"After deciding against suicide, I decided to change my sexual orientation," says Khaled. "I started reading articles on the internet, successful stories about people who managed to turn straight. I realized that I needed a professional help, so I started my journey with therapy, psychiatrists, and physiologists. Horrible experience in the Arab world." Mainly because their general approach seemed to be less "pray the gay away" and more "shame the gay away." Khaled explains: "Most of them make you feel guilty, and that you are not a good Muslim ... Some of them treated me in a bad way, as if I'm disgusting, though some of them felt sorry for me ... The last one was horrible. He used to give me exercises of watching naked women and [masturbating]. It was awful, I used to cry every time I did that."
Finally, after all the humiliation, Khaled had an epiphany. "At the end, and in the last session with him, I asked him 'What is the fruit you hate the most, and can't eat?' He said 'banana.' I asked him ... 'What is the one you love the most?' He said 'mango.' I said to him, 'If you can change, and love bananas and hate mango in three months, I will continue with the sessions.' Of course, he answered that it is impossible, and that's when I became totally OK with my sexuality ... God is fair, he won't punish me for something I didn't choose. Being gay is part of my life."
Islam And Homosexuality Have A ... Complicated Relationship
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, only 2 percent of Pakistanis are in favor of homosexual relationships. And yet at the same tim, Pakistan is the world leader in online searches like "man fucking man" and "gay sex pics."
A BBC investigation claims that behind the scenes, Pakistan is a "gay man's paradise," thanks largely to its secret gay cafes. Dr. W. Dickson, who specializes in Islamic studies, explains why: "Today, many Muslim-majority societies have some form of legal prohibition of same-sex relationships on the books, though this hasn't prevented the formation of somewhat underground gay scenes to develop in places like Saudi Arabia, based around particular websites, chatrooms, and cafes. In more liberal cities, like Jeddah, men often find it easier to develop romantic relations with men, as their families -- and the police -- are generally unsuspecting of men who spend time together, whereas it can be very difficult for unmarried men and women to see each other. Lebanon tends to be a more liberal country, especially in larger cosmopolitan cities like Beirut, where gay men live their lives more openly."
This isn't new. The Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality back in 1858, a century before any country in the West. In the early 20th century, Muslim Morocco became, for lack of a better world, a Mecca for gay Westerners wanting to live in peace. But we can go even further back.
"Perhaps the most notable historical example," Dr. Dickson says, "is found in the openly gay Caliphs (emperors or kings) of early Islam. Al-Hakam II (d. 976) was an Umayyad caliph based in Muslim Spain who had a harem of men, while Al-Amin (d. 813) was an Abbasid caliph based in Iraq who was also openly gay ... Although their preference for men was sometimes seen as a character flaw, little in the way of open condemnation of them is found historically."
Many Gay Muslims Live A Complicated Double Life
Countries like Pakistan or Jordan have very patriarchal societies, focused on family (gay adoption sure isn't a thing, and probably won't be for a long time). And that's one of the reasons Pakistan became such a "gay man's paradise" -- it's all thanks to women willing to marry Pakistani homosexuals in order to maintain their cover while they pursue gay relationships. Yes, Pakistan has more beards than a Duck Dynasty marathon.
It's basically the same in Jordan, as Khaled explains: "My parents nag a lot about me getting married, actually all the time. However, I always have a social cover. I introduce my (expat) female friends to my family as if they are my girlfriends, so basically every year I have a new girlfriend ... The last one was my friend, she is French, beautiful lady, my family fell in love with her. Once my family invited her and my boyfriend for dinner. My mom loves my boyfriend, but she thinks he is just my friend."
Seems like a setup for a Three's Company episode, but all the evening did was remind Khaled that he may never be able to be himself in front of his family. "Every night I have to leave the bed of my boyfriend at 1 in the morning to go home so they won't suspect anything. Because it is not accepted in my culture to live alone or to move from your parents' house 'til you get married. If you do so, you will bring shame to the family."
When family is everything, carrying their shame is a unique and terrible psychological pain. That alone would be incentive enough not to come out. But some families also ask you to meet them at the top of the staircase ...
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter. ASL, a travel-writer and photographer, also contributed to this article.
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