RFSL Youth are publishing stories from queer people seeking asylum in Sweden. We are proud to present one of these stories from Kiki Télos Adam
In Saudi Arabia, I had to hide and was constantly afraid.
But racism and queer phobia exists in both Riyadh and Perstorp.
Sweden brought an opportunity to finally date persons of the same sex, but coming here has also had an unexpected dynamic.
A Wednesday afternoon in 1995. A male black Eritrean baby was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia by a divorced teenage mother. Just two days later, fresh from my mother's womb, I was labeled in a birth certificate a non-Saudi, belonging to a particular social group that was not supposed to be respected and didn’t need equality – an othered and foreign group. Back then, I didn’t know that until this day, I would stay the same: a black foreigner who doesn’t belong anywhere.
I was a black child who grew up in a poor neighborhood nearby downtown in Riyadh, often craving for family attention and a father’s figure that was absent. This child had a few things that they liked: a nail polisher, mom's clothes, makeup and almost anything shiny and feminine.
I remember my mom being afraid that too many women around me influenced me: I spoke like my grandmother, gesticulated like my aunt and acted like their female friends. That was the reason why my elderly male cousin used to beat me up. No one could tolerate my femininity, the kids laughed at me, mocked me, and I didn’t have any friends. However, I didn’t care because my grandmother was always there.
One day, I walked in the street when a group of boys picked on me and yelled daloow (brat in Arabic, but often meaning sissy) in my face. They started to hit me, and my grandmother came from nowhere, screamed at them and told them never to bother me again. Out of nowhere, these boys started to hit my grandmother. As a brave and strong woman she was, she fought back. I never felt so tiny and less of a “man” for not protecting either myself or her.
Shortly after, I avoided going out and started to hide. I was just seven years old. Every time I had to go to a grocery store 20 meters away from my home, I was filled with anxiety, stressing myself, and panicking.
I was ashamed of myself for a long time and tried to hide my authentic self as much as I could. I hid it because I wanted to be a man; one who conceals his feelings and doesn’t express them. My trauma was deeper than the physical scars I used to get.
I felt sorry that I didn’t meet my mom's expectations after a terrible life that she had had. She had been forced to marry a man that was twice her age. In the end, she divorced him, but that wasn’t the end of the circle. From that moment, shaming never stopped, both from her family and community. She blamed herself the day I admitted to her that I’m attracted to men. She could always see that her son was saibathai (lady-like in Tigrinya). “Sebaya khoon!”, she used to say, “be a man!”. Today I don’t blame her. That was the only way she knew, the way she was taught, the way she thought was right. I knew I could not rely on her. That was why I didn’t ask for her help when I got harassed and almost raped by a few of my relatives. Who would take a “man’s” rape seriously anyway?
After many years, she put my future in the first place: she told me to go to Sweden and apply for asylum. Slowly and gradually, I had begun to accept more and more both my femininity and sexuality. I realized that all these bullies didn’t hate me – they hated my femininity or femininity overall. That was the moment when I thought I was finally stepping into freedom. Little did I know, that this freedom was actually not free or unlimited.
I waited for my residence permit for two years, and I moved to Stockholm. I was aware and proud of who I was, but I was still hiding my identity because I didn’t want to put myself in danger. I lived with heterosexual people in migration housing. I was placed with almost 20 men in an accommodation facility. I felt afraid and insecure.
I started to go to RFSL and learn more about homosexual and queer-related topics at the same time. After some time, the authorities moved me from Stockholm to Perstorp, a little town in the northwest of Skåne. I was surrounded by either conservative Swedish voters for Sverigedemokraterna or conservative Arab Muslims. I felt I still could not overcome the oppression that I felt in Saudi Arabia. It felt like I had never left Riyadh.
Sweden brought an opportunity to finally date persons of the same sex, but it has had an unexpected dynamic. Even in a Swedish gay world, femininity is not desirable. It is something that makes other gay men refuse you, not just sexually and romantically, but also avoiding being associated with me in a social or friend-like way. "No feminine,” "no Arabs,” "no fats" is what I have read on people's dating profiles such as Grindr, Scruff, Planet Romeo, or Hornet. And I am all of it. What hurt me also was the fact that many times when I wrote to someone, I got a reply that said: "I don’t desire blacks.”
This is a man’s world; this is a white world, this is a heterosexual world. And I’m a fat, black, Muslim, queer, bigender and feminine person in it. A person who is tired of patriarchy and a heteronormative society. A person who is aware that there are people who suffer even to a greater extent from these evil forces. I’m more privileged than a black transgender woman, but I still do not meet your beauty, race, or cisgender standards. Give us a smile and be kind to us if we ever meet: the children in us crave it.
To hear more stories like Kiki's, have a look at RFSL Youth's new magazine.
RFSL Ungdoms vision är en värld fylld av kärlek och respekt där alla hbtqi- ungdomar är, lever och uttrycker sig som de själva vill.