I was born in southern Lebanon in a town called Saida. That part of Lebanon is mainly Muslim and is extremely conservative and homophobic.
Actually, gay does not even exist for them. There was a culture of men having sex with men, but it was never talked about. People pretty much knew I was gay because I was always out-there in the way I dressed and so on.
As a result, I was constantly bullied when I was growing up. At the end of the school day I used to hide until everyone left and I knew it was safe to walk home.
I used to call the walk from home to my father’s work the walk of shame. There were always people standing on the street who would abuse me as I walked past. The most intense situation was when I had stones thrown at me when I was about 13. At school they spat at me. But I just learned to tune out.
Whenever I became friends with someone and they found out about my reputation, they immediately ended the friendship, even girls. Up to the age of 18, I didn’t have a single male friend.
The situation at home wasn’t any better: my Mum didn’t deal well with me coming out at 14. My Dad didn’t know and my brother used to call me names.
At many points I considered leaving, but I couldn’t do it because I loved my mother way too much at the time. From the age of 16 I would go to Beirut every weekend and then come back home for school.
In Beirut it was a bit more open, but it also depended on your social class and education. I studied business at university in Beirut. I also did some modelling and hosted TV talk shows.
Because of the bullying, when I was growing up, I always felt uncomfortable socially and that affected me when I moved to Beirut. I didn’t form friendships straight away. I would avoid contact with straight people in case they found out I was gay, and I was always conscious of the way I behaved.
The turning point was excelling at university. I got really high grades and made sure I was respected for my academic achievements. I was the first one of my uni friends to get a job after graduating. I moved to Dubai for it when I was 21 and I felt like I was repackaging my life.
But gay life in Dubai was really limited and after 10 months I was depressed, so I went to Kuala Lumpur because I had met a Malaysian guy. He said we had the choice of moving to Malaysia or Australia. I was apprehensive about moving to Australia because I had heard it was quite prejudiced, especially against Muslims and Lebanese.
But in 2004, my then partner came to work in Australia and I came to study. I started a Master of Business Administration, which I’ll finish next year.
I was a bit shocked when I arrived because I had thought Australia was heaven for gay men. I realised that you couldn’t get married and also I had problems because I wasn’t recognised on my ex-partner’s business visa.
Being Lebanese and Muslim also complicated things. I used to live in Paddington, and when I walked my dog I met some of the locals, who were extremely stuck-up. The first question would be where’s your accent from? and I would say Lebanon and then there was silence.
I eventually broke up with my partner from Malaysia and even found a job back in Dubai. But then I went to Fair Day before Mardi Gras and realised Sydney was too good to leave. I decided to stay here and finish university and then I met David about a month before he went into the Big Brother house this year and fell in love with him.
When David got out of the house, there were headlines everywhere along the lines of gay cowboy set to wed Muslim lover. I wondered why I was being identified as a Muslim when I am the least religious person I know.
I think one of the positive aspects of being with David is showing the public a strong gay relationship that survived three-and-a-half months of separation and is monogamous. David lives in Queensland most of the time and I am still in Sydney. I am planning to move up to Queensland and hopefully David and I will start a business.
Next week I’m taking part in an event called Chicken, Beef or Lamb? A Cultural Kebab, featuring various people from Middle Eastern backgrounds. I will be doing a short interview on stage about my background. Then I will be MC for the rest of the event. Other performers will be singing, dancing and reading poetry, and the proceeds from the night will help aid agencies in Lebanon.
I want to help out two Lebanese human rights organisations called Helem and Raynbow. They’re trying to remove an article from Lebanese law that gives the government the right to prosecute someone who is having unnatural sex.
They also help young people who have recently come out or are planning on coming out and provide housing for people who are abused or kicked out of their homes. If those organisations had existed when I was growing up I would have left my town long before I did.
Interview by Ian Gould
Chicken, Beef or Lamb? A Cultural Kebab is on 10 and 11 November, 7:30pm, at New Theatre, 542 King St, Newtown. Book on 9519 8958 or at the New Theatre website.