3 min

How Facebook helped me reconcile my sexuality as a queer Arab man

I had spent years avoiding overt statements of my sexuality on social media, but I couldn’t hide any longer

Credit: Christian Horz/iStock/Thinkstock

I smiled when I saw that my mother had “liked” one of my Facebook posts.

It was an article I had shared a few months ago about Pride in London, England, hosting a gay Iftaar during Ramadan. Iftaar is the meal Muslims have when they break fast each night during the holy month. I haven’t fasted since I was 17, but it was still nice to read about.

Islam and homosexuality are two parts of my life that I didn’t think would ever come together — like oil and water. Despite thinking of myself as agnostic, or maybe even atheist, stories like these bridge a gap in my identity. Apparently my mother felt the same way.

Much of my immediate and extended family have been friends with me on Facebook since I first got on there in about 2007. It was difficult to remember who added who but in the novelty of it all, I didn’t think too much about it. Not at first, anyway.

Coming from a large Middle Eastern family, there was always lots of chatter. Gossip is a major pastime for some Lebanese folks, and it can travel far and wide in a family as big as mine. From the age of 18, I’d been the subject of many scandals about my sexuality, whether it was coming out as gay or about an early relationship I had with someone who was twice my age. Posting about my sexuality on Facebook felt like a potential additional scandal I did not want to indulge.

So, I decided not to be overt about my sexuality on social media. I had started to police myself without even knowing it, particularly when it came to issues that linked my religion with sexuality. I justified this with the excuse that I was a private person. Despite being out for years, I told myself that my family didn’t need to know everything about my personal life.

I’d still post Pride-related things, but I knew that since I didn’t say “gay Pride” a lot of my extended family wouldn’t know that. I’d keep the pictures I posted generic too, snapping shots of disco balls, crowds and beer gardens that my family wouldn’t be able to tell were taken in queer spaces. I avoided posting rainbow flags.

When you work so hard to come out but you still can’t come out fully, it nags at you. I had come out to the people that mattered — my close family — and yet I was still in some ways closeted on my own Facebook page, unable to make the same statement that I made when I was 18 and came out for the first time.

During Pride 2015, I noticed some friends using the rainbow filter on their photos. I had left my photo unchanged, but I felt ashamed. I was proud of being gay, and yet I feared using that filter. It was the first time I really confronted my own denial; I wasn’t okay with hiding on Facebook, and I wouldn’t do it any longer. That weekend, I added the rainbow to my photo too.

That small action became one of the most overt statements about my sexuality that I made on social media. In many ways, it also opened the line of communication with my mother and me when it came to my sexuality, whether it was talking about sexual health or other LGBT topics. It was the liberation I needed, and I soon began sharing more queer articles and personal opinions. I started posting my own writing too, which often dealt with queer and sometimes controversial topics. Over time I noticed that some family had unfriended me, but that hasn’t stopped me.

After my mother “liked” the gay Iftaar article, my siblings, a cousin and my sister-in-law followed suit. It felt like a personal revolution to have that sort of acceptance from the people that I cared about, especially so publicly. Having my family’s support helped bridge the gap between my sexuality and culture.

Last week CNN reported that Beirut would have its first Pride event, which is even closer to home than the Iftaar story since my family was from Lebanon. I shared that article too. Not only did my mother liked it but so did my sister.

“AMAZING!!!!!” she wrote on my wall. “It’s about time!”