community.
TB: Do you have any plans to move abroad to more openly accepting gay societies?
M: No. Egypt is my home and I love my country. Why should I be forced to leave just because I am gay?
TB: In a closed society such as Egypt’s, how do you meet gay people?
M: Online and word of mouth, I met my circle of friends through other gay people that I know. The gay scene thrives just below the surface.
TB: How do gay relationships work here in Egypt?
M: There are no real relationships here between gay people. Promiscuity is rampant, and the only way you can survive as a couple is by having an open relationship. It is all very looks based. There is no chance to develop a meaningful, stable relationship.
TB: Can you tell me about your personal struggles with being gay and a Muslim?
M: When I was younger, I was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. I attended prayer meetings and did lots of spiritual soul searching. However I felt like my life was a lie. In the day I was praying and talking about religion, and at night, I was picking up men to have sex with. So I decided to cut myself off from the gay community, and tried to focus all my attention on liking women in a sexual way. It did not work, and in the end, I decided that I cannot deny who I am. I stopped attended the Brotherhood meetings hoping to learn to finally accept myself- this is a constant struggle for me.
Many people have the perception that just because I am gay that I am going straight to Hell, and it seems strange to them that I do not drink or smoke, as this is considered ‘sinful’ in Islam.
TB: Do you believe that there is truth in the statement ‘homosexuality is on the increase in societies where sexes are separated’?
M: There is definitely some element of truth to this. Many men and women seek same-sex companionship as the mixing of the sexes is very limited here in Egypt. However I am not sure whether this leads to homosexuality. In my case, I think my father died when I was young, and I had an abusive older brother. I think the lack of a paternal figure within my life has led me to become gay.
TB: In general, would you say that Egyptian society has a very negative view of homosexuality?
M: Yes it is very negative. It seems to be divided into two distinct groups: those that deny it outright, and those that accept it, but do not want gay people in Egypt. It can differ amongst the social classes. The Upper Class are the most liberal in Egypt, and in general, they like to imitate life within the U. S. and Europe. Thus, if homosexuality is accepted,then they too will accept it.
TB: Are there any gay bars in Cairo?
M: Not officially. There are places to go with are notoriously famous gay hang outs- Tahrir Square in Downtown Cairo and Maryland in Heliopolis often called ‘The Jardino’ amongst the gay community.
TB: Do you know many lesbians in Egypt, and do the two gay scenes mix?
M: The first lesbian that I have ever met was a foreigner here in Cairo. Some gay men might have understanding female friends that they are out to, however on the whole, the two scenes are completely separate.
TB: In recent years, the police seem to have been cracking down on homosexuality in Egypt, claiming that it is ‘moral perversion’ are you nervous of being discovered?
M: At first, I was terrified of this. Recently though the Egyptian police have more important things to worry about- the rising sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians, and the increase of suicides keeps them very preoccupied.
TB: Do you think that perceptions will change anytime soon in Egyptian society?
M: Part of the reason that I want to stay in Egypt is that I want to make a documentary- such as ‘Jihad for love’ on what it is to be gay in Egypt, and the problems people face daily. However, I do not think that anytime soon things are going to change drastically.
TB: One last question, do you feel that your friends in the gay community are your best friends?
M: The problem with the gay community is that you can only ever talk about one thing: being gay. If you try and bring up a conversation about politics or anything substance, it is frowned upon. They are only interested in drinking, sharing stories of their love lives and having sex. I find that this can be a problem. This is why I like to spend time with foreign people who are much more open to various conversations. I had a gay American friend here in Cairo and he was the perfect balance of frivolity and substance.
- Egypt’s ‘Gay Activist’ Author Ahmed Saad Still Wants Homos Killed If They Don’t Try To Turn Straight (queerty.com)
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