At Peace with Sexuality
An Arab, Muslim lesbian books a table for two.
By Aya Mansi*
I was at a table for two on a mid-October night. I am dispassionate in formal settings; it explains why I had ordered the only dish on the menu I could pronounce. My date was already in love, with someone else, so it was futile. I’d raise my head from the plate to find a near-stranger I was one yard intimidated by, two shots driven crazy.
Three out of eight times she’d be on her phone crafting an ulterior existence to our moment. But I loved for seconds. I loved her for being obscenely human. I loved her for being honest and having wants that burned, raw and unapologetic. It was a breath of fresh air in a world as fraudulent as ours.
I was 24 that night, and had been a practicing gay person for approximately 4 years and 7 months. But allow me to rewind to the very beginning: to explain how I came to terms with my sexuality by coincidence.
My date was already in love, with someone else, so it was futile
It all started with a girl who had fallen in love with me over a series of emails and phone calls and then said it in outrageously nude words. I was in college, studying in the library and I recall looking up to see the blue clock, hung as a jury, when she asked. “Should we be in a relationship?” it was 2:35pm exactly. I had 25 minutes to be overwhelmed by the suggestion and make it to my next class. She was Arab. She was straight before me. I loved her deeply but I always love women, often deeply.
As an 8 year old, I had felt like I related to little besides the rude crushes I had on married women, crushes that started with Miss Najah, the first grade English teacher. It was normal, I said; I was waiting for the right man. Turns out I was gay and in denial all the way through. What insanity.
Growing up in the Middle East — although I was aware of what being gay was and was an ally — no one ever told me it was an option for me. I knew it was an option for westerners and really brave folk, people who were willing to be disowned to stand in love with partners who look like them. I never had homophobia, quite the contrary. But I thought I was more ‘square’ than that — simple, conventional and uncontroversial.
It is hard to turn out Arab, Muslim and gay when you’ve had a family that, despite making grave mistakes it took you a while to forgive, have unceasingly been the ones rooting for you at every finish line.
And so I said yes to my first relationship, and walked to class with my brain doused with endorphins. A couple of days later I realized this meant I’m a lesbian — such a square label. I was a lesbian who began growing a sincere sympathy for my religious Arab parents who, it turns out, had a clueless kid: plunged, within 25 minutes plunged, from 20 years of waiting-for-a-groom straighthood into young lesbian love: the future kids, picket fence, a house. Everything for that girl inside my laptop screen when Skype was on. I was so ignorantly young and naïve during my first relationship, but in love all the same.
Although it was easy for me to accept myself, I still struggle with guilt. I come from a good family, in the sense that my parents are hard workers. They put my siblings and I in schools where fancy folk get educated. I am unsure it was out of wealth as much as it was out of conviction that a good education was the best favor they could do us. We dressed well but rarely went on vacations and my parents wouldn’t replace their cars unless they were broken down and never to be revived again.
I love my family, I love them well, even if the undisclosed parts of me are disappointing.
It is hard to turn out Arab, Muslim and gay when you’ve had a family that, despite making grave mistakes it took you a while to forgive, have unceasingly been the ones rooting for you at every finish line. And I am sorry.
I am sorry that my father might pass without ever knowing his daughter well, that my mother may refrain from holding my future child in her arms, and that out of all my siblings my wedding may be the one unattended. I understand why these things happen. I love my family, I love them well, even if the undisclosed parts of me are disappointing.
Then again, it’s important to stress that being gay is a mundane detail to my life. It has never summarized who I am. It is a piece and not the whole of me. It is just a name to describe my fondness of sharing tables for two with women, even ones blatantly unimpressed by me, still women worth being understood, worth being present with in the cold breeze, regardless of our prospects.
*Names have been changed.
This piece originally appeared in MyKali here.