It was 2003. It was a hot summer day. I was coming out of my work where I worked with an American company, crossing the bridge, trying to take a cab to go back home after a long day of work. I come the next day to work and one of my coworkers come to tell me the day before, as I was crossing the bridge, him and his militia friends were driving over the bridge. They saw me crossing the bridge and they thought that I was gay and – just because I was carrying a passenger bag, and they considered us to be a Western gay kind of sign. And they wanted to kidnap me and some, my family. My friend, who is at work, who was working with the militia while working with me in the company, he is the one who recognized me and he is the one who diverted them away from attempting to kidnap me.
Fast forward from that date, one day I was sitting at home at night with my family. I hear knocking on the outside gate and, you know, I walk out. Someone on the other side of the door say that they are here for my dad. They are tenants in his building, apartment building.
I opened the door and while it’s completely pitch black, you couldn’t see anything, all I know someone was pointing a gun to the back of my head and saying that “We know that you are infidel, we know that you are gay, you need to quit working with, you know, the… the Americans or foreigners, and we will go after you and go after your family if you don’t quit your… your behavior.”
Luckily I didn’t get shot at that day. Run back home, you know, completely shivering and scared. Obviously couldn’t tell my family that they started calling me gay, but I tell them they are threatening me because of my association with an American company.
Shortly after this threat, my brother-in-law and his brother both got kidnapped and murdered. Following that they went even further and they tried to attack my other sister on her husband in their apartment and literally just by luck, they happened to be out of the apartment for that day. So from that point forward, I knew that there is absolutely no future for me there.
Shortly before that one of my friends had applied for a Fulbright scholarship program. This is a program that’s sponsored by the Department of State and it enables exchange students to come and study in the United States. It was very competitive but I worked really hard for a year. I got accepted to the Fulbright program. I remember receiving that email and this was probably the most overwhelming congratulation that I’ve ever seen or heard and my entire life because that was the moment that I knew my entire life is about to change.
I got accepted into Syracuse University to do my Masters. I was really excited about all of this. I moved to the United States and everything in the beginning was overwhelming. I was adjusting, making friends, meeting new people.
So as I started feeling a little bit more comfortable around my sexual orientation, I started exploring ways to connect with other people that have similar, you know, sexual orientation and the LGBT resource center and in Syracuse University was the first thing that I could find and thought it would be a safe space for me to connect with them.
There was an event. In the event. I started meeting people. People obviously started asking about my background, where I’m from, and one of them was saying, “Hey, what are you doing after this?”
And I said, “I actually don’t have anything to do.”
So he said, “Oh, we’re, you know, meeting and having a party at a… at a house, if you want to join us.”
You know, I said, “Yeah, that, you know, that is completely fine.”
His friends came to pick us up who ironically happened to be also from the Middle East. And I very quickly realized that their intentions was to go to a party or just, you know, chill or, you know, just talk or eat or drink or whatever it is… that they actually were fetishizing me.
And when they expressed the idea that, “Hey, let’s go and have sex,” when I was like, “I’m not sure.”
The guy that was driving the car comes from the Middle East, he said “Maybe he is not into it.”
The other guy, he’s like, “Come on, who doesn’t have a Middle Eastern fetish.”
I realized, you know, there’s a mix of people some of them will continue to see me just as a fetish, and some of them were really wonderful and continue to be friends of mine until today.
Fast forward, I graduated, I finished my degree and went to Boston, started seeing more of the microaggressions around my other parts of my identity, but wasn’t prominent enough for me to actually raise the alarm and say, This is something that I’m going to be suffering from in the future. However, all of that started changing very quickly after moving to New York.
I remember very clearly a very senior professional at a company, literally he said, “So you are gay, you are Muslim. You are from the Middle East. You are an immigrant. I don’t know if I should love you or hate you.” And he say that relatively jokingly, but the message was loud and clear. The tone is being set for how people like me will be perceived from the top.
Even though the United States at the time was that the right decision and I don’t regret it. It opened a lot of doors for me. But I feel that the society here puts a cap on you as well. So I am realizing very quickly whether the United States will continue to be opening those doors for me, or if I have maxed out on, you know, my opportunities here and my future here.
And I know many people might look at my story and think, “You basically came out, you know, of harm way. And the bigger picture, the United States is really a blessing for you. Why’re you complaining?” I think my answer to people that might be thinking this way – in each context, and then each environment, each problem is… is big for the context of that situation and for that scenario. Just because I am not being threatened and there isn’t a gun being pulled… pulled and you know, put in my head or in my family, it doesn’t minimize the issues that I have now.
But I can guarantee you many people will have the exact same challenges. This is not just my story. This is really the story of thousands and thousands that live today in the United States. It’s just that they go completely unnoticed every day, because there are other issues, or people are not recognizing that when you combine those components of your identity, it creates a completely new challenge for you that doesn’t necessarily fit in any bucket that that people recognize and associate with.