Can we own resistance when society defines what we should be?
By Ramy Yousef
Edited by Omar El-Rayyes
In 2001, 52 gay Egyptian men were arrested in a dance party on a yacht. That is the line where I usually start most of my talks about LGBT rights in Egypt. It was a catastrophe: the lives of tens — if not hundreds or thousands — of people were completely changed because of the incident.
That’s what I would like to talk about: How ideas can change lives. When I first thought about that sentence, I imagined that it must be something I picked up from Glee or It Gets Better videos. I thought that it’s a very cheesy thing to say. But then again I would like to view different sorts of ideas, and different sorts of lives.
I am gay. I have always been, since the day I was born. How do I know that? I just do. However, that is not the point. The point is that I was born in a society that constantly claims that there are a few, very specific identities that a decent person would follow, and being gay is certainly not one of them. That is an idea. Ideas are what everyone uses to say, think and act upon. All the homophobia and discrimination that exists in the media, in daily conversations and in the mindsets of people are simply ideas. Where do they come from? How should I know? What I do know is that these ideas affect people’s lives.
Gay people often have few options; they can either leave their homes in search of places where they can be themselves (or who they want to be) without being persecuted in their private spaces, or remain discreet about how they feel in a desperate attempt to fit in (getting married to an individual of the opposite sex just might do the trick).
Some people choose to deny how they feel, and sometimes they even go to the extreme by attacking whoever feels the same way, especially if they’re open about it. Does it matter which path we take? I don’t know, I can’t judge. What I can tell is that all these options are inhumane. No one should be forced to leave their families because they can’t find the space to be themselves, no one should feel the need to hide or deny how they feel. That is wrong. That is a result of ideas, before it being the fault of practices.
Tolerance is just a reaction to discrimination; it is just an alternative result of the mainstream. Some people are tolerant because it’s ‘cool’ to go against the mainstream.
The venomous part in this is that we — as homosexuals and transsexuals — carry all these ideas with us, and even act upon them most of the time as well. We evaluate ourselves and make decisions based on homophobic and transphobic ideas perpetuated by our societies. We let these ideas define our lifestyles completely no matter how much we think we’re avoiding this trap, even when we decide to take the other path.
After all, if there was no primary path in the first place, would there have been an alternative path? We don’t really have a choice. Even when we believe that we are making a choice we are not. We either blend in the mainstream because we are pressured to, or we create an alternative because of how we resent the mainstream. We just create the opposite. We never really choose.
There are various examples. Tolerance is just a reaction to discrimination; it is just an alternative result of the mainstream. Some people are tolerant because it’s “cool” to go against the mainstream. Being out is antithetical to the discretion imposed on people by society, which can be the reason for us — including myself — being out, and not because we really want to be expressed in that sense. Polygamy is the other path away from monogamy, which is thought to be the more liberating and open minded option. It’s an endless circle of false choices. We could never really find out what we want if we are always attacked and suppressed.
Ideas like homophobia and transphobia form our lives unconsciously.
This is how dangerous ideas are. Ideas like homophobia and transphobia form our lives unconsciously. Imagine what our decisions would have been like if we were in a judgment-free world. Not only would everyone be tolerated, but also no one would be questioned. There would be no interest from anyone in anyone else’s orientation. What if all norms were replaced with “null”?
I think that this is the worst kind of violence of all. You are consumed in this closed circle endlessly. Faced with very few options, that even when you take different ones, they are also a definite result of the original ones.
It is terrible to strip people of their rights: Their right to be themselves, their right to express different things, and their right to coexist peacefully. The right that breaks the very identity that defines us is our right to choose what we really want. There is nothing worse than being forced even when we think we are choosing.
Ramy Youssef, 23, is a human rights activist who served on the governing board of one of Egypt’s political parties after the 2011 revolution. In 2012, he became the first gay Egyptian to come out under his own name on social media. He has organized several public campaigns for LGBT rights in Egypt, and has spoken out widely against recent arrests and police brutality in both national and international media. Since February 2015 he has lived in the Netherlands (Bio by Scott Long)
Originally published at mykalimag.com on May 3, 2015.