Message from a gay Yemeni

Following my blog posts about the coming-out of Yemeni revolution activist Alaa Jarban (here and here) I received an email from another Yemeni who identifies as gay. I'm posting it below, with the sender's permission:

When I read Alaa’s coming-out news on Albab, I was tearful because I realised that I am not alone even though I know that many are out there, but none is ready to speak out and I don’t blame them, or to be precise I don’t blame us.

Yemen is profoundly conservative where child marriage is happening, women don’t control their lives and they little or no freedom making their own decisions. In Yemen an incredibly smart and vibrant girl with a promising future can have her dreams shattered over a night when her father comes back home after a qat chewing session to tell her that she’s getting married to someone next month; she forcibly puts her hand through her chest ripping her heart off adding one untold story to thousands that preceded. 

In Yemen, a young heterosexual couple gets slaughtered for eloping because they their families rejected their “forbidden” love. In Yemen, dating is seen as a perverted doing and arranged marriage is still the norm, and ironically families that are seen quite liberal allow their daughters to go out with their fiancés before marriage. 

I can go on and on, but I think the picture is clear. We have an ethically flawed society that doesn’t respect personal freedoms and boundaries.

I am in my mid-twenties and I am gay living in Yemen. I have had a very tough life dealing with the emotions that I kept having for people I liked. I still remember battling the feelings I had for the first person I loved. I still remember how I kept going to the mosque in my teen years to pray to God to “fix” me. I still remember when I was 15, and I kept counting years fearing the question that my parents would start to ask soon – when are you going to get married? 

I occasionally ask my friends about the views of homosexuality and sometimes I feel their words as needles going throw my insides. One time one of them suggested to me to gather all “sodomists” in a place and set them on fire. Of course I learned how to react by drawing a pale smile and nod along. 

I still remember my first love; the only way to get close to him was to befriend him which is what I did. It’s pathetic to think of my position in that friends’ relationship. I loved him for the bottom of my heart and I just knew that we CAN’T happen. Imagine the feeling of falling in love and you can’t tell the other person how you feel, because probably you’ll freak out the whole school.

It struck me deep how on earth Alaa summoned the courage to speak out, and I actually googled him to know more. I think Alaa, unlike me, comes from a slightly less traditional family and surroundings. 

I am a person living in Yemen who has a deep rooted relation with my tribal typical family that still believes in those values. I believe the majority of homosexuals in Yemen are the same. In other words, most of them don’t even know that they are gay and they keep living in a state of denial due to the lack of education and awareness, and above all, the fact that they would be cast away and thought of as less of human disgusting creature. 

Can they risk everything to tell the society that they like people of the same sex? I don’t think so. It’s frustrating to tell you that even if I think of coming out, consequences will not stop on my front door. My immediate family that I love so much will be subject to all sorts of social stigmas and isolation. I just can’t think of myself here because the decision repercussions on many others. 

I don’t think that Yemen is ready to tolerate much less controversial issues let alone the topic of homosexuality. I am not thinking of following Alaa’s lead and neither do most gay people in the country I suppose. There is no word that describes how devastating it is to hold this secret forever.



Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday, 21 June 2013