I came to the UK from Baghdad when I was 2 years old. My father had won a scholarship to study in England, those scholarships were only awarded to the highest achieving students in Iraq for a very short period in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He met my mother at university, a white woman, half Canadian and half English. They married and went to live in Baghdad. My mother subsumed herself into the Iraqi culture of the late 60’s. I was born. After the Ba’athist Party took power we returned to England. I was two years old. I hardly remember it. I grew up here.
I came to terms with my sexuality a long time ago. There were the internalised homophobia years, the hatred of effeminacy, the concept of ‘black and white’ reigned supreme, no sense of grey. Very like my father if I’m honest. Men were MEN, not parodies of women. Gender as binary only. But, my homophobic parents also gave me a gift; the ability to see the world and critique it. And through expression and experience, I’m not so limited in my view now. I have a husband who challenges me, feeds and nourishes me and makes sure I don’t stray too far down those paths again, and who I love more than I ever thought possible.
9/11 happened and everything changed. People had heard of Iraq, at least a little bit, because of the first Gulf War, but now it was a talking point. Conversations ranged from the “You must be really pleased we’ve gone in there to sort it out for you lot.” to the softer, liberal, “Oh, it must be really awful for you. How is your family there?” I haven’t lived there since I was 2 years old. I don’t really know them.
Islamophobia abounds. “Fucking terrorist, go and join Isis”. You see, they hear your name and assume. For the record, I, like my parents, am an atheist. But of course nobody, not the liberals or the racists ask that question. They assume. This is the post 9/11 climate for Arabs here. We are all Muslims and all potential terrorists.
I had a very binary choice in front of me. Accept and embrace my Arabness, or remain forever wishing it was different, and hide. The traveller in me, the fearlessness I’d inherited from my voyaging parents, makes the decision for me. I’m an Arab, and a gay Arab, and I choose to identify as such. It’s as much a political statement in this climate as it is an expression of who I am.