Disclaimer : Pronouns their/them/they are used, as Ïko, the person interviewed, is a non-binary person. They define theirself as homosexual. No transphobic, racist, anti-muslim, lesbophobic, homophobic comments or any kind of insult will be accepted.
‘I wish my sister was a slut rather than a lesbian’. Such are the hurtful words Ïko heard when their homosexuality is exposed by their sisters. Ïko was so forced to come out of the closet but wishes they hadn’t.
They shares with us their experience as a transgender, non-binary, French-Algerian and homosexual person. Between mental disorders, social pressure, homophobia, and self-development, Ïko shares to us a moving personal testimony.
Ïko always knew they was attracted by women. However, feeling comfortable with their sexual orientation was difficult. In fact, in a conservative and heterosexist environment, the social acceptance for LGBTQIA sexual identities is likely to be lower. Iko’s appearance as a tomboy raised suspicion of their relatives. Their sisters found out on Ïko’s sexual orientation through Ïko’s Facebook, in a conversation they had with their first love. For Ïko, being forced to come out of the closet had serious consequences on their mental, physical and relational health.
Being homosexual of North African descent and self-acceptance
Since they was a child, Ïko is different from the rest of her family. As they was reserved, introverted and a tomboy, Ïko was nicknamed “the mridha” which means the sick in Algerian Arabic. (The nickname is used to label Ïko as crazy). Being nicknamed as mridha exemplified the misunderstanding Ïko created through their personality and appearance. Then, one day, Ïko got fed up with it. At the age of 8, Ïko refused to go back to the therapist as they couldn’t stand to be labeled as crazy.
While growing up, asserting oneself to relatives seemed impossible. Ïko couldn’t contain the frustration. When they entered secondary school, Ïko was insolent and used to skip school. Ïko’s hostile attitude was actually the first distress call: not feeling normal because of their sexual identity and growing up in a homophobic environment.
After being expelled from the first secondary college, Ïko gets a second wind in the second one: They can finally no longer hide their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, from one social environment to another one, they was a different person. With their family, Ïko had to play another role and following the social norms of the Algerian and Muslim cultures. These multiple compromises and social pressure ended up causing them serious health issues.
At the age of 15, Ïko fell under 30 pounds with bradycardia at 30 beats per minute, had a series of hospital and psychiatric stays, and (struggles) lived with anorexia bulimia until 18 years old. Anorexia bulimia sounds like another distress call. For what reasons?
Forced to come out and family pressure
Not everyone in her family knows about Ïko being homosexual, including their father. Nevertheless, he is ashamed of Ïko. As soon as he sees Ïko, he lectures them, reproaches them to not follow the religion, for not having a stable situation, for not being married and for not having children.
‘According to him, my non-practice of Islam shows my lack of intelligence but I know it’s not true. I could even prove to him in many ways my intelligence, but it would not change anything. Today, in resilience I assert myself in front of him and continue my journey’.
The biggest Ïko’s support is and remains their mother. ’My mother has always supported me in my lowest moments. Although my homosexuality is something they does not understand, they makes an effort every day to accept me as I am and I am so grateful to her’. they says. Then they adds with a loving smile, ’my mom is the woman of my life’. Her support has given Ïko the strength to move forward and fight to live the way they wants.
Self-development through painful moments
Through life experiences, Ïko ended up finding self-fulfillment. As a teenager, Ïko regularly went to organizations offering a range of extra-curricular activities. Holiday camp activity leaders did not treat Ïko differently in any way due to her sexual identity. Thanks to the holiday camp activity leaders’ acceptance, Ïko felt free to more connect to themself. Integrating into the LGBTQIA+ community helped also Ïko to explore their sexual identity, by going to events and meeting people who had similar experiences.
The most memorable person in their life was their soul mate, their best friend, who passed away some time ago and with whom Ïko learned a lot. ‘He clearly taught me how to find my way around wherever I am. We had always each other’s backs no matter what’.
In the hardest moment in their life, Ïko could enjoy small moments of happiness. During a hospital stay, Ïko had a love affair with a patient. As Ïko could not share this happiness with their family, they felt the need to write it down. Their writings, Ïko discussed them with their therapist. ‘Being creative gave me the desire to create the life I wish for’. Creating has brought Ïko back meaning to their life, a life filled with good and bad experiences.
Ïko works every day on their personal fulfillment, trying every day to appreciate themself as they is and works for a beautiful balance between body and mind. Non-anonymous testimonials like Ïko are an exception. Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community remains taboo in the North African Muslim community in France and very few are those able to share their personal stories.
The LGBT community of North African descent in France and invisibilization
Some studies and books have focused on the LGBT community of North African descent and Muslim culture in France. In many ways, experiences of the French LGBT community of North African descent share similarities: It is very complicated if not impossible to come out of the closet, spiritual struggles, mental health issues, self-hatred, and social pressure.
Social taboos combined with tradition and religious pressure can trigger mental health issues. These few studies show the psychological impact of these factors. ‘Accepting homosexuality is difficult for the majority of them. They go through periods of psychological strains, tied in with the fear of the family’s reaction, also reflected in religion’.
On top of that comes heteronormativity. All of the interviewees mentioned their mental health difficulties, due to their awareness of the heterosexual norm dominance. The French LGBT communities of North African descent testimonies are quite similar to young gays or bisexual women and non-north African descent. 89% of them, from 18 to 24 years had been depressed in the last twelve months, compared to only 33% of young heterosexual women (Bajos, Beltzer, 2008, p. 262).
Coming out is a milestone rarely overcome by people belonging to the French LGBT community, for fear of social disapproval. Coming out remains risky for many people who are financially and materially dependent on their parents. As parents have over their children, moral authority and financial support. So they can any time suspend it in case of strong disagreement. As a result, family pressure can take many forms and can be intensified from physical assault to be kicked out from home. Another aspect to consider is many of them refuse to come out due to fear of family breakdown.
Identity crisis ?
Gender and cultural identity get muddled and it is complicated to find a place for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders of North African descent in France. In a community, one brings dishonor to your culture and your family. On the other, one is not westernised enough by remaining attached to one’s culture of origin. By moving between two worlds, we tend to lose our bearings, the loss of bearings helps in self-development.
By moving between two worlds, one tend to lose our bearings and the loss of bearings helps in identity construction. It may happen some need to distance themselves from their North African cultures to emancipate themselves. Others distance themselves and then re-appropriate their cultures according to their own perspective. For Ïko, the Muslim religion has brought them a lot in terms of spirituality, but do not identity as Muslim.
Raising visibility & awareness through personal stories
A journey shaped by social pressure, fear of social disapproval, self-conflict, conflict with others, mental health problems for the French LGBT community of North African descent and for North African descent from the LGTQIA+ community in general.
Returning to one’s parents is never easy once one used to be independent. Now Ïko doesn’t want to hide and be ashamed of themself anymore. Ïko faced the disparaging remarks of their sisters, hoping Ïko finally switched teams.
Having found inner peace and accepting theirself as a non-binary transgender and homosexual person, Ïko moves forward with a lot of kindness, love, and positivity.
Through their personal story, Ïko hopes to inspire, comfort, and question.
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Les gouines of color sont-elles des indigènes comme les autres ?, Malika Amaouche, 30 /09/2015