“Your uncle read your column,” my mother said as I watched her stir the lentil soup in the kitchen. “He asked me if I knew the sort of life you lived and whether I read your writing.”
My mother was now learning who Mike was — intimately it seemed. But when she mentioned my uncle also knowing the details of my sex life, I blushed red and wiped the sweat from the creases of my forehead. I could only imagine the stories circulating among my extended family.
I began forming my response to her in my head, ready to defend myself. I have nothing to hide! Who cares what anyone thinks anyway?
“I told your uncle that I had read everything that you’d written,” my mother continued. “And I said that if I hear anybody saying anything bad about you, I want nothing to do with them.”
I was dazed by the words as I watched her stirring the lentil soup. The metal spoon made a hypnotic sound as it scratched the bottom of the pot. I wanted to respond but felt like I might cry if I even tried to open my mouth. She was extremely close to her family so I knew those weren’t easy things for her to say, to come to my defence. She had never done anything like that before. I just continued to watch her with admiration.
Coming out was as difficult as one might expect, given my upbringing. I came from a Muslim, Lebanese household; I used to pray five times a day, went to the mosque on Fridays and would fast every year during Ramadan.
Through a lot of sweat and tears, I eventually found common ground with my parents and we learned to respect one another. I’ve now been out to my family for 18 years.
However, being “out” is one thing; my family reading my column about sex culture and public sex was a whole different thing. It was an entirely new second coming out.
I didn’t think that this coming out needed to be as explanatory as the first; if I died and my mom never found out that I went to sex cinemas and dungeon parties, I would’ve been cool with that. The pseudonym was great for this reason; I could maintain privacy and anonymity — or so I thought.
With the post-9/11 tension, writing under a pseudonym was also a way for me to distance myself from the whole Muslim, Lebanese thing, which has always felt heavy. As with many major religions, homosexuality isn’t seen favorably by Islam. Also, although there is some hope for the future, homosexuality is still illegal in Lebanon. I didn’t feel guilty about abandoning my religion or ethnicity because I felt like they had abandoned me by not accepting who I was. It had felt easy for me to turn my back on them.
As my mom continued stirring, she laughed, explaining that she hadn’t actually read any of my work because she feared it wasn’t “mom friendly.” I confirmed that it probably wasn’t, so she asked that I let her know if I ever do write something more appropriate for her to read. For me, it not only meant that she cared about me, but cared about what I was doing with my life and my work.
And my uncle? He told her he’d continue to love me no matter what I did. Not all my family was like him though. I slowly learned which ones disapproved by realizing which ones had unfriended me on Facebook.
After that initial falling out with my family over my sexuality early in my gay adult life, I learned that I didn’t need the approval of others to be happy with who I am. At the same time, I had always been close to my extended family growing up before coming out, so I’d be lying to say that it wasn’t nice to have the acceptance from my uncle.
My mother jumped onto another subject after that, but ever since that afternoon I’ve thought a lot about our conversation. It made me second guess whether I actually needed to choose between my ethnicity — which I’d always felt had rejected me — and my sexuality, or whether it was even healthy to do so. My Lebanese and gay identities had always felt mutually exclusive, but maybe I was wrong.
Although my allegiance is still to the LGBT community, I also find it necessary to stand up for people like my mother or uncle; progressive Muslims and Lebanese folks who have become the targets of the populist movements happening all over the Western world. In doing so, I’m coming to realize that I can be Canadian, Lebanese and gay all at the same time.
The more I allow these three pillars of my identity to merge, the more my pseudonym, Mike Miksche, feels unnecessary. One of these days I’ll have to kill poor Mike off, but it’ll be the most fabulous death because I owe the guy a lot.