Chris Daniel (32)
On March, 12, 2021 Myriam and Chris had this conversation over Zoom. The transcript has been edited for brevity (kinda) and clarity.
Chris: androgynous and soft!
Myriam (AKA Mimi):
How are you doing in this weird world? And just for the folks at home: How do you describe yourself? What words, metaphors do you use? Has that changed over time? Has that changed in this, like, nebulous weird place of-we-exist-but only-in-the-internet-time of COVID?
That is a really good point I hadn't thought of that. I mean, so I identify as gay/queer. Sometimes a lesbian, depends on how I’m feeling, I guess. And what kind of audience I think is actually really important. Sometimes when I want to make things abundantly clear I say, “I’m a lesbian,” so that they’re like, “There’s no mistake here.” Um, but I think most of the time, I sort of identity as queer. I identify as cis and as a woman. But I’ve been recently having conversations with a friend about what being a woman means and you know, I think in society we’re a very kind of set ideal of what a woman looks like and should behave like. And you know, the dresses and the makeup have never ever been me. The kind of connection with ‘femme woman’ is really… I don’t connect with that. I connect more with being kind of androgynous and soft. I’m not slim, I’m kind of, you know, plus sized. But I do identify as a gay woman and, you know I feel like there is a connection between my sexuality and of being same-sex. But yeah, being a woman on its own, I feel disconnected from that.
I don't think that's changed a lot during this time; however, I feel like my mental awareness and state has shifted. I think… and there’s been a racial uprising since COVID happened, that has made me pay more attention to Black Lives Matter, to people of color, to myself, and my intersectionality. The place where I sit as a queer POC is, you know, something I think has shifted during this time. And that’s where I found the Parents and Friends of Coptic Queers group (PFCQ). I was seeking out that connection. I was seeking out that kind of - wanting to feel connected to people. So, I think this pandemic has shifted a lot for me in terms of where I see myself in my community. If that makes any sense at all.
M: Of course it does. Egyptians have a hard time seeing themselves in Africa. I don’t know if that predates colonialism and all its iterations. But, what does that mean? It’s an important question.
C: I met someone… all my best conversations are outside of the pub at about midnight…*laughter* I met someone at a pub and she was Black, and her partner was white. And we got chatting and she's like, “Where are you from?” and I said, “Oh, well I'm from Devon but my parents are from Egypt.” And she was like, “Why don’t you call yourself African?” And I was like, that’s interesting because I've never felt like I was included in an African family. I’ve never felt like - basically no one has ever asked me that before. You’re kind of just like, Egyptian/Arab. Like that section of North Africa that you’ve kind of been limited to. So, it was quite interesting that different people have different perceptions where Egypt sits and where it sits in the world. Which is quite interesting as well.
M: It’s weird, all of the stuff we make up to pretend that we’re different. *laughter*
I mean they have real consequences but it’s true. We have a lot in common. So getting into the Copticness, the queerness, this growing Coptic, queer community that’s starting to connect with each other. What is it like in Devon? Is this a country place? Is this a city place? What was it like to be you in this place as a child coming into your own?
C: So, Devon is a county but it’s very - there’s a city we lived about 20 miles away from. And it’s a naval port so there was a very big naval presence of white. It was very white but where we actually lived was in the middle of the countryside so it’s very isolated. And there's like two and a half miles to the nearest bus stop. So, you know, it was just, kind of, felt like an absolute age to get the bus anywhere. And the bus would come once a year, that kind of thing. *laughter*
It felt very isolating. It felt very far away. I didn't really recognize that I wasn’t white, if I’m honest, because everyone around me was white. But it's when I started realising the cultural differences is when I think as I was coming into my own, discovering my sexuality, the cultural differences really start to become very apparent to me. And I know you, Mena and I had a conversation before about bringing up my soon-to-have-baby and how we were disciplined. And we were shouted at and we were shamed and that was the culture. The culture is to kind of shame you in a way. And I had spoken to Lucy, my wife, about, “What if he’s like a little shit or something and he kicks someone?” And she was like, “We tell him if you kick someone, you know, there’s no playing in the park. We’ve gotta go home. You can't hurt people.” So I was like, “What?? Why can’t you just like shout at him??” And she was like, “No need for that. That doesn’t need to happen.” And I was like, “Shit. We’re having this discussion, like, six months before our baby is born. What the hell am I going to do?”
Chris and her wife Lucy kiss, both smiling
But actually it's just recognizing that the cultural differences were at play all the time and they were so ingrained. So my parents’ philosophy when they immigrated over here from Cairo, they decided they did not want us to be Egyptian. That was the deal, they wanted us to be British. So we didn't go to Arabic lessons we didn't sit down and learn Arabic, we didn't read or write in Arabic. We did eat Egyptian food but they were really adamant about us being British.
Now what British looks like, I’m not really sure. It’s not my parents’ fault - they didn't know that you can’t separate yourself (their culture, their upbringing) and cut it off: now you’re British, you’re not Egyptian. It was quite interesting in terms of upbringing and I feel like Michael, my brother, he’s 4 ½ years younger than me, had quite a different upbringing. My mum is Coptic and my dad is Catholic. There were no Coptic churches in the middle of Devon, obviously, so we went to Catholic church. My parents were very strict with me about going to church and I went every Sunday, I served on the altar, I was “obedient” as my mother tells me. And they spoke to me in Arabic so I never responded in Arabic, I responded in English. But you pick up the language just by listening. That’s why, when we’re on calls and the PFCQ group starts speaking in a bit of Arabic, I can understand what they're saying but I can’t really respond. I find it difficult to articulate back.
So, then I think, because of my upbringing - when I kissed a girl at a house party when I was like, 15. And I was like, “Oh it’s over. This is it now. So...shit. I’m not straight.” *wheeze laughter* And then it was game over. It was like, “Right. Here we go!” We went down this rocky rollercoaster of, “Oh shit, I’m gay,” and having to navigate that in secret for so long was - so yeah, that was a real turning point. Funnily enough I was talking about the girl I kissed at a house party earlier today. She was a really defining influence in my life. But you know I'm really grateful to her because she gave me an experience that actually really helped, you know? It was like, “Ok, yep, we’re about to hit a rollercoaster. But at least we’re on the rollercoaster, right? Not still waiting in the queue.” That’s kind of my upbringing in Devon. *laughter*
I wish I could show you the kind of like - it was so green! The countryside was so green, It was very quintessential England. You know, green, rainy, and there’s sheep everywhere, and there’s cows everywhere and there’s shit everywhere. It smells like shit. It smells like cow manure, and it was just such a comforting smell. It was like, this is my home. *laughter*
Yeah, I wish I could show you. And the school was (in hindsight) quite toxic. I'm very grateful for the privileged education that I had. But I found it very challenging being at school. I found it very difficult and I wasn't in - I wasn't academic. I was never good at exams because I don’t work well under pressure. I found the whole system very challenging and very exclusive. That was kind of my sense of upbringing when I was growing up in the middle of shitshow, cow-smelling Devon. *laughter*
M: At least the soil would have been fertile with all that shit.
C: It was very fertile, I cannot tell you. And it was just like, do you know what? I must have a photo of Dartmoor on my phone.
An old photo (taken with film) on the walk from our house towards the bus stop.
I remember taking this, it was early in the morning.
This is a photo of our driveway.
I think taking a photo of the gate was quite symbolic of me wanting to leave.
Dartmoor on my way back to my parents house.
C: It’s extraordinary. Dartmoor is quite flat because a lot of it… they built a lot of these runways for planes in World War II. So there’s just like these massive concrete slabs in the arse-end of nowhere and then there’s just green. It’s just so bizarre. It’s so weird. And there were parts of it that are still for army training. And there’s loads of myths and history behind it. Like there’s the Beast of Bodmin Moor and all this kind of weird shit. It’s quite a charismatic place. Yeah it’s a really interesting place, Dartmoor and where we grew up. But there you go: shitshow, fertile Devon.
M: I mean, I feel like it sounds different but it also seems really familiar. Like I am also in a very militarized area. There’s an Air Force Base that traditionally is where they test all the newest planes. Where all the test pilots come. They used to build the Space Shuttle out here and then they’d send it. There's some kind of “Plant 42” somewhere-
C: Oh, what’s that? What’s a Plant 42?
M: I think it’s where they test things. And there’s a prison. There’s something about the places that they choose to build prisons and they choose to build bases. Everything is suffused with just, aircraft. I grew up with this normalized sense of, “Airplanes are cool! Wouldn’t it be cool to be a pilot and shoot things?” I assumed that’s how it was. It’s weird to think back on it later. Where I’m like, “This is not what other people grow up with. There are places that”-well, the military is everywhere. But there are places that aren’t so infused with military culture. I have so many branching out questions. That’s why I’m like, stunned. Cuz my brain is like, “What?” *laughter*
Let’s start with-because I can’t resist - class. Here in America we are class-dumb: we don’t talk about class, we have very minimal understandings of class, we don’t understand when class is being taught to us. It’s one of those things that Americans love to be intentionally ignorant about. It sounds like it was a very discipline heavy school, similar to how your parents were like, “Shame is the tool!” Did class also fit into this like hierarchical, disciplinary thing?
C: So, I think there was a really clear divide between - I guess some people view the military as being quite working class? And I guess the conversations about class in the UK are probably not really talked about very much because people have a lot of shame around class, and sometimes for good reason. But I think the thing was, there were a lot of kids in our school who were working class and I would say for myself, like, my dad came from a working class background. I think he’s had quite a lot of trauma, he’s never really spoken about. My dad’s mum died in childbirth. His eleven-year-old sister died from leukemia. Classically, the health care was so bad. His dad was very unwell too. So, my dad cared for his dad and for his two other living sisters and he was walking to school every day walking to university every day. No money for anything.
So when my dad went to medical school in Cairo, this idea of social mobility is something that was like, I feel, much easier to do in Cairo than it was to do in the UK. So dad’s ability to move from relative poverty to become a doctor, you know, a respected profession, and then to immigrate to this country and practice that profession was massive. But also changed his class, you know, changed him from working class to middle class quite rapidly. But also from two very different cultures. You know I think middle class in Egypt is very different from here and the same for working class. Not to say that there’s not a ridiculous amount of poverty in the UK as well.
There was all this pressure of feeling like I had, I had to perform and I had to be middle class and doing well was quite intense. There was definitely clear divides of different people in school from different classes. It was a really funny little place and it was just - I think it was toxic in that way. They were trying to push kids to like go to Oxford and Cambridge, go and do medicine, go and do this. But actually, we were all just a bit of a letdown. So there was this feeling of this mentality, that we had to be high achievers, even if we weren’t. I really didn’t enjoy it. You know now that I'm having a child, I really don't want to ever put my kid through that ever. I just think it's toxic. I think it’s really toxic. But I say all this knowing full-well that I have a huge privilege of education as well. So, I'm holding both, if that makes sense. I'm holding the privilege and the toxicity.
M: Completely. They should be able to be separated. They shouldn’t have to go hand in hand. So let’s talk about the roller coaster, right. How was the rollercoaster? Specifically, the eye-opening kiss and the gay rollercoaster after that. What was that like, riding it, who did you pass along the way? What was it like navigating those spaces, right? Was it like all this is much more open or you felt the same things? What was-is it like? Cuz you’re still on it! *laughter*
C: Just about, fucking clinging on. So, do you know what? It started off as a real trickle. It started off as a little trickle seeing tiny things on TV. And I was like, “Ooooooh, that’s two girls kissing. That’s quite nice.” And you know, and I was like, “Okay...” And then it kind of became a bit secretive so you know like kind of seeking it out but not overtly. And I remember so clearly when - there’s a channel 4 TV show called Sugar Rush. The girl who played the main character had also played a kind of character that was on the BBC that was like a, it was a Jacqueline Wilson book, young audience for between 8 and 13 years old. This girl was suddenly-she played a character for 8-13 and then she was playing this girl who had moved to Brighton with her family and she was gay. And I was like, “Oh my god, this is mad. This is the closest connecter I’ve ever had!” And she fell in love with this girl called Sugar and, I’ll admit, Sugar was a bit of a dick. She wasn’t a nice character. She really mucked her around. But Sugar was Black. So to see a queer Black woman on telly was fucking mind-blowing. I remember like watching it in secret because I was so scared my parents were gonna see me watching two girls kissing on telly. And then stuff like other things started to come out. I remember watching Boys Don't Cry when I was really young and that had a profound impact on me as a movie. And then I went to this house party. So basically the rollercoaster started by seeing little things on television, like, “Oh, I’m connecting with this.” When I say I’m connecting, I’m saying it was turning me on, that’s basically what I’m trying to say. *laughter* That’s what was happening. And I was like, “Oh, this is, this is interesting.” And then I went to this house party and the girl that I kissed, she was my friend at school. And she was incredibly beautiful and we walked down to the end of the garden and she said, “Chris, come on. We have to kiss.” And I was like, “No we can’t??” In my head I was-
M: It’s haram, lady! It’s haram. *laughter*
C: It’s haram! Exactly! In my head, I was like, “It’s wrong. We can’t do this.” She kissed me anyway. And I remember when I kissed her, I felt it throughout my whole body and I was like, “Oh. My. God. This is the piece that has been missing.” And I absolutely knew what it was. I knew in that moment, what it was. And I was about 15 or 16 when that happened and then I started my A levels so like, the last two years of high school. And I remember that whole time I was like, “Just don't say anything to anyone. Just don't say it to anyone.” In my head, I was settling with the fact that I might be bisexual. You know it definitely didn’t go to gay. It was like, “I’m definitely bi.” And I didn’t speak to anyone about it. It was just so fearful and I was so scared about what was going to happen.
My whole parents’ marriage had completely disintegrated by this point and they were not speaking to each other. I really hated this bisexual girl that I was and that I was becoming. I really suffered a lot like in that time. So as magical as it was to kiss this girl, this wonderful amazing girl, I also battled with it in a way that I can’t really describe. I felt so alone.
For those two years, things got really bad, for those last two years of high school. I don’t know what the equivalent is in America, you have like AS levels and then A levels first year and second year. And you choose 3 or 4 subjects and I did Art, Photography, Biology, and Chemistry. And I got like A, C, E, U. I was just doing so badly. And my parents were absolutely crucifying me, they were just, I was just the biggest waste of fucking space to them. And I worked really, really hard and I ended up getting A, B, C, D which I was really pleased with. And I got into university which was the whole point, right?
And I remember all my friends, we’re all 18. And I’m the youngest in the year, my birthday is in July and the school year starts in September, obviously. So yeah I was kind of like a baby of the year and I remember everyone was like, “Oh my, oh god, I’m gonna go on a gap year!” I was like, “Oh god I cannot fucking wait to get out of this house. I am not gonna go on a gap year, I’m gonna go straight to university so I am out of this house.” You know? I was like, “I don’t want to spend two months gallivanting around fucking Thailand!” And then you spend another 10 months at home. I was like, “No, thanks”.
I went to university straight away. I went in - oh shit, so we finish school in that June/July and I went to university that September so I only turned 18 for a month. So there was this sudden difference between becoming an adult - relatively speaking, becoming an adult - you know, going to uni and still absolutely being a child, you know. I was so like, I was 18, I could barely keep myself alive! You know, washing your clothes and feeding yourself properly and not just eating chips all the time. I went to uni and I live in these halls. Your first year you’re allowed to live on the campus and then after that you have to move out so they only reserve the campus for the first year students. So, I moved in there and that was my chance. That was my opportunity to be like, “I'm not straight.” And I went in being like, “I'm bi!” And I remember Vicky - who I’m still very good friends with now - was like, “You’re not bi…” *laughter*
She was like, “We’ll let you go on that journey.” So she was absolutely incredible. That was the real start of the rollercoaster. And then yeah, really fell into - I mean I had no structure at all so I really wasn’t looking after myself. Vicky and my flatmates actually, were phenomenal. Vicky, like, dragged me to counselling. She was like, “They have a therapist at uni. We’re taking you.” And I was like, “No, I don’t want to talk to anyone.” And she sat there and made me do it so she was, just brilliant. She was just wonderful.
I think in my second year I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m not bi, I'm gay.” And I joined the LGBT group and you know, you end up shagging everyone in the group so, you’re just like, “Oh shit, this is really awkward now.” But kind of a rite of passage so it was wonderful. And I also remember watching the L Word like, at uni. I remember the L Word coming out in the UK and I was like, “What. Is. This. Magical. Gold.” Even though when you actually watch it like, it's actually shit -
C: …and really really transphobic. And really, like, not well-written, at all. But that’s all we had! It was the only, like, queer stuff we had. Yeah it was kind of strange.
And it actually made me very consciously aware of how people also saw me as a lesbian. People would also visualize me like a man. A lot of straight women would think I was being predatory and I think that happens a lot with lesbians. Not just straight women, anyone sees lesbians as being like a male equivalent of like being really dominant and domineering. Yeah, I experienced a lot of kind of homophobia from my peers in that respect.
M: Talk about - if you’d like - what it is like to be in the queer roller coaster in the UK as a Coptic person, or a person that was raised in the culture of being a Copt. To be Egyptian in these spaces. To be, as you mentioned before, a POC. Which I don't know if you identify personally as a POC but to be a POC at this time, in these spaces.
C: Yeah I mean I definitely do identify as a POC. I think, to be pretty honest, identifying as a queer Copt or/and as a POC in the UK right now is very lonely. I think there's a lot of-what's the word-I feel like we’re in an era right now, in a very Trump/Boris/Brexit era. And it’s palpable the kind of hatred in the air. I remember when Brexit happened and it was just before Trump was elected - it was only like 6 months before Trump was elected. I remember sitting in a pub with my friend and she said to me, she was like, “Something's going to happen.” She’s gay as well. I was like, “Yeah, I feel it.” You could feel like someone was going to attack you. It felt like someone was gonna hurt you because you’re gay or you’re a POC or whatever. It feels very isolating at the moment. And I think it feels very - there’s a lot of hatred to anyone who isn't straight, white, male at the moment. It definitely feels like that. I mean, like a couple of months ago I was, like, followed around the supermarket by the security guard. I think he just assumed that I was going to steal something. And then he stood behind me until I finished paying and then left. And I don’t know what he was discriminating against. Because I’ve got short hair? Is it because I like, look androgynous? Because I’m you know, Arab? I have no idea what it was but he clearly had some prejudice about me. He was not happy about me wandering around the supermarket - this was my local supermarket that I’ve been going to since I’ve lived in this flat for 8 years! You know, it’s that kind of, it’s very palpable. It feels like something’s gonna happen. Does it feel like that in the US? Does it feel palpable? Does it feel scary?
M: Yes. But also I’m coming to terms with the fact that it's always felt that way. There’s like a baseline. What you said, “I didn't know that I wasn’t white because I was surrounded by white people.” Not that this town doesn't have POCs. There was a shift when my family moved. It's literally divided: East Side, West Side, train tracks, poor, rich. I slowly came to terms with the fact that how people saw me didn’t connect with how I saw myself, like a regular human being just going through life. No. The more places I went to, I was just like, “Oh! I should just be uncomfortable all the time because I don't know how people are going to perceive me.” So now that it's like higher or it's more blatant and I'm like, “Is it really different or has my awareness changed of how I've internalized all of the stuff?” Or that I have internalized that I have to be hypersensitive to everything going on around me in order to keep myself and other people safe. That I constantly police my behavior to keep myself safe. And that I was always like, “I did something. I did something for people to behave differently towards me.” I mean it’s not universal but in that sense I don't think it's any different than it was before. Here it’s very subtle, but it’s everywhere. It's in the ground, it’s in the air. When it's blatant I don't know what to say. But every once in a while there will be an interaction where my whole body is like, “Danger! Move away slowly.” *awkward laughter*
M: I think my relationship with how my body was reacting to different situations has changed. Where before I’d just be like, “Oh! *in a sing-song voice* We’re just gonna be tense all the time! And depressed! And fearful! But it’s normal, right? Everybody feels this way!” To now being like, “Oh! My body is trying to tell me: We need to stop doing this now. Let’s go over there. Over there seems nice. Let’s go over there. Like, this person sucks! Let’s stop talking to them. Perhaps. That would be good.” I have a problem with seeing myself too much like other people see me or being concerned about how I am perceived at any given moment. I’m trying to learn to stop absorbing it.
C: Where do you feel safe?
M: Um, I’m learning what that’s like. I don’t think I actually know what it's like to not be afraid. That something’s about to go wrong. I’m too conditioned for, “You gotta be prepared. You gotta be prepared! Anything could happen. Let’s get ready!” But I don't think that only comes from this environment. I think this environment is the new one. I think it's also historical. I think it comes from my parents. I think it comes from what happened to them. Or memories that aren’t even mine. Or behaviors that I observed from my father or my mother or my community. Things that I can't necessarily process but absorb. So safety is a thing that I'm trying to learn is real. Like, hearing you say that, I’m like, I don’t know how to be in a moment and not ask 10 minutes later, “Was that legit? Is this ok? Is something about to be compromised? Am I prepared? Did I say too much?” So there’s an anxiety coping mechanism that sort of permeates everything.
C: Yeah. There are aspects of that that I really resonate with. You know, I feel. Lucy and I differ in that quite a lot. She’s white, femme, she’s quite like, stealth? She can pass as a straight woman in the street - a straight beautiful woman. Whereas I’m the opposite: plus-sized, androgynous, short hair, wear androgynous clothing. When I go out in the street just the sense of anxiety, the tightness I feel is instant. And it’s such… I don’t feel safe outside. Going for walks and things like that. We’re in a city so it's really different walking in a city than it is in the countryside. I don’t feel safe in the way that Lucy feels safe. I know we feel very differently about going outside. So, I really, I do, I hear you. I hear how it sounds like it’s very constricting. Like it feels all-consuming in a way. For you, I mean. I don’t know if it does feel like that.
M: There are times when I can pass but this is not up to me. This is not a decision that I can make. I can obsess about the things that can help me pass but, in the end, I don’t get to decide. So for people who have no choice, I imagine it is much worse. That’s bizarre and frustrating.
M: You mentioned how it's lonely to be all the things that you are in the current world. The intensity to be white-and-straight-and-male. Do you feel like others in the queer community who share some of these burdens in this insane nightmare that we live in, do they try to understand how it’s different for you? I imagine Lucy takes the time to understand but do you find that a common experience or is that unique to her?
C: Do you know what, I have such incredible friends and a lot of the friends I have that are queer do give me a lot of space to kind of - I would say that almost all of my queer friends are white, white women actually. They always give me the space and ask me questions and they want to discuss with me. And it’s also just not - I'm not trying to educate them. They’re trying to listen and they’re trying to learn and that’s so lovely because I feel like I’m heard. It’s not me being like, “Right. You need to learn this, this, this.” It's so lovely that people are actually asking me questions, actively. So, I’d say that my friends are actually really excellent. I think there are some times that I find conversations quite difficult and I wouldn't say they’re with queer people necessarily.
Here’s a recent example, there have been conversations that I’ve had since the Megan Markle interview with people that I’ve been like, “I can't believe I'm sitting here telling you, of course this is racist. Of course it is.” And people are like, “Well you know, Megan, she did a cut and run.” And I’m like, “You have no concept of what it's like to be a WOC. Her choices, her truth, her decisions that she makes has nothing to do with you.” I ran away from my family, Mimi. Like I ran away from-I don’t speak to my mum, my dad. I’ve been cut off from my cousins, my aunties, my uncles. I’ve been cut off from Cairo. There is a reason that people leave things: to protect themselves. You know we’ve just been having a conversation about safety. I am so triggered by seeing my family because of the trauma that I have. Almost every time I drink to excess like after I've seen them. You know? I drink so much that I can’t remember what I’ve done. And I’ll sit in the shower and I’ll cry.
People very flippantly make comments and remarks about things that they don't have any comprehension of. And I’m not saying that I know what Megan Markle has been through, I don’t. But I have some level of empathy that there’s a very good reason that she left. There’s a good reason why I split from my family, you know, that there's a good reason that I protect myself. And I think it's astounding, like, people's ignorance. So, to keep having that conversation can be quite exhausting.
I feel I have excellent friends who are really willing to share the space - and offer me a space, actually, not just give me a space. To share with them the kind of challenges that I’ve had in my culture, the challenges that I’ve had in my upbringing. I feel like having this conversation with people about race and about sexuality can be really chal - it can be exhausting. It's just energy draining. It just makes me angry because I'm like, “Stop being so fucking thick, you know?” I realize it's rude but - like people are deliberately being obtuse. People are deliberately not wanting to see how stupid they’re being. I remember I was standing outside a pub, I was having a cigarette and these guys were like - I was with a girl and we were just chatting away. And these guys were like, “Oh, I bet you wouldn’t know what to do with a dick.” But I was just like, I don’t even know where to start with that fucking comment. Like, where do I start? The sexism, the misogyny, the homophobia? So I find these kinds of things quite draining.
And I think being with Lucy… Lucy has found it challenging to stand up for me. You know I think she's found it, I'm speaking for her now which isn’t fair, but I think it's been a learning curve for her to have the kind of strength to say, “No, that’s not OK, you can’t say that.” And I’m really proud of her for doing that because I’m the one who’ll be like, “Hang on a minute. What was that?” That’s not in her nature. So she’s really gone against her nature to kind of, you know, fight for me which is right and wonderful. But I’m proud of her for doing something that doesn't feel like something she would normally do. So yeah I feel very protected and connected and supported by my queer friends, definitely. I think my straight friends - mmm, actually most of my straight friends are really good too but you pick and choose who your friends are. You know? You have a choice. So there's probably a good reason why they are quite good at offering me a space because I’ve been like, “Yes, you, you can be my friend.
M: You can stay!
C: “You? You’re not nice, you’re not offering me a space? Goodbye.” So yeah, I'm quite lucky in that respect but like I said, you choose at the same time so.
M: 100%. It's hard work and it should not be on you or anybody else who experiences marginalization to explain what it’s like to be marginalized. To be ignored. To be oppressed. That is not fair. Also, these people are capable of understanding. They have absolutely every ability to understand. Suppressed? Perhaps. But capable.
C: Totally, totally.
M: Absolute laziness, absolute privilege in not having to learn. So fuck ‘em.
C: Correct. There’s this wonderful comedian, Gina Yashere. She’s British and she’s moved to LA? Somewhere nice. Somewhere nice and hot. She’s Black and she’s also queer. Sharon Osborne did some interview about Piers Morgan being racist. Sharon Osbourne basically lost her shit at a Black TV presenter. And she was like, “You tell me how I’m being racist! I’m not racist! Mehmehmeh.” Absolutely going off on one. The presenter was so fucking calm, so collected. And Gina Yashere was like, “Can you: A. Imagine if the roles were reversed?? Like, there’s no way that a Black woman would have a job on telly if the role was reversed.” And also she was so frustrated and angry that Sharon Osbourne was demanding that a Black woman educate her on why she was being racist. It was like, “Don’t be so fucking stupid! Go and read a book! Go and do something, you idiot!” Ah, I - I just find It insufferable. And we all learn in different ways. So you know like, for me, I find that listening to people’s stories are really crucial to me learning. But there also needs to be a space for people to listen to our stories too, you know?
M: I agree with you. There is importance in hearing from the ones that are the most marginalized. But I worry about how the powers that be tend to use that as a way to divide us. Oh, you know, not everyone who suffers the same things is gonna get the same attention. And I don’t think that people speaking up and standing on the front lines feel that way. I don’t think Black people feel, “I don’t want to hear from other people that are suffering the same things.” I don’t think that’s true. There’s an active, very old ability by media and the state to be like, “Do you really have things in common with these people who are different from you? Do you really feel the same way? Are you really suffering…as much??”
C: That is the whole - you have captured capitalism in that sentence, haven’t you?
C: That’s the whole point is to keep us divided. We’ve seen from this pandemic how weak this capitalist structure is. The GDP of our - you know our income of the year just *psh* just collapsed in a couple of months. And it just shows how weak and fragile this state is. Suddenly no jobs, gone. Everything had gone. And then they opened up the pubs for, like, a month and they were like, “No, we’re fine guys, don’t worry about it.” But you have summed up, essentially, the essence of capitalism. And there’s the question of - we certainly get a lot here, I don’t know if it’s the same in the US - but we get a lot of, “Oh, all the people who are scrounging on benefits. All the people who are taking the welfare state money.” And you’re like, “What about the fucking tax evaders at the top??” *laughter*
But that’s what they’ve done. They've made you think that it's this tiny percentage of people who are at the bottom, who are getting pennies from the government - we’re talking nothing. Even our state pension is like five thousand pounds a year. It’s like - fucking nothing. That’s not even rent. So, you know, people are getting really small amounts in welfare and they make you forget about the people who are just like, “Don't worry about paying your 20% tax. Don’t worry about paying 50% tax. We’ve got it, we’re cool.” Amazon, Apple, all these things - fucking Starbucks - not paying tax. And yet we’re chasing after tiny tuppence. That some of capitalism is that whisper of, “Are you sure you’re the same? Are you sure you connect with these people?”
M: “You’re not as bad off as them, don’t complain! You’re pretty lucky.”
C: Exactly! Exactly. Bezupt. Literally, exactly. You’re completely right. Completely.
M: I like to think of it as a nightmare. It reminds me that I’m living somebody else’s dream but it’s a nightmare to me. *laughter* But it's fragile, like you said, it's not really functioning. And it’s just a flimsy difference between like, “I accept this perception and I don’t.” And I don’t. It’s comforting to me to be like, “I don't agree. There is an alternative way of seeing this. There’s an alternative way of living and this is not the only way to live.” Otherwise it's just like, “Well, what can you do?” A lot actually, let’s talk about it! So we’ll just bring it down again-
M: No no! No apologies necessary, I went into it too. I get very excited about all of this stuff. And I was impressed by myself that I didn’t say capitalism first. *laughter* I’m like, “Oh Myriam, you did good! You didn’t say it first. Somebody else did. Good job, you.” Yeah, because I talk about it all the time. People are like, “Is it really capitalism?” And I’m like, “Yes it’s always capitalism!”
C: The whole structure is, the whole thing.
M: My therapist is like, “Is it capitalism or is it survival?” And I’m like, “Dammit woman, do I have to fire you??” *laughter*
So dream with me, then. Let's remove ourselves from this stupid white man's nightmare. From this nightmare in which we don't see what's in common, that you are alone, that we are all individually alone as Coptic queers, that the Coptic world doesn’t embrace us, that there’s no room for us. What does a Coptic queer community look like to you? What does it feel like? What does it smell like?
C: So for me, it means physically holding you all. What I would give to give you all a hug - like a real cuddle - it would just mean, I can't tell you how emotional it makes me feel to know that there are people like me in the world. You know? I have felt so isolated for so long - as I've said many times to you before - and I just didn't know that there was anyone who was gay and Egyptian - let alone being gay and Coptic. Like I had no idea that people were even in existence. So for me, my dream would be to see you all in one place and sit with you and talk with you forever-well not forever because you probably need to sleep at some point. *laughter* But you know, sit and talk and eat and share and connect and just like, almost have a retreat. Literally have a week for a retreat. You know, we're going to be in this random cabin somewhere and we’re all going to talk about being gay for like a whole week. And you can bring - what are those things you guys make? S’mores? We just have marshmallows but you guys do marshmallows and crunchy thing. What is it?
M: We’re a land of addicts, right? We gotta make everything a drug. *laughter* Graham crackers and gotta get that chocolate in there. Gotta get that endorphin rush. You gotta get it, you gotta get it.
C: So you guys can bring the s’mores. I will bring the cheap crappy beer. That is my dream. I mean I can't do it now because I've got a baby. I mean I can but I couldn’t do it soon but you know if it was something that was happening in three or four years I would fly over to America to see you guys. Honestly it would be such a dream.
I think what it looks like in reality for me - the space that we have at the moment, like on Zoom where you have the PFCQ group is so wonderful. But I think I feel so overwhelmed because I'm so excited to see people. That I'm like, “Blahblahblahblah!” I’m like, “Let’s talk! Let’s keep talking! Why is it only lasting an hour?” I love the groups. I love love love the groups. And I love attending them and will attend them if I can when I'm not too tired. Yeah I just got so excited and I swear a lot and I realize that that’s really intense but-
M: No. Whoever told you you were intense or that you couldn’t be androgynous because of your size-no! Fuck them. You are not intense. You are loving. You’re expressive. You are strong in your vulnerability and you care.
C: I do care quite a lot.
M: And I second your dream and I do think that could be a reality and I would add that that space should also be inclusive of the future baby and Lucy. Even if she’s like, “What are you guys fucking talking about?” There should be a space.
C: Yeah, god, wouldn’t that be amazing? I can picture it now.
Tired looking faces! But a happy family.
Chris can be found online at @crispyduckling
All images courtesy Chris Daniel.
Myriam Bestowrous (AKA Mimi) is a facilitator, educator, writer, ex-social scientist, the co-founder of The Turn Left, and a member of Coptic Queer Stories.