My name is A, and I am a twenty-eight-year-old Arab Muslim Palestinian. I come from a society that will never accept I am gay. I am well educated, successful, and I speak four languages. Social media has made it easier for me to chat with friends from all over the world. A few months ago, I met a sixty-five-year-old Jewish man from Israel online, which further complicates our relationship. I have fallen in love with him. I have never felt toward another man the way I feel toward him. We have managed to meet a few times, but it is very hard. I don’t want to get married to a woman.
I have three problems: (1) I am from Palestine and he is from Israel; (2) I cannot tell my family about this relationship, and it would be difficult to meet him in another country without some explanation to them; and (3) I have been thinking of ending my business to move somewhere so I can be with this man. I would like to hear your opinion on my situation.
Thank you for sharing your story with me. I know that even telling me this involves some risk to you. I frequently hear from others who live in cultures hostile to homosexuality, particularly Muslims and Arabs from the Middle East; however, your situation has some unique circumstances. Even here in the United States, where same-sex marriage is legal, some men are caught in the crucible with the volatile elements of culture, religion, and sexuality.
You said you are Muslim, but you did not comment on the role your faith plays in your life. Since many believe that the Qur’an specifically prohibits homosexuality, have you resolved that tension for yourself? It seems you may have. Some of the Muslim men with whom I correspond find this to be as difficult a barrier as the one between you and Israel. I address some of these cultural barriers in another essay.
As I see it, your struggle is composed of three different issues: (1) being gay in an Arab Muslim country; (2) loving someone whom you would be prohibited from loving, even if he were a woman; and (3) loving an older man, which many of your gay similar-age peers find difficult to accept even here in the United States.
What is the life you want? I would expect your answer to be, I want what everybody wants: a normal life—to go to work and return home where my beloved waits for me. It seems like such a simple wish, but for you, it is especially complicated.
You are obviously an intelligent, hardworking, and motivated man to have had such success at such a young age, particularly in a country where many challenges create obstacles. You see a problem and then fix it, but this situation has no easy fixes.
You love this man, perhaps in a way you never thought you could love another man. You may feel that he presents your one chance at happiness. Sadly, all relationships have risks, and the primary risk is losing the one you love. When you love someone, you cannot just close down your love for him because it is inconvenient. I suggest you celebrate the excitement of these newly discovered feelings and try not to look too far ahead. Let the future unfold as it will. The most important lesson for you to take away from this is that you can love another man and can be loved in return. If any shame remains about loving a man, let go of it.
Here you are now; the life you want is not immediately available to you. You feel an urgent wish to achieve the same things you see your friends have as they move forward toward their dreams. But right now, it is necessary to settle for something less than that dream. You must make compromises that others are not required to make, but you have learned how to sacrifice momentary pleasures to obtain what you desire.
Sometimes a compromise is all that is available. Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and masturbation are all compromises, but at this time, those may be all you have available. Even with these resources, you must be careful to avoid discovery because being in love can make one careless.
Finding a supportive and accepting community will challenge your relationship. Your family and friends will not understand and may actively disapprove of it for religious and cultural reasons, and they may reject it because of the age difference and homophobia. New love often blinds one to these impediments, but as it matures you will need a network of friends who accept you without judgment. An exclusive relationship burdens it when it tries to be all things for each partner. Conflict inevitably occurs, and friends can help smooth those troubled waters.
I think the best longer-term alternative is for you to figure out how to meet him in places that would allow more freedom to openly express your love for him. Fortunately, you have some financial resources unavailable to many. It would require you not to be totally honest with your family about the reasons for the trip, but you are a clever man. You can find a legitimate, business-related reason to travel. Then you wouldn’t have to lie directly to your family; rather, you would be able to withhold the whole truth from them.
Your family will want you to marry. Your decision not to marry may be difficult to explain to them. Some of the men I talk with have married or plan to in order to create safety for themselves. Being married would facilitate going into Israel, but it would mean deception and betrayal to your wife. This is an ethical dilemma that I cannot solve for you.
You are young, so time is on your side to let this unfold. Of course, you may be feeling some sense of urgency to find a solution so you can manifest all the wonderful things you are now feeling. At sixty-five years old, your friend may feel more of a sense of urgency than you do, but as an older man, he also has more life experience to understand the realities of this difficult situation.
You mentioned your wish to continue your business, and I agree that this should be a priority. In whatever way this unfolds, your success will open more and more options to you as you get older. Also, if you give up the business for him, you may begin to feel you have sacrificed too much and resent him for it, which would be destructive to your relationship.
Don’t give up on this relationship too soon, although now you may not be able to see an acceptable resolution. It may be that the relationship cannot move forward, but that is why I suggest you live in the present, not the future. Make the best of it under these difficult circumstances. As an old man, I can tell you that life has a way of unfolding in unexpected ways. Let the future be a surprise.