Los Angeles, California
How would you describe your relationship with Coptic Orthodoxy?
In a word, my relationship to Coptic Orthodoxy is non-existent. Actually, a better way to describe it is divorced. I don't love how insular the community is. I do still care about people in the community. If the culture would change a little bit, I would likely be more involved.
I think the gay part is one aspect of what makes me feel disconnected from other Copts, but being a lesbian has also made me see a lot of things I don’t like about Christianity. And of course, the stricter the religion, the higher the amount of judgement. It feels like religious Copts have something on me, like I'm being judged all the time.
Are you involved in a Coptic Community?
I was born and raised Coptic. My friends are still heavily involved in the Coptic Community. My family is too, especially my cousins. I'm not opposed to going to church, and I do sometimes. I usually only go to baptisms, funerals, and weddings. But, it makes me sad when I go back because I get nostalgic about the rituals. I know all the hymns, and I know all the stories. Going to church was always very comforting. And initially, it always does feel like returning home. But, it ends up making me very sad. I get upset when I realize that I won't get married in the church. My mom likely will not come to my wedding. I've been a bridesmaid in over 20 Coptic weddings, and I know I'll never have one for myself. It's just very hard. Going to church just reminds me of what I don't have.
A large part of me is disconnected from the community. But, interestingly if I’m ever experiencing a hardship, I find myself praying. Even though I don't go to church, and I don't think religion as a whole is a safe place for me, I'm still kind of connected to it in a weird way. It does feel kind of like an abusive relationship, where I find myself going back to it, even after being burned over and over again. I keep coming back thinking, “Oh crap, what am I doing here again? I just finished saying how I don't believe in religion and here I am praying to God because my aunt is passing away. Am I just looking for something to make me feel spiritual or...?’ I never talked about this before. Even the other gay Coptic person I talk to from time to time, we don’t really talk about this. We say, ‘Oh yeah, I know, it sucks,’ and then like, ‘Oh how's your dad’ or whatever. I never have deep conversations about this, so this is great--thank you. To be completely transparent, I think growing up with a family like the one I have made me a good person. There's a lot of good that came from my Coptic upbringing--I have good morals. I don’t know if having Middle Eastern parents or being raised Coptic were the reason for that, but I know I got a lot of good from the religion. While there's a lot of good, there are a couple parts that I just absolutely can’t tolerate. The judgmental part is massive, and not just people’s judgement about gay people or gay issues. It's really about how everything is scrutinized, ‘Oh did you hear about this person's son?’ Like I don't give a shit-- why does it affect me or you in any way? I don't think it's necessary to be all up in everyone’s business. Of course that’s not a Coptic-specific issue, but the amount of gossip, ‘Tsk tsk tsk-ing,’ and ‘That’s not right,’ is excessive. I constantly have conversations with my mom where I tell her to stay out of other people’s business. Constantly. I just feel permanently burned out by that. I hate gossip, I don't like that people are under scrutiny all the time. I still love the community, I still have a ton of people that I love who are still involved, hence the divorced, abusive relationship feeling.
When did you first realize that you are a lesbian, and what impact did that have on you?
I knew that I was a lesbian at a young age. It's interesting because when I was really young, I was dry-humping other girls. We’d be naked, but we didn't know what the hell we were doing. I figured we were just experimenting, and I didn't think twice of it. But of course when I got older, I thought, ‘I guess we were two girls being sexual.’ I was young and I didn't know what I was doing or have any words for it. I didn’t know what it was exactly.
I knew that I was looking at women, and wanting to be their best friend, and not feeling that way about men. I remember watching The Little Mermaid when I was a kid, and during the kissing scene, I was fixated on Ariel while all my friends would be drooling over Eric. I would look at boys, and it wouldn't do anything for me. My stomach didn't drop, like my friends would explain happened to them. When I was an adolescent, my young parts started working. Girls started kissing boys, etc. I thought kissing boys was gross, and nothing happened to me or my stomach when I’d kiss a boy. I think I was 15 when I realized, ‘Okay, I am definitely attracted to women.’ I had never done anything sexual at that point. I was pretty innocent, but I had kissed a boy and I remember it was not as magical as everyone said it was.
When I was 17, as I was in the process of just moving from LA to Orange County for college, I met somebody at a concert. We ended up meeting up, and somehow we...I mean it was a blur... but we started making out. I remember feeling like, ‘Oh my god, this is absolutely right.’ That feeling that everybody has been talking about, this is making sense now. And then I went home, and went completely into a denial phase. I ignored her, I ghosted big time. I told myself that I would never do that again, and that wasn’t who I was. ‘My family would disown me. I can’t act on this.’ In the moment though, it was so beautiful. Once I considered what would happen if people found out, I quickly pushed it away. I was really scared that one of my brothers would find out, or anyone really! You know, I was even closeted to my american friends who didn't give a flying fuck if I was gay or not. I knew my friends would love me for who I was, but you know, I had a lot of self-hate. I felt like I had this horrible thing that I was hiding. It's interesting because that doesn't really go away. I wanted to be accepted by my friends and family, so I hid a big part of myself for a long time.
In high school, when I was starting to realize I was different, I tried to be the perfect child because I knew that there was something ‘wrong’ with me. I didn't go to parties, and I didn't do drugs. I didn't do anything that I knew would disappoint my family. I was always the good kid. My brothers would always get in trouble-- drugs, drinking, going out, having sex before marriage, or whatever. But I was a virgin--I have never slept with a man! Not that I want to. I really hated who I was until very recently. I really resented that I would have to come out to people about my sexuality when straight people didn’t have to proclaim theirs. Even now, it pisses me off that I have to do that.
My mom calls me a teta (grandma). I like to read, and I like to chill. I partied when I needed to in college. I drank a little, but I don't need substances to make myself feel good. I'm happy to have a good conversation, or go to a movie. I didn’t have a rebellious phase, so growing up was really easy. My parents didn't want me to go out past 9pm, and I didn't really want to go out past 9pm. ‘Oh, I get to come home and eat dinner?!’ I got lucky, I didn't have this dying need to go out and party, or to be a rebellious child. I think a lot of people who have overbearing parents become extremely rebellious, and I see a lot of that in our community. People sometimes go off the deep end. Sometimes it’s drugs or alcohol, but sometimes it’s kids enrolling in the army at 18 just to get the fuck out. It's a completely shitty way to deal because your parents are so strict. Luckily, I didn’t go through that.
When I was finally able to get out, it was because I wanted to experiment with my sexuality. I wanted to learn who I was without having to Google it. I wanted to meet people that were gay. I wanted to meet people who weren’t Egyptian.
I lived in San Francisco for several years, I just moved back down to So Cal because my father had become ill, and I promised my girlfriend that after some time in SF we would move back home. I started my new job just a month ago, and being back here makes me uncomfortable sometimes. You know, it’s Orange County. There are a lot of Republicans. It's not San Francisco, where nobody bats an eye if you’re gay. Since I don’t feel comfortable here, I sometimes find myself overcompensating in other parts of my life, like I did in high school. Coptic Culture is a culture where some Orthodox people don’t have friends outside of the community. Thankfully, some of the youth are more accepting--or at least they’re willing to talk about it. When I was growing up, I definitely had a lot of self-hate. And I hate that it still lives within me a little bit. Whenever I go to a baby shower or a bridal shower, I feel like I have to lie about why I don’t have a boyfriend. I usually tell people that I'm too busy with work to date.
Even if I sense that someone isn’t going to care or hate me for being gay, it's always super emotional for me to share this part of me. I think it's still pretty difficult for me since I never said I was a lesbian out loud until I was 32. Saying it out loud is a completely different thing than the internal voice, ‘I am this person and I live this lifestyle.’ Even if I’ve been living this lifestyle for the past 15-20 years, you know? Lately, I've been trying to talk about my sexuality in the same way that straight people do sometimes. If a woman brings up her boyfriend to me, and then asks if I have one, I usually say, ‘Actually I have a girlfriend.’ If she looks at me weird, then I’m pretty much at a point where I don’t care to have people like that in my life. I've had enough judgement from my family, I don't need more of it from strangers. It does still hurt though.
Was it important to you to come out?
I came out because I knew that the way I felt couldn’t be worse than the way I'd feel if I lost my family. I felt really unhealthy, I wasn't mentally right. There were a lot of things that were not going right for me. I considered if it was worth putting myself through turmoil to be in the closet, just so I could receive my family’s love. I knew it was worth it for me to be who I am. If they decided to be part of that, then great. But, if they didn’t want to be part of my life, then they didn’t have to be.
I told myself that I needed to be surrounded with people that love me for who I am. I knew it would take time for the dust to settle, but at least I'll be happy. That was a big reason why I needed to come out. I love my family so much, but if they didn’t love me as much as I loved them, then I was in pain for nothing. I’m not necessarily advocating for people to come out, but I know that it was personally very beneficial. It gave me a clear head, it gave me mental health. I stopped hating myself. And it’s no joke--people commit suicide, fall into drugs, homelessness from this kind of isolation. I moved to San Francisco so that I could understand what it was like to live without my family.
In order to come out, I had to plan to be 100% independent of them. If they disowned me, I would need to be financially stable. And I was; I could make payments on my rent, my car, and my house. A lot of Coptic people are super dependent on their parents until later in life--like my brothers are. They’re in their 40s, and are both still dependent on my parents. I don't take a dollar from my mom or dad. I'm proud of that, but it sucks to have to prepare yourself for a potentially dark reality. I feel like this is a major part of maybe why I have been trying to be successful in my career. I have to provide for myself, and whoever it is that I marry. I don't want to need them. I want our relationship to exist because I choose to be around them, and they're choosing to be around me. I don't want to have any financial ties with them.
You have to get yourself into a position where you don't need no man, even baba, to do things for you. I tell myself, ‘I'm good. I'm independent. If you don't want to be here with me, then it's okay because I'm going to be fine.’
There are two big reasons why I started to vocalize my sexuality. The first is because I was embarrassed that I couldn't tell the people closest to me something real; I felt like a huge liar. I lied about everything. It started out with mundane things like lying about who I was going to places with. And since I was in the closet with my family, the lying leaked into my friendships. I thought if I told anyone, it would somehow get back to my family. I just turned into this person who couldn’t be honest with anyone. I didn't even tell my closest friends. I got to this point where I was lying about what I was eating for dinner. I just couldn't lie anymore. I thought, ‘What the heck am I doing? Why am I even lying about this?’ I wanted people to think I was a beautiful perfect angel, and I was honestly just sick of myself. I was lying about things that didn't even matter. I was upset that nobody knew me.
The second reason was because I could not be honest in my romantic relationships.
I felt horrible because my girlfriends couldn't meet my family. I couldn't touch them in public, and I was especially paranoid if we were near my church. It was just crazy. I would walk into a room, and I would meticulously scan it to make sure that I didn't know anybody there.
If I was on a date at Disneyland or somewhere outdoors, I wouldn't even touch my girlfriend because there were too many people to scan. It was too much for me to handle, and I just got to a point that I became very anxious. I didn’t know who I was becoming, and I was hurting people that I truly cared about. When they would catch me in a lie, I wouldn’t have a good reason, even for myself, as to why I needed to be lying in the first place. I'm not a liar.
Now that I've started telling people the truth, I feel so free. It’s interesting though, because lying still was my initial instinct, even after I had been out for a while. If the topic came up, I would think, ‘Wait, should I tell this person?’ And my answer would always be, ‘Just tell the truth.’ Being honest was an important value instilled in me when I was young. I would get into so much trouble for lying when I was young; it makes me uncomfortable. I knew that if I continued lying, I would be unhappy. It felt like this secret was making be into a bad person.
I love my mother, and I consider her one of my best friends. How could I be lying to her? When I broke up with my Coptic boyfriend, I pretended I was heartbroken, but I wasn’t. I think meeting somebody that I wanted to be with for the rest of my life kind of pushed me towards this end. I was already 80% there, but then I asked myself, ‘Why would I tell them? Why hurt them unless I am dating someone seriously?’’ I was just about to come out, I felt like I couldn't deal with it anymore, but then I met somebody. And that, counterintuitively, put a pause on telling them. I wanted to get to know this person without any drama or fallout from my family. A year after dating her, I was sure I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I didn't want to ruin this relationship. I wanted to stop lying. I wanted them to see who makes me happy. And I knew it was time.
I always felt that when I told my family, I would lose them. I never seemed to be ready for that. I felt like I had to choose between lying and having my family. I prepared myself for 30-some years to lose them.
I told them I was dating someone seriously, but they didn’t know who she was for months and months. I didn’t necessarily come out for her, but it helped give me a clear reason. I just didn't want to lie about what I was doing at every step, or the be so fearful of everything I was doing.
My mom cried. She cried a lot, but told me that she would never disown me. Then the next day, she didn’t want to talk to me. I think at first she saw the pain I was in, and the issues that I was living with. Then, I think she went into complete denial. She didn't talk to me for a while. The next day, I came out to my dad. He didn't like seeing me upset, because he has never seen me cry before. He comforted me, but then we never really talked about it again.
While it was a big relief, it wasn’t easy. My aunt took my mom's side and told me, ‘You can't do this. God won't forgive you.’ The whole Egyptian guilt charade unfolded. ‘You're upsetting your mother, and you're making a huge mistake.’ We really went through it. It's been about 3 years and they're still struggling with it. I asked my mom if she would help me pick out an engagement ring for my girlfriend, and she said no. She also says that she won’t come to my wedding.
I'm grateful that my parents didn't disown me. I still have my mom in my life, and I’m grateful that she knows my girlfriend’s name, and that I'm living with her. She knows everything, but she's in denial. Her mentality is You-Do-You, but don't involve me. My mom says, ‘I love you, but I pray everyday that you're going to find a husband.’
People ask me all the time how I don’t freak out about my parents, and are confused as to why I haven’t told them to fuck off. They tell me, “You're you, and if they don't agree with your lifestyle, then that's their problem.’ You know, that's the american way. ‘If you don't like me, then fuck off!’ It’s that american individualism, I think. I try to explain that they don’t understand the culture of our community, or how close the family is. I can't walk away from that just because my parents don't accept this one thing. There's a lot of things that I don't accept about a lot of people, but I still love them. My parents are in their 60s and 70s, they were born and raised with this mindset. I can't change their mind, as much as they can’t change mine. I imagine that it’s difficult for them to change their opinion. If somebody tried to get me to believe that being gay is wrong, then I'd be like, ‘Yeah get the hell out of here--you're not going to convince me on that one.’ And that's what I'm trying to do with them. I need to be understanding of the way that they were brought up, and of their beliefs. I can’t expect them to just throw it all away. Of course, I believe that there's a right and a wrong here, but I also know that they are entitled to their own opinions. I think they are wrong, and they think that I'm wrong. We're all kind of similar in how strongly we hold onto our beliefs, and how we are as people. I can't blame them for thinking the way that they do. It is the way that their parents raised them, and the way that the community continues to upkeep those beliefs.
It would be hard for them to stop believing in parts of what the church teaches them, just because their kid says otherwise. I mean, the Coptic traditions are their whole life. That church is their whole life. If they don’t live by the teachings of the church, then they’re lost.
What can we do to increase Coptic visibility?
My hope for the future of the Coptic community is that people become less judgemental and that they start thinking for themselves regarding lgbt+ issues. I hope they form their own opinions about gay people, and don’t rest on what they were fed. Really, I’d settle for them doing some research, talking about it, or reading about it. I want the community to change, but I’m not sure it will unless individuals meet gay people in the community. Nobody knows gay people. I’m so proud of my Coptic history and where I come from, but it’s an ancient religion. It's an ancient everything. I don't want to disown my culture, or where I come from, but I know we are asking for a big change. It’s going to be very difficult. And of course, this is why there are so many branches of Christianity. Maybe we could make a non-judgemental Coptic branch, where all are welcome, you know!?
When I was younger, I always thought I would be an advocate for lesbians in the church. I wanted to speak out to the elders. I wanted to be out and proud. It's still kind of a dream of mine. I would love to be able to talk to people about this, but it's kind of hard, especially now that I removed myself from the community. I'm not really in touch with people--I think there's maybe one person that I know who’d be willing to talk about this.
I have a really good transgender friend who is a super, hardcore Christian. He tells me all the time that being queer and Christian aren’t mutually exclusive; that’s hard for me to understand. He asked me to come to his church numerous times, and that has been really difficult for me to wrap my mind around. He says it’s different at his church--I forgot what branch it is. I’ve been to a couple different Christian churches, because I would like to have some sort of spirituality, but I don't know that it's for me. I just think it's going to be a very difficult thing to change the Coptic Church, especially in Egypt! I feel like there's a lot of us first-generation Coptic Christians in america who have been raised and exposed to diversity in school. There’s no room for change if people are raising children in conservative, completely isolated religious communities where nobody's gay. It’s literally non-existent in our community. Not just the Coptic Community, but almost all Egyptians seem to claim that gay people don’t exist. My hope is that we, as a people, will move towards more inclusivity.
It’s difficult for me to have these expectations though, because the concept of pureness is embedded in the culture. The concept of Orthodoxy, of tradition. Do you remember when the church had such a hard time letting fathers walk their daughters down the aisle? That was such a major change in our church, just to have that Western adaptation. I’m sure being in america influenced that change, though folks still have to convert to be married in the church. Interracial marriages are even relatively new, and still don’t favor the non-Copt. Both of my brothers didn’t want to get married in the Coptic Church, but my parents made them. Their wives had to convert, even though they aren’t religious.
I mean there is hope for change, but our families just don't know better. I changed the opinions of 20 people from my family on this topic based on the fact that they love me. They would say, ‘Wait, you're amazing; you're so giving and loving. Why would I disown you because you choose to sleep with women? It's not like you're putting it in our face. You had to live for so long in the closet, and that totally sucks that you were at my wedding and I didn't know you had a partner.' They saw somebody that they know and love going through a tough time-- that's what changes people. I think it's hard to change people's minds when they don’t have a personal connection with a lgbt+ person.
I don't have a whole lot of hope in a quick change, but I do have hope for the younger generation. I hope that they will be more open, more loving, and to be able to speak out more. I hope they understand that being judgemental is contradictory to the teachings of Christianity.
What advice would you give to young Copts who are looking for support and a community that accepts them for who they are?
When I was younger, I searched the internet for two words: Coptic + Gay. About 10,000 things popped up that said that being gay was wrong. I remember finding a website when I was younger called gaycopts[.]com. ‘Don't worry we're out there,’ it said. I think it was probably someone’s blog. I tried to email them, but they didn't respond. Seeing that gave me hope, and told me that there are other people like me. I haven't really looked recently to see if we exist online. When I was growing up, when the internet wasn't readily available, there seemed to be just the one.
If I had to give one piece of advice to someone who was looking for support in the Coptic Community, I’d say check out this initiative. Read and connect with other lgbt+ Coptic people. Know that there's more of us out there. Know that you’re not alone. Know that a community can be built outside of the Coptic Church.
While it helps to connect with other gay people, it's not the same as meeting Coptic gay people. Even other Middle Eastern gays have a completely different experience from us. Talking to another Coptic gay person is more fulfilling to me than talking to anybody else. Even my girlfriend can’t understand parts of my mentality and the way that I am. She tries, and she's doing her best, but it's not totally possible for her to grasp.
Gay people have told me to remove myself from the community, so that I can embrace my gay pride. That makes me feel like I can’t be prideful of my Coptic Culture, and be gay at the same time. I do think you can find community outside of the one you grew up in, but it’s different. For example, all my friends growing up tended to be non-Egyptian lesbians. I played women's basketball, literally everyone was a lesbian. I gravitated towards lesbians because we had a lot in common, but I always felt like they didn’t truly understand me. The first time I found out about another Coptic lesbian, I was floating. I couldn’t believe that there was another person who was going through the same thing as me. I couldn’t believe we could talk about gay things and Coptic things. You know, we weren’t even that close, but just knowing she existed was enough. Having her available to meet up every once in a while was literally life-changing. That was a good thing.
I think it's important to not do this alone. Consider me a friend, honest I’m here for anyone who needs to talk. This is personal for me, because being closeted was the loneliest I’ve ever felt. I was lonely for 29 years. Can you imagine?
I was an adult, and I hadn’t met another gay person in the community. That said, I think my grandma was a total lesbian? I don’t know why, but I felt a connection to her. I think she was a lesbian, and had to have kids and marry a man. Sometimes, that's just the way it goes. If I grew up in Egypt, I would probably be married to a man and have kids right now. If I grew up in Egypt, I probably wouldn't have had a choice, and I wouldn’t have had a gay community. I am so grateful that I grew up here, and to live here. I'm grateful that I can simply use the internet.
Of course sometimes, when your community is really damaging, you can't have one foot in and one foot out. There might be a time to totally disconnect for a while, to clear your head. It’s okay to take space. I think there are pros and cons of course. I was super connected to the church, and played basketball for the Coptic League. We played at all the different churches around, and I was heavily involved. I was dating a shamess (a deacon) for years. I loved him. He probably would still be my best friend if I didn't break his heart. He is married now and, oh my gosh! His wife is hot! When I first saw her, I was like, ‘Good job, buddy.’
I did separate myself because it was easier for me to clear my head that way. I felt like I needed space because, if I lost my family, then I would lose all of my community too. So I disengaged, distanced myself, and went to San Francisco. I went there with a suitcase and I didn’t know a single person. I lived there for several years, and I left with an amazing group of friends and chosen family. My time in SF helped me realize that I can find community elsewhere if I needed to. Ultimately though, I knew I wanted to work it out with my family. And we’re tight--like now that me and my family are good, I don’t have time for friends anymore because I’m always going to dinners with my cousins. I enjoy doing that. If I had a bad relationship with my family, or if they were assholes, I probably would have been able to easily walk away. But we have always had a very loving relationship. So much love that I felt like I was a disappointment to them. That's where it was the hardest. Of course my mom, like most Egyptian moms, would grab my stomach and tell me that I needed to eat less. That never made me feel good, but she did those things out of love. There was never anything that was too harmful. We never even went for an extended time without talking. I don’t know if it was possible to say, ‘I'm gay, go fuck yourselves. I hate all of you,’ because they were just so perfect and loving.
Though, I grew up with a lot of gay jokes and I just had to sit at the table and get used to them. The jokes would get to a point where I would argue with them. I would tell my family, ‘Hey, I have friends that are gay, and what you’re saying is hurtful.' Just one of my cousins shared my views, but everyone else perpetually degraded gay people. That cousin is awesome, and she was one of the first people I came out to.
Before I came out, my cousin asked my mom, ‘What would you do if Lauren told you that she was a lesbian?’ My mom answered, ‘I would have a funeral for her. I would cut off her arms and legs, and throw her in the ocean, and wait for her to drown. Then, I'd have a funeral for her because she wouldn't be my daughter.’ That was when I was 17.
Do you think I was going to come out? Do you think I wasn't expecting the worst? My mom had just said that she’d disown me and have my funeral. She didn't think about it twice, that was just her belief. I've been at the table many times when people ask, ‘What would you do if so and so was gay?’ I don't know if other people have had that experience, but it’s pretty awful.
Tell me more about how it feels to be a gay
The first family member I came out to was my oldest brother. He had a really difficult time with it. He and his wife pretty much raised me. The first thing he said to me was, ‘You know that you're going to hell, right?’ Not, ‘Stop crying’ or ‘I love you.’ You know, he'd never seen me cry before. I was raised by two brothers who taught me to be tough and independent. I thought he would have been a little bit more sympathetic and understanding when he saw me being vulnerable. He was really shut off from it then, but now he's amazing. Though he still says, ‘Don't think that I'm going to stop making gay jokes because you're a lesbian.’
I think it can be more difficult for men to come out; straight guys are the worst. And not to generalize too much, but I’ve noticed that guys in our community are so much more homophobic toward men than they are toward women. I'm 1 of only 2 girls in my entire extended family, most of my cousins are male. Copts have a male-dominated society. A male-dominated, homophobic society-- it’s almost unbelievable sometimes.
I'm the youngest child, I'm the baby. I'm a girl, you know, the one that makes babies and brings them home to mom. I was always the baby--I was more sheltered than my brothers. I couldn't go out to parties in high school, or do much of anything. My brothers would go out, and at an early age, they’d do their own thing. For me, moving out to go to college was a fucking disaster for the family. It was hard. A woman typically doesn't leave the house until she's married. I was expected to learn to cook and clean, and basically take care of my future husband. Turns out, what I did was the opposite. I didn't clean, I didn't cook, I didn't do anything that a young Coptic woman should have done. A lot later in life, as an adult, I had to teach myself to cook and clean--isn’t that funny? What is not funny is that I was having arranged marriages. My mom would ask me to come home for dinner, and surprise, there would be a guy and his two parents sitting at the dinner table. What the actual fuck?! My brothers never had to go through anything like that!
Like in most societies, there are huge differences between growing up female or male. Even now that I’m out, it’s clear that familial and structural roles are still heteronormative. My brother thinks it's cool that I sleep with women, but doesn’t want to be around gay men. It's definitely different being a woman, and frankly, it sucks being a female in this community. You're a second-class citizen, nobody listens to you.
I had to become a force to be reckoned with inside my family. My father would never listen to me. You know, my girlfriend tells me I should have been a lawyer because I could argue myself out of anything. And I can, but it sucks that I have to do that in order to be heard. It sucks that I have to fight to simply be worth listening to. For my entire life, and especially with the people in the community, I would try to get people to look at me and think, ‘Oh, she actually matters.’ I had experiences like that over and over again.
My mom is very involved in the community, and she does projects for our local church in her spare time. She's expected to work for free, while men who do the same work get paid. On top of that, they’ve recently been pressing her with strict deadlines. I try to tell her, ‘Mom your health is failing, I can't believe you're doing all this free work! What are you doing to yourself? And she tells me, ‘It's for the church.’ You know, I get that, but it's not really about getting paid is it? It's about equality.
There's a prioritization of men in church. There are hundreds of examples, but my favorite is that men take communion first. If a woman is on her period, it’s, ‘Oh no, no, no. You’re impure, you can’t take communion.’ It's just the highest level of bullshit. It's such a degrading community as far as women's rights go. I looked past all that when I was growing up because I purposefully compartmentalized; these are men problems, these are women problems, these are gay people problems. Growing up, I didn't want to focus on being a woman in the community, because I was concerned with a bigger problem: my sexuality.
My brothers didn’t have any problems whatsoever getting out of the house for college. They got to go wherever they wanted, and they were emotionally and financially supported by my parents. I think the mentality is that men have to provide for their families, so they need education. But the sentiment for me was, ‘You’re a woman, why do you need to work?’ My mom, to this day, is confused as to why I have a career. The moment she had kids, she was expected to become a housewife. And of course, that job is fucking difficult. I could never do what she did: taking care of kids constantly, cleaning, cooking, and making sure the food was the right temperature for my dad when he came home from work. It’s just not ever going to be my life. I mean, the history of women staying in the home, and the expectation of women to be homemakers, is nothing new. It's still hard to have people in my life who think that that is the only choice a woman has.
I’m definitely the favorite child, I can't even lie about it. I'm their favorite, and I think it's because I visit them all the time, I call them frequently, and I’m their only daughter. They're getting older, and they're not in the best health, so I visit them a lot. I felt more pressure coming out to my parents because I was their favorite. I felt like, ‘Now I have to tell them this thing that kind of makes me the worst person on the planet.’ Neither of my brothers did anything to make me feel confident in coming out. I told my brothers first, in preparation of telling my parents. I thought one of them would support me. But both of them told me not to tell my parents. That was pretty difficult for me because I wanted my brothers to say, ‘I'll back you up. We're going over there with you, and if they say something awful like they disown you, then we are going to step in.’ That's what I wanted, but what I got instead was, ‘You know our parents. Send them to their graves letting them think that you never got married because you were busy with your career.’ I told them that I couldn’t do that. I mean, that was so easy for them to say. I thought, ‘Wow, you just found out two days ago, and I've been living with this for almost 30 years. You can’t even begin to understand this from my perspective. That's not going to happen.’ You know my oldest brother even said that he didn’t want my parents to know that he knew? He didn’t want to be part of it at all. Again, now he's much better. I told my brothers when I was in my 20s, and I told my parents when I was in my early 30s. I guess they had some time to calm down. They said things like, ‘Don't tell them I knew, otherwise they're going to blame me,’ and ‘You’re going to give mom and dad a heart attack!’
My oldest brother is now, oddly, great. His daughter and I are really close, I love my niece. She wants to be just like me. She knew almost everything about me, except that I was into women. My brother and his wife recently asked me how I would feel if they told her that I was a lesbian. I told them that I was okay with whatever they chose. I didn’t force the issue, because I was really worried that she would think differently of me. And, I still have some fears about being outed. They decided to tell her, and she texted me immediately and said, ‘You're my favorite person. Nothing would ever get in the way of that. I love you.’ It was the cutest response! And I have to give it to my brother and my sister-in-law; they wanted her to know. It was a huge deal. It showed me that they accept that this is my real life, and it’s not just a phase. Shortly after that, my girlfriend and I took her to Knott's Berry Farm--just the 3 of us. She knows that we are a couple now, and that we’re a gay couple. In fact, she doesn't give a flying fuck if we're in a relationship or not. She just thinks that I’m her aunt, and she loves me.
What are your hopes for the Coptic community in the future?
I have a lot of hope for my niece's generation. Sexual fluidity is becoming more normalized, and there are more gay people in the world coming out and talking about it. And even though it's definitely getting better, I still worry every time I have to tell someone. I never like being in a position where I have to worry about losing people. Still to this day, it stresses me out. I'm reading this book right now, it’s about lesbians in the early 1900s. It explains how it was illegal to be a gay. Women would literally go to jail or get murdered if they acted on their feelings. We’re such millennials, thinking that we have it so hard. I mean we do, it's not easy, but we've seen some major changes. In my lifetime alone we’ve seen huge strides, and I've only been alive for 35 years. Seeing what kids do now in high school versus what my high school days were like...I just think to myself, ‘Holy shit, you do what now? You got GSAs? You got Gay Clubs?’ We would have like 2 people in our ‘Gay Club’ back in my day, and those would be the 2 people that started it. Everyone stayed clear of the gays back then. I truly believe there's hope. You’re the first Coptic guy that I've heard of--that is a huge deal to me. The only other 2 or 3 gay Copts that I know are women. You're braver than a lot of people that I know.
I don't think my mom is necessarily ready to start telling other Coptic people that her daughter is gay, but I want to start compiling resources for her. I think she's worried about other people finding out, and I bet she’s worried that her and my dad are going to be shunned if I’m found out. A big part of me wanted to have another family member who was questioning their sexuality, so that my mom would be able to talk to someone about all this. My mother avoids talking about me to others. People ask her, ‘Is Lauren married?’ She quickly and adamantly always says, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ She assures them that I’m focusing on my career. But, it’s so interesting because we're having dinner tonight (we have weekly family dinners), and my girlfriend is coming. My mom asked for her to come. She acknowledges that we're a couple, but not fully. She calls her my friend. My parents aren’t there yet, but I feel like they're getting there.