I don't remember my uncle very well. I was nine years old when he traveled to America after having spent five years in the Levant, far from his family and friends in Lebanon.
When I asked my mother why he left, she replied with the traditional answer: He went in search of a better future.
My uncle then started sending us a greeting card every year that I would eagerly wait for during the Christmas and New Year period. How could I not, when he lives in New York, the city I’ve seen in movies, the city that I thought everyone's dream was to visit or live in?
Tony was a strange character in my imagination, a legend like Santa Claus, until he visited Lebanon for the first and last time, when I was fifteen years old.
My uncle ended his life because there was no one to hear his screams that he was hiding behind his beautiful laughter. Although he lived in a city that accepted homosexuals and granted them their rights, he aspired to gain the acceptance of his family and community
I heard his loud laughter echoing throughout my grandmother's house before I went in to see him. When I looked at him, I was surprised by his beautiful clothes and the sweet smell of his perfume, as well as his playful personality and his positive energy. Even the way he expressed love was different from the way my uncles did: he would hug everyone, and kiss us warmly. He would speak loudly to tell us about his adventures in New York, and would dance and force us to dance with him.
I've never seen a man swaying his waist like he does, a man who reads tarot cards, to tell us what lies ahead. I remember that he predicted that I would travel, and told me that I would rebel against society. I laughed at the time, because I was the shy, obedient daughter who was afraid of everything.
But it turns out he was right in everything he said...
I loved him very much and grew attached to him, but he went back to New York, and I was left with only my "masculine" uncles who didn’t know any dancing, fun, or cup reading.
Two years after his visit to Lebanon, we received the tragic news of his death. He was forty-five years old. How did he die? Was he sick? No one answered my questions.
The cause of his death remained a mystery for many years, until I myself traveled to New York to visit his grave and search for the truth.
I found his name engraved on a tombstone, surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees in the middle of the Bronx in New York, his favorite place in the world. How could it not be, when it was the city that gave him what he had been wishing for, and allowed him to be himself without having to turn to the hypocrisy that our Arab societies feed from?
There, I knew that he had committed suicide, but how could Tony, the beautiful, gentle Tony who loved life, kill himself?
I began to search, ask and investigate, until I learned from his friends in America that he was someone who was an outlier, someone who always broke the constraints of society and defied the customs and traditions of his tribe. My uncle was gay.
I began to search my box of memories for any indications of the validity of this theory, which became crystal clear to me, as I always felt that he was different, but I did not know what was the secret of this difference, since homosexuality, according to some, is "haram", and a gay man has no place in our societies. I tried to ask his brothers and sisters, but they denied this fact, because for them, homosexuality is the very definition of “faggotry”.
I found out that the reason for his emigration was due to mistreatment he was subjected to at the hands of his father and older brother.
I wish he had waited just a little bit.. He would have found in me, his niece, a fierce ally, rising to stand up for his rights. If he had not given in to despair, he would see me today standing by his side, his niece, now a fierce defender of LGBTIQ+ rights
They didn't accept his laughter and the way he dressed. For them, the man oppresses, hits and imposes his opinion on the women of his family. The man screams and beats and does not wear perfume. A man doesn’t dance and doesn’t do fortune-telling.
He was also surrounded by a conservative Tripolitan society, one that renounces difference and accuses anyone who challenges it of being out of nature and unwelcome. My uncle ended his life because there was no one to hear his screams that he was hiding behind his beautiful laughter. Although he lived in a city that accepted homosexuals and granted them their rights, he aspired to gain the acceptance of his family and community, and he was unable to get out of the bad psychological state he was suffering from.
I wish he had waited just a little bit.. He would have found in me, his niece, a fierce ally, rising to stand up for his rights and so that he could stay. If he had not given in to despair, he would see me today standing by his side, listening to his pain and laughing along with his laughter, his niece, the fierce defender of LGBTQ+ rights. If only I had known he needed me!
To this day, no one in the family talks about Tony, who lived as a stranger and died a stranger, without feeling their warmth, and without them seeing him as a human being who has the right to love whomever he wants.
The world has lost a decent, kind, generous human being full of vitality and positive energy. People in our societies prefer hypocrites who identify with their ideas and beliefs, over a different person who may liberate them from the shackles of their outdated ideas, and their tribes that hate happiness.
Talking about the desire to commit suicide remains a sensitive issue, but there are those who can listen to you. The Embrace campaign provides a hotline to help those who are having suicidal thoughts or are experiencing psychological stress, of any kind. This is the helpline number that enables you to reach members of the campaign and talk to them: