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.
Nicholas: Heya boy, I’m coming to pick you up in 15. We need to go shopping
Adnan: Hey habibi! Okay, I’m gonna get ready.
Adnan: I need to buy shorts.
Nicholas: Gay shorts?
Adnan: The gayest shortest shorts.
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But I haven’t been able to identify what am I feeling. I’m going through all these complex feelings in the light of speed, then I’m going through them again. Every day. Every single morning. I feel like I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions, but I can’t seem to identify the ups and downs. Everything has happened so fast Nicholas. And you left, so abruptly .. so quickly… and so untimely.
I woke up to a phone call from my dear friend Josh. “Adnan, I’ve got bad news”. I knew it was Nicholas. I’ve always worried about Nicholas, not that he’s ever given me a reason to, but I think that’s how I’ve learned to love someone deeply. I worry about the people I love, because I know that life is hard and it’s unfair.
And Nicholas was the opposite, he was gentle, kind, sensitive and extraordinary. When I first met Nicholas, I obviously had a crush on him, like most boys do. So, I asked him out for dinner. Super nervous about what to wear and what to talk about – we went to get pizza. He was nervous too, I could tell. He couldn’t stop talking and I couldn’t stop listening. Nicholas has this mesmerizing child-like way of talking that was the definition of adorable. He was like a puppy, you’d be lucky to have his attention for more than a minute. Yeah, it irritated me sometimes, but with time I loved it like I loved almost everything about him. We got to know each other and nothing romantic has happened. I couldn’t’ make a move because I was too scared and I never asked him about how he felt. Most people thought we were “together” and we entertained the idea because it was fun. Deeply I wished it was true but with time I preferred to be his close friend than his boyfriend. I believe I’m a better friend than a lover and I didn’t want to lose him.
Due to my visa expiring and other circumstances, I had to leave back to Damascus, Syria. Though I didn’t want to. I never wanted to go back home. I just had to. With a heavy heart I said good bye to everyone and Nicholas. We didn’t cry, we didn’t make it a big deal because I repeatedly promised him that I’ll be back before he knew it. I’m sorry Nicholas. I had no idea that it was the last time I’d be seeing you. If I did, I would never say good bye. I’d never let you leave my sight. Going back to Damascus was an exceptionally harsh experience, one that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. I had no idea that my extended family had found out about my sexuality. I had no idea that everything I wrote online was exposed by someone whom to this day sends screenshots of my social media accounts to my homophobic family.
My family’s reactions was as you could imagine horrifying, invasive, terrorizing, and petrifying. It started with small talks: “We can get over this problem” “This disease can be fixed” “Through religion we can relief ourselves from this sin” “Your problem isn’t forever, if you choose to fix it”. These are sentences I heard on daily basis. They’d never address it as “sexuality” it’ll always be words like “problem, disease, infection, mental illness, sexual disfunction, curse, crisis, disability and etc..”. They forced me to shut down my social media accounts many times. They’ve been creating ghost accounts and they keep on tracking everything I say or do. Together, they came to the decision that I need to be healed from this illness (homosexuality that is). So they did some research and they found this religious doctor that helps people recover from “sexual diseases/disabilities”.
Like any sane person would do, I refused to go. I said I am not struggling with my sexuality so why would I want to fix something that isn’t a problem? There’s nothing to change, it’s just how it is. Talking back or arguing has only made things worse. The method developed from small talks to emotional abuse. They told me many times that if I stay the way I am, Allah will curse our family and lead all of us to hell. My sisters/cousins would never be able to get married because nobody would want a gay child or gay genes in their family. My family won’t be able to get jobs anywhere because if people found out, they’ll shut us out forever. I’ve refused anyway, though the feeling of guilt has resurfaced. The feeling that “I’m a burden” which I have worked so hard to shut down has resurfaced and I couldn’t be more devastated. How did I feel it come back? When I’d watch porn, sometimes a quick thought would come to my head like “This is unnatural”. Their voices have been planted in my head like seeds. I know it’s not right but it’s in my head now, I can’t get rid of it. I can’t stop hearing it. Emotional abuse turned into threats. “We’ll shut you out from the world. You’ll never leave. We’ll bring the doctors home to treat you forcibly”. So yes, I said yes. I was scared and I was too weak and alone to fight all of them. I thought that maybe if I go, I’ll get to show them that I agree with them, while I plan my exit.
I overestimated myself once again, I didn’t know that maybe I am not strong enough to go through this. I didn’t know that putting myself through this is damaging and traumatizing. I thought I was strong enough but now I know I can’t conquer all my fears. I can’t watch myself go through conversion therapy and just be okay. I can’t be okay. I don’t know how to be okay. I can’t remember what it feels like to be okay. I went to the doctor they recommended, they wanted to go come with but I begged them not to.
The humiliation, fear that’s crawling down my spine, anger that’s blinding my sight, my knees becoming weaker with every step I take to the doctor. With tears filling my eyes, holding them back so hard. I told the reception “I’m here for doctor Haitham. My name is Adnan.” She answered “He’ll be with you shortly”.
I walk into his office. I’m staring at everything like I’ve never been outside the house before. The untidy desk. The smoke from his cigarette lingering in the air. The boxes of medicine all over the floor. The chilling cold thin air that I’m barely breathing.
Doctor: “Welcome Adnan – what brings you here?”
Adnan: “My family thinks I have a sexual disorder, So I’m here to fix it”
Doctor: “Do you think you have a problem?”
Adnan: “I don’t know”
Doctor: “What’s your problem?”
Adnan: “I’m attracted to men”
Killing his cigarette while smiling: “You don’t think that’s a problem”
Adnan: “I don’t know”
Doctor: “You seem shy”
Adnan: “I’m a shy person”
Doctor: “We’ll fix that too – according to science, certain cells in the brain develop abnormally in early childhood which makes us attracted to the same sex. If we can go back and fix what made these cells believe that this is who we are, we’ll be back to normal. We can live like normal people again.”
He continues: “Through the intervention of medicine, we can get over this problem. We’ll first suppress sexual desire by medicine and by therapy we will talk our way through a normal sex drive/orientation. I’ve had many pedophiles come here too and they simply got over their disease. You don’t have to worry. I have many degrees and 30 years of experience in sexual disorders.”
Not knowing how to react, all I could do was nod my head. I was scared, but a different kind of scared. I’ve never feared my life this way and I’ve been through war. I can feel my heart pulsing. I can feel my bones shriveling. I just wanted to get out, I wanted to breathe. But I was outnumbered. I am outnumbered. I am alone. I felt like I was being erased by the second. I felt like my existence was being blown away into the wind and there was nothing I could do to hold it together. I agreed to almost everything he said. I knew I was going to lose whatever argument, and I would probably make it harder for me if I did argue. He was also recording everything. I knew he was reporting back to my family with progress, he told me it’s how it works.
I left the office, I didn’t even cry. I couldn’t. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. After all the work I’ve gone through to accept who I am and embrace who I am. This strange force of evil is storming over me and I have no shelter. Nothing and no one to protect me. I’ve never been more confused. I didn’t know what to do. So I went home. I went into my room and I wore those “gay” orange shorts that I bought with Nicholas. I’ve put them on while holding back my tears and I got into bed. I thought that maybe if I slept in them, I’d see Nicholas again in my dreams. I’d be with him again and I’d be happy. I’d be safe.
So every night before I go to sleep, I wear my orange shorts. Hoping that one day, I’ll wake up without having to take them off, that I won’t have to hide them underneath my skin anymore.
To be continued….