One Foot in the Closet
BY Omar Hassan
May 17 2009 11:00 PM ET
I was born in Egypt to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. It's safe to say that this wasn't exactly the ideal place for a burgeoning gay man to grow up. After all, Egypt is notorious for physically torturing homosexuals, using police entrapment to out gay men and to subsequently imprison them. Luckily enough, my parents' respectable professions allowed them to emigrate to the West, where personal liberties are more or less protected.
But it didn't matter where I existed geographically -- religious piety consistently seemed to pervade my life. In the U.S. and later in Britain, my family encouraged me to adhere to moral codes, which suggested that I would spend the rest of my days as a semicloseted homosexual.
This was exceptionally difficult, especially considering my sexual awareness began when I was 12 years old. As I grew older I tried to rebel, but confronting the issue openly was a risk I never had the guts to face. To deal with the pressure, I tried to find solace wherever I could. This longing led to an intimate relationship with a man who was more than 20 years older than me, when I was only a teenager. I wanted him to shield me from the pain that was to come imminently. It never dawned on me then that I was being exploited because I was so young and vulnerable.
By my sophomore year in college, I was living in the U.K. with my mother and three brothers. Following many years spent traveling, living life in flux, we had developed into a relatively tight-knit family unit. With this stability came a new comfort. I began to frequent the gay bars in my city and I joined an LGBT society, helping others come to terms with their sexuality, even though this was something I could never seem to achieve myself. Still, my relationships with men were always promiscuous and fleeting in nature. I simply couldn't have anyone find out that I was a fraud.
One late night I came home to find that my sheltered bubble had been burst. I entered my bedroom, where my mother and one of my brothers were sitting on my bed, which was strewn with gay memorabilia. Films, magazines, and books of a homoerotic nature were presented to me. They had gone as far as to root through my letters, and even some of my e-mails were printed out to prove my gay orientation. For the first time my secret life was there for them to see. With this realization I plummeted to a dark and desperate place.
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