My father was Sudanese, and my mother was Moroccan, and they moved to Saudi Arabia for work. Growing up, I often felt that I didn’t fit in because I was always curious about the world outside. Then, when I hit 11 years old, I started experiencing same-sex attraction and where I’m from, growing up in that culture and that religion, of course that’s a no no. For about 8 or 9 years, I prayed that God would fix it.

At the age of 21, I decided to come out to my family. We had moved to the Emirates by then, which was a bit more open minded, so I thought maybe there was another way. My idea was to tell my dad while he was driving, because I thought he’d be so focused on driving, he’d take in whatever I told him without thinking about it too much! So I said, ‘Dad, you know I’ve been experiencing same-sex attraction since I was 12?’ and his response was, ‘Ask God for retribution’. I was thinking, I haven’t done anything so why should I ask for retribution? Why ask forgiveness for something that hasn’t been committed? But that was all he could provide for me at that time, and I was grateful for it, because I had heard really horrible stories of what others had been through when they came out. Then I told my sister and she said that I should seek therapy, which I did.

It was a crazy experience because the therapist didn’t really know what to do with me. In our first session, he showed me a Playboy magazine, which is prohibited there – I have no idea where he got it from – and he opened it up and said, ‘Let’s look at these pictures.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t think you got my point!’ After a few more sessions, I told my dad that we should just save our money and I would just cope with it on my own.

Then, because I was a high achieving student in my Pharmacy degree, I got the opportunity to come to Australia to do my Honours at Monash. Here, I had my first experience with a guy and I remember it very clearly. I felt like, ‘Wow! Why have I been stopping myself from this, because it feels so right.’ It was very interesting for me, very eye opening, and I realised that the life I had in Australia was the life I wanted to live, because I didn’t have to worry about what people were thinking of me all the time. Those thoughts used to take up so much space in my mind.

By the end of the year, I started looking for ways to stay, but Pharmacy wasn’t on the Skilled Migration list so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Accounting. In those two years, I started to integrate into the community, and I met a lot of people from different cultures and different orientations, and that solidified my identity in a way that made me feel strong enough to say to my familiy when I visited them, ‘Yes, I am gay’, and I felt more at ease to have those conversations, and to form very deep and meaningful relationships with them. And it seemed that my family were okay with it. Of course, they don’t love it, but I wasn’t disowned or taken to the police, which is a very good thing considering where I grew up!

When I was granted permanent residency, the way I saw it was that I was a kind of refugee rather than a skilled migrant, because the essence of my journey here was to seek refuge. And because I felt fortunate to have a good command of the English language, and to have built up a good social network, I wanted to give back by helping people who were alone, with zero language ability. So I volunteered with the Adult Migrant English Program, tutoring a Tibetan refugee. It was really good to see the progression from him being barely even able to hold a pen, to being able to write a paragraph about himself. I wanted him to experience a little of what I had experienced – I came here on my own, but the human connections along the way helped maintain my sanity, and helped me to be the person I am today.

Arrived 2011
Saudi Arabia

Photograph: Rae Brittain


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