You Are A girl! You Can’t Be Gay!1,388 views
To give you some context: I’m an Egyptian from a Coptic Orthodox family, born and raised in Los Angeles, now living in Beirut.
Coming out is complicated. There is no one moment that captures the emotion, the vulnerability, and the confusion. It’s an ongoing, seemingly never-ending process, and the first step is coming out to your self.
Coming out to myself took ten years. At eight, I started having crushes on girls, who I was too nervous to even speak to. I didn’t know what I felt. I only knew that I really—desperately—wanted to be their “friend.”
When I was 14, I met a girl at church (of all places) who was 18 and played on my same basketball team in the summers. We had so much in common and had an instant connection. I wouldn’t be able to sleep when I knew I was going to see her. Her smell alone would incite the most intense emotions I had ever felt. We would talk about our gay best friends, but never actually had the courage to discuss our own sexuality. After basketball season ended, we gradually communicated less and less, her being busy with college, and me being too young to understand that. She didn’t realize it, but she was the first person to break my heart.
When that heartbreak brought on the realization that I could possibly be gay, I panicked. The only lesbian I had met at that point in my life was this incredibly grungy and offensive girl at my high school who called herself the “Ox.” If the “Ox” was what a lesbian was, that clearly meant that I could not be one. Being from a conservative Orthodox Christian, Egyptian family, I assumed my family would disown me, I’d be kicked out of my church, my friends would hate me, I’d be financially cut off, and generally my life would fall apart. Plus, I didn’t want to be anything like the “Ox.” I told myself I would do whatever I could to see if I could have those same types of feelings for a boy.
I dated some guys in high school and at the beginning of college, and tried to get more involved with my church. When I was 16, I became very close to another girl from my church who was 7 years older. We were both going through really tough times in our lives and we bonded instantly. Those intense feelings that scared the hell out of me began to surface again. We would hang out every day. She was the only person I had any desire to see. My parents and brother thought it was so weird that we were so inseparable, verging on co-dependent, when we were so far apart in age. We were both aware that our friendship wasn’t typical. It was something much more, but we never discussed it. She would go on dates and call me on the way home to tell me how they went. I would get jealous and she would reassure me by telling me that no matter what guy she ends up with, she’d never love them as unconditionally as she loves me.
After maintaining this intense relationship for two years, she finally asked me if I was a lesbian. I was terrified and told her that I wasn’t, but truthfully, I finally knew that I was. At 18, I came out to myself, but decided not to tell anyone and keep dating guys, in case I could find one miracle worker who could change my mind.
I started college shortly after, and at 20, studied abroad in Egypt. This was the turning point. I was set up with a friend of a friend, and we went out a few times. On our third date he told me he wanted to come to my apartment and cook me dinner on a night when my roommates happened to be out of town. He cooked me dinner and then walked me over to our window that had a beautiful view of the Nile and he PROPOSED. I started laughing hysterically, mostly because I thought he was kidding. When I realized he was serious, I tried to explain to him why this was not a possibility. Did I mention he didn’t speak a word of English, and though I understand Arabic, my speech is pretty broken? He, not being convinced, decided to attack my face with kisses and in less than thirty seconds had taken his pants off and had me on the couch. Feeling his weight against me flipped some sort of switch inside of me. This was it. I decided I wouldn’t try to date guys anymore and kicked the guy who had proposed to me out of my apartment with his pants literally around his ankles.
I decided I needed to tell someone and make it real, but I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud, yet. I emailed a friend of mine who was also living in Cairo that I thought I might be into women; I wasn’t even comfortable enough to use the word “gay”. The few hours I waited for her to reply were some of the longest hours of my life. She finally responded with, “THAT’S AWESOME!!! Let’s go get coffee at Costa and talk this out.” Having such a positive initial reaction, made me much more comfortable coming out to my friends back in Los Angeles. I was finally out to someone other than myself and felt comfortable enough to start dating women. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
When I was 22, I was finally in a relationship with my first girlfriend and things were going great. I decided to write my thesis on the gay rights movement in Lebanon and got a grant to come to Beirut and conduct interviews with members of Helem and Meem. When I told my parents about my research topic, they had a lot of concerns. I went home from college for the weekend and my parents started asking me about my research and why I chose the topic. This is how our conversation went:
Mom: “So you are going to go interview gay men, but are you interviewing girls as well?”
Me: “Yes, I’m interviewing men and women.”
Mom: “But how do you know the women won’t try to seduce you?”
*I started laughing hysterically, which for some reason turned into a gushing stream of tears. My parents look at me, very confused.*
Mom: “What’s so funny? Really how do you know they won’t try?”
Me: (at the top of my lungs) “Because I’m gay”
Mom: “Tina, you can’t be gay, you’re a girl.”
Dad: “I blame the basketball team!”
And for some reason we all started laughing and hugging while I continued to cry.
I hadn’t planned on ever coming out to my family, but it just happened. We continued to discuss it for the next 48 hours. We talked about my childhood, all the indicators, how it wasn’t their fault, about how this affects my life, how it affects their lives, how it affects my relationship with God and my community, and how we can try to deal with this as a family. They told me that they hope I’ll change my mind, but that no matter what they love me for who I am unconditionally, which was all I needed to hear.
My dad wanted me to talk to a good friend of his who is an Orthodox priest and a practicing psychologist, to make sure I was gay and also to talk about how this affects my spirituality. I decided to speak with him hoping it would help put my parents at ease. It didn’t really help them, but in some respects it helped me. I felt like he didn’t judge me and didn’t think my life was a huge sin. I know this reaction is not the norm by any means, especially in this part of the world, but my parents and this priest were all born and raised in Egypt, which gives me hope.
I can’t say my parents are cool with the fact that I’m gay; in fact, they are still in denial. What I do know is a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders that day. We have a much more open and honest relationship now because of it, even if my dad keeps cracking jokes about finding me a husband. Since then, I’ve told my younger brother, who was shocked, but incredibly supportive. We’ve even gotten to the point that it’s not awkward for us to talk about or check out girls together. I’ve also come out to the girl I fell for when I was 14 (she’s a lesbian too!) and to the girl I fell for at 16, right after her wedding (in which I was a bridesmaid, awkward…).
Though these were huge steps in my coming out process, it still isn’t over. I know that when I bring a girl home to meet my family or when I decide to have children, the process will continue and be much more real to them. I’ve only laid the foundation by telling my parents and have yet to show them what it means to be gay.
As I write this article, I realize that this is also part of my process. I’m exposing a part of myself that has dealt with a lot of pain and pent up emotion. The vulnerability this creates also brings me more comfort in my identity, what I stand for, and being able to share myself with others.