Every evening, I wipe the make-up off my face and change out of my tight clothes, rearrange my features to become Hussein (the fake me) and clear away all traces of Rosa (the real me). I make sure that Hussein is well dressed and has a clean face and hair before I return home where I live with my family in Istanbul’s central Aksaray area.
I leave Rosa flung on the bed next to my beloved Mustafa with her bright lovely clothes and ringing laughter and leave our house or marital nest, to resume being Hussein, the sad young man tired of frantically trying to please his father, heavy with shame and satisfied with the crumbs of affection that he receives from his mother.
Hussein and Rosa
I alternated between Hussein and Rosa for three years, during which I dodged my father’s doubts whenever I laughed loudly or moved in a way that did not fit his standards of masculinity and honour.
I played both roles perfectly and professionally. I lived according to my father's whims inside the house and according to my own inclinations outside, trying not to confuse the two characters until my cousin (also my brother in law) ran into me in a nightclub in Taksim. He discovered that Rosa, who was holding her boyfriend's hand, was me, his brother-in-law.
He spat on my face in front of everyone, and did not hesitate to insult me, beat me and threaten to kill me if I stepped on Syrian soil. Of course, he told my father and family what he saw.
Death threats, locked up in my room, beatings with a water hose, hurtful insults and deprivation from food and drink ... These were all disciplinary measures that I knew too well, the usual tools my father reverted to to "make me a man", but this time this was not enough he called his brother, my uncle and my wife's father, and asked him to send her and my daughter Samah from Afrin to Turkey.
It was the first time that I did not feel hatred and envy for my wife, there was so much sadness and disappointment etched on her face that it forced me to feel for her and awoke feelings of guilt I had never felt before.
The Secret of the Half Man
I recall our arranged marriage, which my father planned years ago with great slyness, keeping from his brother my homosexuality and as he put it me being a “half man”. I also remember how he forced me to marry and have children as soon as possible or he would kill my mother for said she raised me a homosexual.
I was sixteen when I was forced to marry, and at seventeen I became the father of a daughter with an unknown destiny because as soon as I heard her first cries I knew I was not fit to be a father and that this child that had become my daughter was going to live in a diseased environment that would make her judge her father like all the others and forever condemn him.
Every evening, I wipe the make-up off my face and change out of my tight clothes, rearrange my features to become Hussein (the fake me) and clear away all traces of Rosa (the real me) and go to bed with my unfulfilled wife.
Mustafa taught me to accept my difference, to love myself, and to forgive my father, my family and even the neighbours’ son that I loved. He taught me that love is not shameful, that I am not the only gay man in this world
The crime I had committed at the time, was my confession to my neighbour of my love for him. He told my father, whose solution was to destroy me and obliterate my cousin’s future and that of my daughter in order to “hide my shame”
My fault is that I was born with different feelings, and my wife's fault is that she is my cousin as for my daughter Samah, her only fault is that she was born in this wretched part of the world.
My daughter was several months old when my situation worsened, I was refused work in several barbershops and everyone treated me as a sexual harasser, thanks to my “first love”, the neighbour’s son who took it upon himself to tell everyone what had happened.
My father's words and the shame that I bought upon my family, my wife's defeated look as she admonished me for not being able to live up to my marital duties, and the crying of my daughter who was born deaf, calamities came in a great surge and took their toll on me so I submitted, I left everything and escaped to Turkey.
In Turkey, finding a job at a Syrian barbershop wasn’t difficult. No one here knows "the shameful story of Hussein who fell in love with the neighbour's son”. So I carefully hid my identity. I chose my clothes, my hairstyle, the tone of my voice, and even the way I walked very carefully for fear that the reputation that I fled from would come and haunt me. I was also avoiding meeting with people from my old neighbourhood or the children of neighbours who also fled from Afrin to Turkey.
For months, I managed to be Hussein whose father was proud of until I fell in love again, this time I fell in love with my barbershop colleague.
None of my charades could hide my love for Mustafa, I would weep all night because of this curse that had befallen me. Why couldn’t I get rid of these feelings? Why can't I love my wife?
The whispers of colleagues and their rising laughter revealed their judgement of my actions which it seems had exposed the truth of my feelings. When Mustafa came into the salon, I would speak and act with the idiocy of a lover. The whispers of colleagues turned into public ridicule, and humiliating words, which made me lose control of myself and my actions and my skills at work declined and I began to relive what I had gone through before. My condition deteriorated and my work was seemingly at stake until one day Mustafa came in and before our mocking colleagues declared that he shared my feelings of love.
Rosa Is Born
Mustafa taught me to accept my difference, to love myself, and to forgive my father, my family and even the neighbours’ son that I loved. He taught me that love is not shameful, that I am not the only gay man in this world, and that there is no need to be ashamed of my feelings.
I became acquainted with a new society in which my sexual orientation was not shameful, nor were my feelings a crime that deserved punishment and ostracizing. We started organizing recreational and awareness activities with other gay men and women of different nationalities, and learned a lot about our rights as refugees and homosexuals. A Turkish LGBTQ organization monitored our mental and physical health and built up our self-confidence, and I begun to build a peaceful relationship with myself and society.
Mustafa chose a new name for me to start fresh with him away from the injustice of my family and my self-hatred; I became Rosa, who wears what she likes and acts as she likes. I threw away the fake clothes and character of Hussein and lived as Rosa, revelling in my newly found freedom and the feelings that I did not get to experience before.
I can walk, talk and appear the way I want without expecting negative reactions or looks that condemn my difference, it made me love life in Turkey. I also became brave enough to make new friends, this helped me learn Turkish and a little English.
But this joyful life lasted only months, after which my family came to Turkey in search of safety and because of their dire circumstances, I was forced to live with my father in the same house.
Deportated to Idlib
Although I dreamed of my father and family returning to Syria, especially after my father decided to punish me and bring my wife and daughter to Istanbul, their deportation to Idlib was a nightmare that turned my life into hell.
I began to see my daughter Samah differently, and to draw a future free from the shame that would follow her when I grew up, she was deported with my family by the Turkish authorities for not having a temporary protection card. Life slapped me in the face again and denied me the chance to change my daughter's fate.
At the same time, my father insists that I return to Idlib so I can remain under his watch, completely dismissing the danger that awaits me there with the excuse that “Turkey helps to corrupt people” and that he had secured a job for me in construction with my uncle.
I tried reaching out to the SPoD organization which assists LGBT refugees, but most of them are avoiding adopting our cause, especially after confirming that they have no authority over recent decisions by the Turkish authorities to deport Syrians.
Living Between Two fire
In Turkey, I walk away from the police for fear of imprisonment and deportation at any moment because I do not have a residence permit or temporary protection card, so I had to quit my job and started to rely on money I had saved in the hope of travelling with my daughter to Europe. I had given more than half of it to my family.
In Idlib, I will bring shame to my daughter, especially after her mother and I moved to my uncle's house. Also, there my father waits for me, full of rage at me and my mother, who conceived this curse that he is forced to live with his entire life. And there is also my Uncle and cousins who long for revenge….