I approached this week’s Noor Says No with more enthusiasm than usual. The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in Egypt are very close to my heart. I am, in my own way, an LGBT activist – I say, ‘in my own way’ because actual LGBT activists put themselves in the line of fire and are constantly at risk of arrest – I do not and am not.
I try to tackle homophobia wherever I come across it – in family, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and colleagues – and I often get very angry and happily burn a lot of bridges if I can’t see eye to eye with somebody.
As happens every week, I settled into my office chair with a coffee and began to exhaustively research the week’s topic, the state of LGBT rights in Egypt, spurred on by the hot topic on everybody’s lips; the unprecedented LGBT victory of the American Supreme Court legalising marriage equality. Obviously, this is Egypt, and our middle name is ‘Polarised’, so I wasn’t surprised when my Facebook newsfeed looked like a war had broken out between a skittles factory and right-wing, religious conservatives.
I came into this article wanting it to be positive – I don’t want to make you defensive because I don’t think that will help. I wanted to convince you that homophobia and hate are not beneficial. I wanted you to come to your own conclusion that your internal prejudices are illogical and harmful.
I was going to tell you that research by sexologists suggests that an estimated 10% of the Egyptian population is LGBT. I was going to tell you that, globally, one out of three teen suicides is an LGBT individual and that mental disorders affect one in two LGBT individuals. I was going to highlight the case of the boy beaten to a pulp on the street, or talk about the ‘morality crackdown’ that has seen 150 individuals arrested this year for charges of ‘prostitution’, ‘debauchery’ and harming ‘public morality’ for the crime of essentially being themselves in a conservative society. I was going to talk to you about the infamous Mona Iraqi case – where individuals were stripped naked on national television and arrested and humiliated. They lost their jobs, were ostracised by their families and one of them set himself on fire.
I was going to talk to you about the sexual torture that these people experience at the hands of those tasked with protecting us. I was going to ask you, if you’re a decent human being, how you can be OK with so much injustice? I mean, even if you don’t agree with it – surely you can’t think that anybody deserves to be raped, beaten, tortured and humiliated? Surely you can’t think that they deserve it?
I was going to ask you something very important. I was going to ask you, if it were you that was gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual, what would you do? Do you think sexuality or gender identity is a choice? If it were, don’t you think that people who live in countries where your family, your state and your society think you’re an abomination – countries where you can be killed for a ‘choice’ – would choose the easier route? Wouldn’t you ‘choose’ to be ‘normal’?
I was going to make the case that homosexuality is found in 450 other animal species, but that homophobia is only found in one – so arguments that it is ‘unnatural’ are missing the point. I was going to make the case that homosexuality has existed since the beginning of human civilisation and is well documented on the walls of Ancient Egyptian tombs, temples and artifacts – to quell arguments about it being a fad.
If you wanted to involve God and religion in this debate, I would tell you that I’m under the impression that religion promotes love, forgiveness and kindness. I was under the impression that we were supposed to leave the judgment of other human beings to God – not take it upon ourselves to play the role of All-knowing Creator. Are we without sin? Are we enough of a moral authority to tell people what God wants or doesn’t want? Are we not able to leave it to the man upstairs to make these executive decisions?
To circumvent the ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ argument that some people are so fond of, I was going to tell you that based on that logic, incest should be celebrated. Because, if you believe that this story is literal, Adam and Eve had children who definitely did the nasty with each other – so why not talk about that?
I was going to appeal to your humanity, to your basic human compassion, because at the end of the day, you don’t have to support it, but you don’t have to make their lives worse. Making somebody’s life more difficult, or adding to their hatred of themselves, doesn’t benefit you in any way. I’m not talking to the sadists here; I’m talking to the people who have these beliefs because of upbringing and culture, who don’t genuinely want to harm people.
I was going to ask about the double standard – about the hatred of gay men but the fetishisation and pornification of gay women. If it were up to me, Internet Service Providers would block your access to lesbian pornography based on your homophobic statuses.
For the aggressively-straight men who ‘fear’ gay men because they don’t want to deal with unwanted advances – have you ever considered that you make women feel the same way? Have you ever hit on a woman who wasn’t interested in you? Somebody once said, ‘homophobia is the fear that men will treat you the way you treat women’. Huh.
I wanted you to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity of human beings and to promote and celebrate tolerance if what is being done doesn’t harm you. Making other people happy isn’t going to affect your heterosexual relationship. Why would you consider love, any love, a threat to your way of life?
Most Egyptians think LGBT individuals should be in jail. Most of you want people to be unhappy because it somehow clashes with your core beliefs – even though their lives affect you in no way. Most of you think that basic human dignity and freedom should come second to your narrow-minded comfort zones.
I had a lot of things I wanted to say, but I’m not going to say them because you are a lost cause.
You are judgmental, hateful, unkind, spiteful and petty. You have ugly souls and, ultimately, you are not worth the energy expended to make you see that – just for once – it’s OK to make life better for people who aren’t you. It’s OK to go against what society tells you it wants and formulate your own opinion. It’s OK to value human kindness higher than a moral superiority complex. It’s OK to live and let live. Except that, for a lot of you, this is never going to happen.
I don’t think the state of LGBT rights, or even human rights, will ever improve in Egypt, at least not in my lifetime. Equality is so unattainable I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s not because of a conservative society, or widespread religious beliefs, or because of a repressive government. It’s because of you. You are cowards. You are a faceless individual in a mob with no clear direction. This is an entirely futile exercise and I have wasted all of our time.
I’m tired of trying to make people less unnecessarily hateful, of trying to make people more tolerant. To be completely honest with you, I’m exhausted and drained.
I can’t leave you with anything positive, so I’m just going to pray from the bottom of my heart that none of you are ever faced with the very real consequences of your decisions and actions, because if it were you – or your son, or your sister, or your mother- in their place, nobody would care about your imprisonment, torture, social exclusion, humiliation and abuse, and that’s a heartbreaking reality. Why would anybody help you?
By Noor Salama