Data analysis and findings

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Age of realization, sexual intercourse, relationship and marriage

Most of Egyptian male homosexuals in this study realized that they were attracted to schoolmates or men in general at an early age and that this attraction is not linked to the fact that they have been raped or molested when they were children, as many people think. Sexual intercourse took place during their teenage years and was mostly performed with friends and relatives (usually straight) and men they met through the internet. The first sexual experience was reported as not being satisfying, especially for those who met other men through the internet. It was usually a one night stand and did not go further than this.

The ones who had sexual intercourse with their friends and relatives were the ones who had long relationships that lasted years. These relations were mostly on and off and went parallel with other relations they had with other men. Others, who stayed with their first partners for years, did so because they did not know about the existence of other homosexuals in Egypt. They almost all had a relationship with Egyptians and non-Egyptians at one point in their life and mostly in their teenage years. This relationship went from months to years.

Very few of these men have been in a relationship during their adulthood. They wanted to be in a relationship but failed to find the right partner, as most of the gays in Egypt were looking for sex only and not for a stable and serious relationship. Usually the first sexual intercourse (even though it was not good) and sexual experiences with other men played a major role in their self acceptance and self-labeling as gays.

Foreigners were believed to have fewer issues than Egyptians when it came to dating according to my interviewees. They also had a place in which they could have sex privately and safely whereas most of the Egyptians lived with their parents. However, almost half of the sample still preferred to be with an Egyptian man as they shared the same culture and problems. So there was no preference for either. The most important thing for them was the personality of the partner and not his nationality.

As for dating girls, the ones who did actually date girls did it against their will, whether to prove to their family and friends that they were straight or to see if they could become attracted to women. Those who had dated women reported that they were attracted emotionally, but not sexually, to these women.

The majority of them did not want to get married. A minority, the one third who had a desire to get married, reported that they wanted to get married for the purpose of not ending up alone in life. Some of them also considered marrying a man, but these were very few.

Meeting strategies

Almost all those interviewed were internet users, as the internet was identified as the best means to meet other homosexuals in Egypt. It helped them build a network of gay friends and sexual partners to whom they could relate and with whom they could interact. Most of them had profiles on gay websites. The most commonly mentioned gay dating websites here in Egypt were gaydar, gayromeo and manjam, the latest having the highest rate of subscribers from Egypt. However, they preferred to meet other gays through other gay friends rather than by using the internet.

Other options were meetings in places such as coffee shops, bars and streets that were known by many homosexuals to be "gay spots". The last option they had was to meet in parties and in gatherings preferably hosted by foreigners rather than Egyptians for security reasons. These parties included homosexuals from different nationalities, backgrounds and ages, and one's appearance was very important.

On coming out to family and friends

Those whose sexuality was known by their parents had been found out by family members, either while watching gay porn or while chatting with other gays online. Others came out to their family and friends after a traumatic event that was followed by a depression, such as a painful break up with a man or the death of one of the parents. In general, the parents and family members of those who came out voluntarily had not been suspicious of their sexual preference for men. The coming out was often followed by visits to a psychiatrist, as most of the parents considered being gay a disease that is medically curable.

However, parents and families of those in this study who did not come out usually had suspicions of their homosexuality. The siblings once again were the ones who had the highest doubts as they usually shared the same computer at home.

As most of the respondents believed that homosexuality is innate, they did not believe in the power of psychiatry to convert them to heterosexuality. Nonetheless, some did go to a psychiatrist without telling their family and friends. They felt depressed and wanted a cure to what they perceived as a disease at some point in their lives, especially during their teenage years and before their first sexual intercourse with a man.

None of the respondents had any desire to come out to their parents as they felt it would make their life more complicated. They wished they could tell, but they knew for a fact that it would cause them too much pain. They considered that sexuality was a private matter that only concerns them. They did not see any reason why everyone should know about it. Because they considered that their sexuality was private, and because they had gay friends to whom they could relate, they did not feel that they were living in the closet.

On homosexuality by homosexuals

All respondents liked to be referred to as gays as the word has a positive connotation. They defined gayness as a man who is attracted to another a man. It was not supposed to be about sexual intercourse but should rather be based on feelings. As for the word khawal ("faggot" in Arabic), the word used most frequently to refer to homosexuals, they did not perceive themselves as a khawal. For them khawal is a person who is not reliable or a cheap effeminate man. They all used the word in their everyday lives to insult people who were not nice to them.

All respondents were convinced that homosexuality is innate rather than acquired. This conviction was based primarily on what they had read on the causes of homosexuality; second, they had gone to psychiatrists and it did not help; and third, they had tried unsuccessfully to date women. Because homosexuality was perceived by homosexuals to be innate, it was not considered as a sin by the majority of them. They often perceived their sexual preference for men as less of a sin than other sins, such as having pre-marital or extra-marital sex as it involves betraying one's wife.

Because they thought that they were born gay and that nothing could change their sexual preference, Egyptian homosexuals in this study were also suspicious of the sexual orientation of all men. They thought that all men are gay but at different strengths. They also believed that it was society that imposes exclusive heterosexuality on men and that if they were given the chance to be gay, there would be many more gays in Egypt. Finally, there was also the view that there are men who have still not discovered that they are gay. They are afraid of having sex with men because of the homophobic society they are living in.

On homosexuals' self perception and double life

Generally, the respondents' perception of themselves was very positive. They believed that their sexual preference for men was only a minor part of who they are. They had other interests in life and more important things to worry about than their being gay. They saw themselves as normal and as having the same goals and objectives in life than all other people. The only difference between them and heterosexuals is what they do in bed, which is a private matter that is no one's business but their own. There was the sense that they knew life better than others because their life experiences included both heterosexual and homosexual worlds.

The difficulty, however, was that they were leading a double life, a straight life in front of their families and friends and a gay life with their gay friends. Few of their straight friends knew about or suspected their sexual orientation. They were usually being perceived by their straight friends simply as different, while having more female than male friends. They preferred to hang out with their gay friends rather than their straight friends so they could be themselves without having to pretend to be someone else. Leading this double life was a constant strain requiring a lot of energy to maintain it.

On the gay community in Cairo

Those in the study tended to detach themselves as much as possible from the gay community. They didn't like to get involved with members of this community. The perception was that a person belonging to the community is someone who goes to all of the parties and gatherings and who knows many gays in Cairo. Being too social and too open about being gay among other gays was frowned upon.

The "gay community" was believed to be filled with bad people who gossip the whole time and who had no objectives in their lives other than meeting men to have sex. People from the community have no ambition in life and their lives simply revolved around the fact of being gay. This obsession was seen as abnormal as life has much more important things such as focusing on one's career and keeping good relations with family and friends.

On repression

Respondents were well aware of the fact that they lived in a homophobic society that rejects them and perceives them as sinners or perverted individuals. They did not understand why they should be put in prison for something they did not choose-to be gays. They accepted that the government was entitled to imprison criminals, including male prostitutes, as there are justifiable laws to punish them. However, they did not understand why laws on debauchery and prostitution are used by the government to punish those who were not engaged in prostitution and debauchery. The government crackdown on homosexuals has also had an impact on their feelings of safety while chatting with other men.

They were very scared and suspicious in meeting someone they met through internet. They had to be very selective in the parties they attended. They preferred to go to parties hosted by foreigners rather than those hosted by Egyptians. Their fear was also related to the fact that they did not want to bring shame or scandal to their families. However, and in spite of all of this repression, most of the respondents did not necessarily feel like leaving Egypt. This may be seen as evidence that their preference for men was only a minor part of whom they are and that their lives do not revolve only around being gay.

Message to the straight world

Those who participated in this study wanted people to know more about them and to be more curious in people who are different from themselves. They wanted the entire straight world to know that they are normal and that they have the same goals and objectives as them. The only difference between them is their sexual preference for men which they perform behind closed doors. They asked for more tolerance and acceptance of them as gays. They wanted people to respect the principle of "live and let live" and to not judge them for what they did not choose to be. They said that they are not mentally sick persons, but rather, men with a different sexual orientation than the majority.

Message from gays to gays

The respondents also wanted other homosexuals to "be themselves", whatever the circumstances were and to communicate a more positive image to the straight world so that they could be accepted in society as a whole. They wanted gays to be more moderate and not to be extreme, since being too open about one's sexual preference can only be destructive in this environment. They wanted other gays to educate themselves and to know more about homosexuality and to stop acting feminine as this gives the wrong impression to the straight world by reinforcing the existing stereotype of the homosexual as feminine. Finally, Egyptian homosexuals believe that they can have healthy and long lasting relationships with other Egyptian homosexuals if they are to choose someone stable and sure of himself and of his sexual orientation.


Pre-requisites of Gay liberation in the West

The categorization of sexual behavior that has resulted in the creation of the word homosexuality in the nineteenth century was the first step that led to gay liberation in the West. A social stigma was attached to the word homosexuality that was used to refer to mentally sick persons. This stigmatization provoked the creation of a social definition of persons engaging in same sex relations and the formation of social movements based on sexual preference for the same sex by gays and lesbians.

This change in the conception of homosexuality in the West, from an act of deviance to just another expression of human sexuality, resulted from a collective and gradual socio-political effort of European and American homosexual activists for more than half a century. Along with gays and lesbians, heterosexual men and women as well as Western governments have all contributed in the shift of attitude after the two world wars, a period of human history marked by the formation of social movements by minorities discriminated against for the acquirement of more equal rights.

The post world war era was characterized by women's liberation, sexual liberation and gay liberation, which have altogether contributed to the modification of gender roles and relations between men and women. The achievement of a medium of gender equality has provided the ground for an increased visibility of homosexuals in Western societies. Because gay activists have been given the physical space to fight for their rights to lead normal lives in their countries, they are nowadays trying to help other homosexuals around the world to reach similar rights.

Factors that have prevented gays in Egypt from gaining their rights

The failed attempt to legalize homosexuality in the Middle East is linked to the fact that the categorization of sexual behavior that occurred in the 19th century Europe has never happened in the Middle East-heterosexuality being the only permissible expression of human sexuality from the beginning of the creation of the Islamic state till today. Unlike their Western counterparts, Egyptians have recorded historical accounts of same sex relations before the 19th century. The Mamaleek who ruled Egypt for more than five centuries were practitioners of same sex relations, but their rule was marked by the weakness of the institutions of family and marriage as they were slaves brought to Egypt to protect it from foreign invasion. Traces of the existence of homosexuality in Arab culture are also to be found in classical Arabic literature that is characterized by the poetry of love for boys.

This tolerance toward homosexuality came with specific conditions, among which the most important was that sexual acts between men should never be known. Heterosexual as well as homosexual relations were and still remain relations of power between an active/penetrator and a passive /penetrated partner, usually boys, slaves as well as women. By making the sexual act public, a man risks losing his honor. Sexual identity and sexual behavior were distinct at that time. Engaging in same sex relations did not necessarily mean that the person perceived himself as a homosexual. There was no word applicable for men having sex with men.

It was only in the 19th century and under the reign of Mohamed Aly that the word khawal was invented. This word was to refer to a male performer who used to dress as a woman. This word is very pejorative and is synonymous with faggot today because modern literature, the cinema and the media project a negative image of the homosexual. These negative images have further been reinforced by the state's Islamicization that started in the 1970s. In need of support for his regime, Sadat released Islamists from prison among which the most important were the Muslim Brothers. The Muslim Brothers acquired social and political power gradually, and particularly during the last couple of decades. They are today's leading opposition to the current regime, even as the regime capitulates to their agenda in an attempt to neutralize their power.

Islamists have been given freedom in civil society, the right to create associations and to collect money from Gulf countries which enabled them to provide Egyptians with social services. At the same time, other associations that are engaged with human and women's rights were subjected to restrictions by the government. This unbalanced distribution of power has led to the limitations in the acquisition of women's rights. Women are still discriminated against in society, mainly because of religious based family law that remains almost intact in Egypt.

When in the West sexual liberation, gay liberation and women's liberation happened altogether in the 1960s, the Middle East and more specifically Egypt experienced a counter process at the same historical moment. The Islamic revival has prevented both sexual liberation and women's liberation-pre-requisites in the West for gay liberation from happening. Islamic revivalism also has led to the denial of sexual diversity and the rejection of certain Western influences such as gayness and gay identity. This counter process has led to the maintenance and reproduction of gender inequality which helps explain the state's crackdown against homosexuals since 2001 and its violation of the human rights laws that are incorporated in its own constitution.

Gay identity formation and maintenance in Cairo

The literature review on the representation of homosexuals in Modern Arabic literature, the cinema and the media as well as Islamic revival have all helped in maintaining the conception of the homosexual as a perverted and effeminate figure rather than a normal human being with a different sexual preference. No positive definition or conception of the homosexual is provided by the Egyptian government and its societal institutions. As a result, there is no homosexual role model to which gays in Egypt can refer to. However, the Egyptian political, social and religious institutions that work on repressing homosexuals have not been obstacles to gay identity formation in Egypt.

The absence of a positive social definition of homosexuality has led many homosexual men living in Egypt to import the word "gay", which gives a positive image with which they can identify. This importation of a gay identity has been made possible through globalization and advances in the domain of technology and mass media that have given easy access to information seekers in different parts of the world, who have private access to internet and who know how to use it. "Since the Early 1990s, Arab exposure to Western culture has increased enormously through satellite television, foreign travel, and more recently the internet" (Whitaker 2006:210). Egyptians are becoming more aware of their own sexuality even though the process is slow. According to Josette Abdallah, a professor of Psychology at the American University in Cairo Egyptian homosexuals are given either of two choices: either to preserve cultural authenticity and reject the Western influence, or to adopt a gay identity.

The internet revolution by allowing access to material otherwise deemed inappropriate has shaped many modern trends in terms of sexual identity. The dilema of how agents living in a culture that is ostensibly repressive towards their identity and adapt to find ways to express themselves is partially solved by the internet serving as an accessible and expedient outlet. (Mc Cormick 2006:253).

The Internet helps male homosexuals in Egypt get in touch with each other, meet and talk to other gays, and gather information on homosexuality in general and on the culture of gayness specifically. As my research has demonstrated, the first sexual intercourse of most of the homosexuals in Egypt is performed through meetings initiated via profiles they have created on gay websites or msn. These websites also help them know other gays and build a network of gay friends to whom they can relate and with whom they can interact and be themselves-"gays". Along with internet, they have also the possibility to interact with other gays in special gay hangouts; gay gatherings and parties gathering that are made exclusively for men and that are hosted by foreigners most of the time.

Characteristics of being gay in Cairo

Social and political repressions gays in Egypt are subjected to, the globalization and Internet specifically along with the presence of other gay men with whom gays in Egypt can hang out and refer to have therefore all played a role in giving rise to a unique type of gays with specific characteristics among which the most important ones are:

  1. Establishing serious and long lasting relationships is problematic in Egypt because of the repressive environment gays live in so most of them meet other gays for sex only. Most often, successful couples include a foreign man and an Egyptian man and not two Egyptians men.
  2. Dating foreigners is believed to be better than dating Egyptians as first, they have less issues than Egyptian gays (more sure of their sexuality), and second, they have a place in which they can meet as most of young Egyptians do live with their parents.
  3. Most of the gays in the sample don't want to get married. Few of them reported that if they ever get married it's going to be for the purpose of having children and not ending up alone in life at a later age as well as to please their family and to fulfill their society expectation.
  4. Coming out in Egypt is not a public announcement of one's sexual preference for men to everyone, but rather, it is a discrete process that includes other gays and exceptionally straight best friends.
  5. Coming out usually occurs after a traumatic event. Whether the death of one of the parents, a break up or because they have been caught up by one of their family members.
  6. This coming out if it happens concerns the immediate family, the parents and siblings and not the rest of the family. It does also often exclude their straight friends.
  7. Gays in Egypt would rather be staying in the closet than coming out to their family and friends as their coming out might cause the family pain and shame.
  8. Coming out to parents is also often followed by a visit to the psychiatrist and the perception of them by their family as mentally sick persons.
  9. The parents and often the siblings of those who did not come out are often suspicious of their son or brother being gay.
  10. They all prefer the usage of the word "gay" rather than khawal to refer to their sexual preference for men. They use the word khawal to refer to men who are not reliable and not to men engaging in same sex relations.
  11. Most of them consider that homosexuality is innate and that it is therefore not a sin and that if it is a sin it is less of a sin than many other sins that are performed in society such as extra or pre-marital sex or theft.
  12. They also believe that there is a certain percentage of gayness in each and every man and that if society was not hetero-normative many men would have been gays.
  13. Their perception of themselves is positive. They consider that their homosexuality is only a small part of who they are and that their lives do not revolve around the fact of being gay.
  14. They consider that gayness is what they perform in private and that it is therefore no one's right to interfere in what they do in bed.
  15. Being gay in Egypt is a constant work as it implies hiding one's sexual identity. They are obliged to perform a double life-the one expected by the society which implies straight acting with family and friends and their homosexual life that they perform online and offline with other gays.
  16. Gay men in Egypt prefer to hang out with other gays rather than their straight friends as they feel more comfortable with people that have the same sexual orientation.
  17. They reject the gay community and consider it as the place in which gays meet to have sex only.
  18. They all claimed that they do not belong to this community and that the people who belong to this community are not good people as they are too open about their sexual preference for men.
  19. It is not a gay community that exists in Egypt but rather, different communities or groups of people supporting each others with different interests and perception in life.
  20. Gays in Egypt live with a constant fear of getting entrapped by the government and of the risks they are taking when they meet other gays.
  21. Because of the crackdowns on homosexuals, gays in Egypt are highly suspicious and careful when meeting other gays or going to places in which other gays are present. For this reason they spent a lot of time talking to the person before going and meeting them and would rather go to parties hosted by foreigners than Egyptians.
  22. Their fear of getting entrapped is linked to the fear of losing their honor and shame and loosing their jobs as well as affecting the family reputation.
  23. Being discrete and low key is better than being out and telling everyone that one is gay as they live in a homophobic society.
  24. Acting masculine is of tremendous importance as it is going to help them erase the traditional image of the homosexual as effeminated.
  25. In spite of the repression Egyptian homosexuals are subjected to and the restrictions they don't want to leave their country and go somewhere else. Those who have a desire to leave their country are the ones who have problems with the police.
Recommendations for further research

The emergent need to study the male homosexuals' scene in the light of the recent governmental crackdowns has only revealed one side of the gay coin. With further exposure of more sectors of the society to the cultural impacts of globalization and modernization, it would only be a matter of time till the female homosexuals adopt a more distinctive image and an audible voice that will need an academic analysis and study. I would highly recommend that a comprehensive research has to be conducted on the female homosexuality in Egypt using the same methodology so that the other side of the coin could reveal what it is like to be a lesbian in Cairo.