Written by Mona Ali*
Translated by N.H.
Images: Images courtesy of Photo Studio Al-Ameen.
This piece is from the ‘Weddings & Marriages’ issue (here)


Entering and committing to an official relationship is difficult for all parties involved, and can often alter a person’s life.  While love, coexistence, and harmony can make committing easier, other complicating factors can render this decision one of the most difficult decisions of one’s life. This decision is even harder for closeted people, and can cause such complication and imbalance in marriage that it may result in separation.

Homosexuality is a criminal offense in most countries of the MENA region, and the negative way that society regards people with different sexual orientations and gender identities forces many to remain closeted and lead “double lives.” People feel compelled to be in relationships, have sex with, and even marry partners they aren’t attracted to.  This article does not aim to judge people who have chosen to be part of these relationships, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, transgender or cisgender.  Rather, this article’s aims to share narratives of these relationships, and trace how these relationships may result in great love and tolerance, or end in conflict and pain. 


“The toll of hiding sexuality from one’s partner”

My.Kali met with Souad* (a pseudonym), a development researcher in Egypt. She told us about her relationships and marriage, saying that “He was a well-known media personality in Egypt. We met a long time ago and we became friends. Years later, our relationship developed into love, and we decided to get married. We had known each other for 10 years at the time. Things were normal at the beginning; we had our ups and downs. After we got married, he became controlling; he started policing my behavior, decisions, and relationships. He even made me choose between him and my work. I chose him. I didn’t understand the reason behind this sudden change.”

The man Souad had chosen to marry was bisexual, but she hadn’t known that. She said that, “Everything happened by coincidence. I was using his laptop, and in his search history, I found he that he had looked up several topics related to homosexuality. I found a secret account on Yahoo full of erotic chat logs. I also found Facebook message exchanges between him and a man. From their messages, it was evident that they had a romantic and sexual relationship. I also found naked pictures of him with other naked men. I was shocked the most by a number of video clips I uncovered of him having sex with several different male partners.” 

Souad continued, “At the beginning, despite all the evidence, I couldn’t believe it. I was in denial. I found that he had kept calling his partner in order to set up a date. I thought I could perhaps distract him from his male sex partner and help his give up his homosexuality. However, I found out that he had been having gay sex for over 10 years, so I realized there was no room for him to change his sexual orientation, and we had to separate.” 

Souad said she knows many people in the LGBT community, so his partner’s ability to hide his sexuality was increasingly surprising. “He had been previously married and had a child, so I was never suspicious. I also learned later on that he is a bottom when it comes to sex, and that shocked me even more.”

That relationship left a lasting impact on Souad, so much so that she no longer trusts men. “I lost my trust in everyone, and here I mean all men, gay or straight. I had sympathized with the LGBTQ community before. Now, however, I couldn’t care less. Because I’ve been working in the field of development for more than 10 years, working with all segments of society, particularly women and children, I’ve come to believe, that in the Arab region, we need to be concerned first and foremost with the right to healthcare, education, and good living conditions for the time being.”

Souad emphasized the need for honesty and transparency in romantic relationships, saying that, “Any person who intends to enter into a relationship must tell their partner everything that could affect that relationship, whether they’re gay or polygamous. That way, the other person is given the right to choose whether or not they want to be with them based on this information. That’s what I told my ex-husband. I didn’t have a problem with his sexuality; I had an issue with the fact that he hid it from me and denied it when I found out despite all the clips and photos that were on his private computer.”


A friendship turn marriage ends in mutual loss”

Khaled had never expected to marry a straight person. He never expected his best friend to turn into his enemy. He never thought he’d be in a relationship characterized by a love of control, possessiveness, and jealousy. 

Khaled is an artist from the Gulf region who traveled abroad to pursue a master’s degree. On his first day at that university, he met and befriended two other female students, and after two weeks, he came out to them as gay. The non-Arab woman accepted him immediately and began suggesting potential people he could date. The other woman, who was also from the Gulf, did not give a clear reaction initially, but became more accepting and understanding with time. 

“The story started when I returned to my country during a vacation. My Khaleeji friend sent me a text message saying that she misses and loves me. I was taken aback. She knew about my sexuality. I told her that I only saw her as a friend. After I returned to university, she’d tell me every once in a while about her feelings and love for me. I was clear with her that this relationship couldn’t work, and she knew I couldn’t be in a romantic or sexual relationship with her. This conversation would hurt her every time. She would grow distant for a couple days, and then things would go back to normal.” He and this friend grew closer every day, but Khaled stressed that he never doubted his sexuality.  After they received their master’s degrees, they were both accepted into the same educational program for the following year. According to Khaled, she continued to make romantic advances.

“During the program, she tried to kiss me several times or get me to be alone with her. I was in shock and I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to hurt her but at the same time, I refused to accept this behavior. I had my own (same-sex) relationships at the time.”

During the fourth year of their friendship, they had many common projects, and they supported and understood one another.   Khaled told us that she suggested that they get married. “She continued to propose the idea, and list its benefits. She reassured him that she would respect his sexual orientation, and that she just loved him and wanted to live with him, and maybe even have children together at some point.”

He reflected that he came around to the idea the more she brought it up “I liked the idea of living with a close friend of mine, one who understood and knew about my sexuality., one who was supportive. And maybe one day we’d have children. I loved children.” 

Khaled was not being pressured by his family to get married to a woman, and according to him, it was she who was pressuring him. “We decided to make it official. We would introduce the families, throw a wedding party, and so on. We also decided that we would be free to pursue other relationships. I proposed that she have extramarital relationships, but she refused, insisting that she loved only me.”

However, everything changed during the honeymoon. “Everything made her jealous. Bickering was our constant companion. She would create problems whenever we talked. She wanted to be in control of everything. It was very strange. I had known her for 4 years, and we had traveled together before for work. She was a completely different person back then: understanding, loving, and supportive.”

Things continued to worsen after they returned. “ We continued to fight. She continued to want to exercise control over my life. She stopped wanting to work on projects or art collaborations with me, which had been a big part of our relationship. I woke up every morning, looked at her, and felt like I was missing a part of myself, whereas she was living her life as she pleased. I thought that this marriage would preserve the successful team that we were. We were the perfect image of two affectionate Khaleeji spouses in our field. But all of this collapsed with the first gust of wind.” 

Khaled remained married for two years. “I tried to make her happy. She was my close friend who became my wife. She was the person who took care of and supported me. She meant a lot to me. All of this changed after marriage. It was like her goal had been to get me to change my mind about getting married to a woman, and after achieving her goal, she was now looking for a new one.”

According to Khaled, the separation wasn’t easy: “She tried to ruin my reputation with her family and at my workplace, and in the arts scene. This led to a few losses, but I got my life back.”

However, he does not blame her for how things ended. “We were both victims. She was the victim of an upbringing that taught her that she was entitled to get whatever she wanted, whereas I tried to go along with the rules and traditions of society at the expense of my own life.”


“My parents knew the truth about me, but they thought that marriage would distract or fix me. Society, with all its power and traditions, forces the LGBTQ community to follow these rules, which leads to a lot of misery and self-flagellation.”


“Being forced to deny one’s body and follow the status quo”

Randa is a transgender woman from North Africa who knew and told her mother how she felt about her body when she was 16. Her mother ignored it, and she was forced to follow societal expectations that followed. Randa said, “I was pressured by my family to get married as a man. They found me a wife, whom I lived with for 4 years. We had two children together. One of them died shortly after birth, and the other lives with their mother in their country of origin. After 4 years, I told my wife the truth about how I felt about my body. We continued to live in the same house for two years before we officially separated, and I left the country to get my gender reassignment operations done.

“My parents knew the truth about me, but they thought that marriage would distract or fix me. Society, with all its power and traditions, forces the LGBTQ community to follow these rules, which leads to a lot of misery and self-flagellation.”  

Randa left to get gender reassignment surgeries, and now lives in Europe after a number of arrests and issues in her home country. It is only after having undergone several operations that Randa is now at peace with her body and identity. “Of course, I wish to remarry. I want to marry someone that I want, not someone who has been forced on me by family and society.”


Noof | نوف: The word means Landscape in Hebrew, even though the Arabic word also has a meaning (top of the mountain) but Palestinians in the Galilee (and in other areas in Palestine) use the Hebrew word to describe couple’s photo shoot on their wedding day which usually is held in nature (landscape) and this is where the name is derived from. Images courtesy of Photo studio Al-Ameen. Ahmad Maa’youf – 80’s


The story of Sara Said, from Sudan, is replete with pain from the beginning, from unrelenting pressure from family and friends to marry, to suspicion about the marriage, to an eventual confrontation. 

“One day, I was traveling inside Sudan, and I started talking to the girl sitting next to me. During a conversation that lasted for hours, the girl proposed that I marry her uncle. She began to show me pictures. It was all very strange to me, because I wasn’t a fan of this method of finding a life partner, but we ended up exchanging phone numbers at the end of the trip.”

Three months later, Sarah was surprised to receive a phone call from the girl’s uncle. He told her that he was on his way to the student housing complex that she lived in so he could see her and get to know her. “I refused to meet him because I was busy with exams, but he insisted and persistently called me when he arrived. I went to see this suitor. He was very quiet, and there was an obvious age gap between us.” 

Sarah thought the matter would stop there, for she had exams, so she was surprised when she received yet another phone call, this time from her mother, telling her that the suitor’s family was on the way to their home to officially ask for her hand in marriage. After the visit, her mother called her back to tell her that she didn’t approve of this marriage, she agreed. “I, too, did not want this, and we called them and told them that.” 

She continued that, “My parents, strangely enough, continued to insist that she get to know him and give him a chance. Many of our relatives stepped in to plead on the suitor’s behalf. I called the suitor myself and chided him and told him I didn’t want to get married to him. He and his family continued to pester us for over a month. I eventually gave in and agreed to sit with him and get to know him. Despite not wanting this marriage, I felt that he was kind and pitiful.” 

Insistence that she marry did not stop there. “Family and distant relatives continued to put pressure on me, until I agreed to the marriage. He travelled right after we got signed our marriage contracts. Our communication was cold and distant. This came as a shock to me. After all the pestering and insistence to get married, he was now being cold and distant to me. He said it was because he was under stress at work.”

The wedding took place a year after the signing of the marriage contracts. Sarah had prepared everything alone, since her groom worked abroad. Four days before the wedding, he told her that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the party, and that she should meet him after the wedding party. She was very angry and refused, but that it is what ended up happening. 

“When we reunited at the airport for the first time, he took me to a hotel and tried to force me to have sex. When I asked him to be gentle and loving, he was unable to go through with it. After several discussions, and researching possible reasons, we decided he’d go to a doctor and get examined. He refused at the beginning, but then agreed to go on the condition that I didn’t come with him. I found out later that he had lied to me, and that he hadn’t gone to see a doctor. I became very scared. I was with a strange man in a strange country, and he didn’t love me, and he had either a medical or psychological problem that he was lying about and didn’t want to find a solution for. I then decided to return to Sudan.”

The situation between Sarah and her husband continued to worsen, but he asked her to be patient, and that he’d try to find a solution to the problem. A week later, he suggested that they travel to a romantic destination. That was what happened, but it didn’t change the chilliness between them. “I started getting suspicious when we went for a massage and he asked for a masseur. When he was done, I noticed my husband exchange strange looks with the masseur.”

“One of my friends in Sudan suggested that my husband might be gay when I told her about his problem with erectile dysfunction, but I had a stereotypical idea of what gay men were like. I thought they were all delicate and effeminate.”

She tried to carry on with her life and education as best she could, returning to Sudan to continue her education, but it took an emotional toll on her. “He asked me to hide our sexual difficulties, and I did. During the year that followed, he only communicated with me to send me money. When I graduated and went to live with him, we lived in a separate room. There was no sexual or emotional connection between us. This ruined me emotionally.” 

Sarah started to suspect that he was indeed gay during their time living together. She said, “I noticed that he video chatted for long hours at night, and I once saw him take a picture of his erect penis. That was the first time I saw his penis erect. I decided to eavesdrop on his calls. I discovered that he was in love with a man, and that this man used to live with him before we got married.”

Sarah confronted him, initially by bringing up LGBTQ related topics in front of him and making clear that she supported the cause to make him feel comfortable, but this didn’t help.  Once, she asked him why he didn’t desire her, and he replied rudely, “Because you’re ugly, fat, filthy, and you look like a man.” Sarah was dealt yet another blow after trying to open the conversation. They started fighting, and the fight turned violent. The police were summoned to intervene, and they separated soon after.

Sarah discovered that her husband’s family, who had insisted that she marry him and had done their utmost to convince her to do so, had lied to her. They had told her that they had sent him abroad to study, when in fact, they had kicked him out of the house. They had told her that he was pursuing a PhD, when in fact he hadn’t even graduated from high school. The marriage had been to cover up his sexual orientation, which they had known about since he was 17, and they had been relying on the hope that a woman could change his sexuality.

Sarah said that she hadn’t known anything about the LGBTQ community prior to the marriage and that she had been against them. However, after this experience, she became a staunch supporter. “They are a segment of society that exists, and we respect them and their sexuality. We mustn’t pressure them to change their sexuality, because that won’t happen.”


Some final thoughts 

In this final section, we include some final thoughts on responses to a general survey that My.Kali published on LGBTQ marriages and partnership. Marriages between bisexual partners, even if open and consenting, are not necessarily transparent or simple. A bisexual female participant who married a bisexual male said that their relationship was rooted in intellectual, emotion, and sexual balance with her partner, and that being open about their sexualities from the beginning allowed them to live openly. She said, “Harm can’t come from consenting, level-headed adults. Harm stems from the pressure society puts on individuals to stick to harmful gender roles.” This sentiment was echoed by another participant who voiced fear of how society might perceive them, and believes that, unfortunately, LGBT individuals will not be able to fully accept themselves or their sexuality until broader society accepts the LGBT community overall. 

Openness and honesty cannot be stressed enough within relationships. Like Sara’s story above, another participant’s marriage ended in divorce once she saw a message between her husband and another young man. She was not angry about his sexuality, but because of the betrayal. “I wish he had told me the truth from the beginning, that he hadn’t deceived me into marriage and having two children. He ruined my life. I became deeply angry and depressed when I found out about his sexuality, which explained why having sex with him was so difficult. I felt like I was the victim of deceit.”

Such stories make us think about and imagine what a world would look like if societal expectations around gender and sexuality, rooted in conservatism and hate, did not have such a hold over individuals and their intimate relationships. Could marriages and intimate relationships be more fully rooted in real choice or could happen without coercion or pressures from the outside? Could marriages have a different purpose than simply and expectation or an escape? Might we all be better off if society and governments were at least tolerant of non-normative gender and sexuality?