Cyril Hanna (31)
NYC, New York
Hi! My name is Cyril. I bartend in Manhattan, and study International Business. I’m a total beach bum and spend summers in NYC on Fire Island and other gay beaches around the city.
I grew up in Atlanta, with my older sister who was like a second mother to me. She is 7 years older, and my brother is 4 years younger. My mother and father were civil engineers in Egypt but worked pretty low-paying jobs here. They struggled to give us a good life. There was a very dark side to our family dynamic. My father is an alcoholic, and growing up, he often beat us and my mother. His rage usually focused on me, because he knew I was gay before I knew what it was. The day I moved out, I fought with him after he attacked me for simply clipping my nails. Just after the ordeal, I sped down my parent’s driveway and never lived with them again.
My relationship to the Coptic church is complicated. I feel like an observer now, more than a participant. When I go to church, it feels like I’ve stepped thousands of years into the past; the history, rituals, and relics have a special place in my heart. But I’m also confronted with my own tangled past when I visit, which isn’t necessarily enjoyable. I have mixed feelings about the Coptic church, I seldom attend anymore--typically I only go for weddings and funerals. I would best describe the state of my beliefs as existing somewhere between nonexistence and spiritualism-held-on-by-a-thread. The church serves no practical or spiritual purpose in my life anymore, beyond the preservation of my Coptic heritage. This wasn’t always the case though, I was a pretty religious deacon who attended both vespers and liturgy regularly.
It’s hard to say when I first realized I was gay. I think I always somewhat knew before I had language for it. Coming to terms with it is a different story. I am out now, and don’t really care who knows, but that took some time. I don’t censor myself with Copts, Arabs, friends, family, or coworkers. I came out to my friends and most of my family when I was 17 or 18. My mother slapped me and spat on me, my sister was distraught, and my brother was disgusted. My extended family barely talks about it. While some don’t care, some do and typically ignore it. I still get a whack joke from my cousin in-law from time to time.
My mother still holds out a modicum of hope that I’ll marry a woman and have children. In recent years, my brother has become an ally and my sister questions her faith because she is having trouble reconciling her Orthodox beliefs as a result of my sexuality. She is a huge support in my life now, we’re close. I think years after I came out, a lot of Copts that I grew up with also began questioning the legitimacy of the Orthodox Church and its traditions, laws, and social mores.
I don’t really feel the need to reconcile my Coptic heritage and my gayness. My Coptic identity is built around the history of the culture in Egypt, our traditions, not the church’s beliefs. Being gay isn’t my whole identity either, it’s simply one of my characteristics. That said, I definitely feel more connected to LGBTQ+ community than to the Coptic community. I’m thankful for a loving and supportive gay community here in NYC. There is a massive Egyptian population here– in fact, a large Arab population. Most Arabs don’t really notice or care to question me about it. That said, I’ve only met one other Coptic gay person before.
Visibility is a Good Place to Start
My advice to Coptic queers who are looking for acceptance is to look within yourself for it first. It sounds like a cliche, but we have spent a lifetime believing that our gender roles and our damnation were beholden to the laws of the universe. It took me years to accept myself. Not just my sexuality, but to really love myself.
Egyptians that I was surrounded by believe that LGBTQ+ people cannot live happy lives. I like to show my family that I can be happy and queer. Being yourself will show others around you how erroneous their preconceived notions are. The church doesn’t have to be the only place where you find your second family. If the church stops serving you spiritually, it’s okay to look elsewhere for that.
I think acceptance (or maybe it’s tolerance) is slowly starting to seep into the American Coptic communities. However, total acceptance within the larger Coptic Church is not something I expect to see. The most we can do is be visible for now. I find it easy to challenge some Egyptian archaic and unfounded stereotypes just by being vocal and visible.