Nano, is what my family nicknamed me because I was the youngest grandchild for a while (and the shortest). This is a story about how I lived through an abusive father, sexual assault, war, divorce, suicide attempt and becoming a refugee in South Africa. It took a lot of courage to share my story with you and my intention is to firstly raise awareness on what is happening in the Arab queer community and secondly to perhaps help QPOC overcome the struggles that we face throughout our lives.
Chapter 1: milk
1st of May, 1993
I was born in Damascus, Syria on a sunny Spring day (according to my Mama). I’d like to believe I had a good early childhood, I was surrounded by my family whom I love as most people know. I was a very shy kid, sensitive, calm, okay perhaps naggy too.
I have 3 beautiful sisters, 2 of which are younger than me and my older sister is my favorite (don’t tell them I said that). My dad was the one thing I don’t recall being present in my childhood, mainly because he was working in Saudi Arabia at the time and when we did visit him, him and I never really had a relationship. My dad likes to believe that in order to raise a masculine man, you have to treat him roughly. What I mean by roughly is that he was harsh on me, he never held me or cherished me as a kid like he did with my sisters. The good old “men aren’t allowed to have feelings” situation. I’ll write about my relationship with my dad at a later chapter.
Growing up between Damascus and Riyadh was as you can imagine very unsettling. My relationships and friendships were limited and I couldn’t really have a social life as I was not present in one country more than 6 months a year. I don’t remember when did I find out I was gay because I think I knew ever since I started develop feelings for people. I knew I was attracted to my fellow classmates at school (in a non sexual way) and ever since then I knew I was different. Speaking of different, the term for gay in Arabic is “Shaaz” which literally translates to different, one in many, unique, unnatural. It’s not meant to be used as a compliment obviously. So in Arabic, there is no decent or formal word for gay which is very demeaning.
Speaking of different, the term for gay in Arabic is “Shaaz” which literally translates to different, one in many, unique, unnatural. It’s not meant to be used as a compliment obviously. So in Arabic, there is no decent or formal word for gay which is very demeaning.
At the age of 2 – Mama, my sisters and myself moved to Saudi Arabia permanently to live with my Dad. Living in Saudi Arabia and adjusting to that culture was a nightmare, of course at that age I don’t remember anything and a lot of what I’m saying is what Mama told me.
When it was time for my older sister and myself to go to school – my Dad earned little to no money at that time and we seriously struggled to get into a good school. My Dad initially wanted us to go to a public school where they only teach Arabic and Islam – Mama being the rebel she is completely refused that. Public schools in Saudi Arabia are known for being really bad (at least at that time) there were many cases of sexual harassment (boys harassing boys and girls harassing girls). Mama always had big plans for us and she really wanted us to go to a good private school. I remember Mama going from one private school to another begging the principal to give us a special discount on school fees. After many trials, one school accepted to take us in and I remember the day we got accepted how happy Mama was and how much she was crying. She really wanted us to study English and learn a different language as if a part of her knew I would move overseas. Mama did not speak English, I remember when she used to teach us at home or help us with homework, she used to stay up all night translating (using a dictionary) every single English word to Arabic so we could wake up in the morning and do our homework before we’d go to school.
Mama did not speak English, I remember when she used to teach us at home or help us with homework, she used to stay up all night translating (using a dictionary) every single English word to Arabic so we could wake up in the morning and do our homework before we’d go to school.
My relationship with my Mom has always been strong – even though I was a very closed person, even until now, she always understood me though I never really told her what was going on in my head. It must be truly hard for parents to raise someone that is a full on introvert but how could I be vocal when my Dad dominated all the air and had all the spotlights shining on him? How was I able to voice my opinion when my opinion did not matter? Most gay guys that I know have a poor and challenging relationship with their fathers – but mine was more than that, my relationship with my father was as off as sour milk.
© Adnan Al Mouselli