Dating and love – that can be very beautiful but also very exhausting. Beautiful because you can meet a person who inspires you, with whom you can exchange closeness and intimacy. Exhausting because we live in a society that is becoming increasingly fast-paced, with sexist and racist stereotypes and norms. What are the experiences of people with migration and refugee experience in Germany when it comes to dating and love? Two people meet and thus also two (cultural) identities with different expectations, socialisations and experiences. Different wishes, freedoms and sometimes also languages. This can lead to misunderstandings, prejudices, new insights and commonalities. In our series „Culture of Love“ we want to find out more.
„As a gay man, it’s very difficult to express your sexual identity in a conservative society.“
Khaled is 27 years old. He grew up in Alexandria in Egypt, and didn’t experience dating until he turned 18. As a gay man, it’s very difficult to express your sexual identity in a conservative society. Though Egyptian law does not forbid homosexuality, it is taboo and the Egyptian society judges it as such. At the young age of six, he realized his interest in boys was stronger than for girls, without knowing what that could mean exactly.
When he was 13, he started identifying as gay. At university he found an environment that allowed him to express his sexuality more freely. His master’s degree being a determining factor, Khaled decided to come to Germany and has been living in Hamburg since 2019.
“That is also the reason why I came to Germany. To live my life without the opinions of my family or the society playing a major role.”
The first time that I made contact with other gay men was when I was 18, through Facebook-groups and dating apps. Actually, I could have done this much earlier, but somehow, I was a bit scared. Most apps were 18 and over, and I didn’t want to commit the double transgression of being gay and a rule-breaker. The internet provided the possibility of even meeting other gay men, but to be honest, it was always dangerous dating in this way. In a way, it’s always dangerous meeting strangers off the internet, because you don’t know the person and have no way of telling how they will be in real life.
An added fear, however, is that as a gay man you can’t even go to the police if something happens. What do you tell them? That you were on a homosexual date? It will more likely get you arrested than the person who harmed you.
That’s why I was always very cautious in Egypt. I had a checklist for myself before meeting people. That is also the reason why I came to Germany. To live my life without the opinions of my family or the society playing a major role. I feel much safer dating online in Germany, although I am still careful.
“You have to trick your family in order to live with your partner – even if you’re 24 years old”
I had my first boyfriend when I was 24. We even lived together. This is really uncommon in Egypt – usually you live at home until you marry or move to another city. There are actually very few reasons that the family accepts considering moving out. Especially when you as a man want to live together with your partner. I had to trick my family, even being 24 and earning my own money. I met my partner at that time through a dating app. He had moved to Alexandria for his studies, which was why he had his own apartment. An apartment of one’s own, a life away from the family, means a lot of freedom. You can shape your life by your own rules, for example, by expressing your relationship with your partner openly and sharing the day-to-day.
„Somehow word didn’t get out that I was in a homosexual relationship though“
In order to live with my ex-boyfriend, I made use of the fact that my mother and my grandfather weren’t speaking to each other. I told my mother that because of our differences, I was going to move in with my grandfather. Differences like when I would come home late or drunk. After half a year it all came out anyway. My mother, not being able to reach me, had called my grandfather, who told her he hadn’t seen me for two months. Somehow word didn’t get out that I was in a homosexual relationship though. I think that my mother has a theory about my sexuality, after all she’s never seen me with a woman. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Even if my sexuality doesn’t align with her interpretation of religion, I know that she’ll always love me and see me as part of the family. I’m very glad about that.
“Those were all things that were very foreign to me”
In Germany, I experienced how gay men express their love more openly. For me, it was very unusual to be able to hold hands on dates or kiss in public. My German ex-boyfriend introduced me to his parents. Those were all things that were very foreign to me. But the manner of gay dating here is as in Egypt, and maybe everywhere. It’s well known and nothing new: A lot of men are looking for sex. Personally, I’m not looking for sex dates, but I’m also not actively searching for a relationship. I just find it interesting meeting new people. If something more evolves, that’s great, and if not, that’s fine too. Actually, a lot of my male friends, in Egypt and Germany, are men that I met on dating apps.
„The confrontation with typical stereotypes bothers me on dates.“
However, the confrontation with typical stereotypes bothers me on dates. Friends have told me about similar experiences. Based on my body hair and dark skin, people I date assume that I am dominant. I don’t want this picture of me in the other person’s mind to exist solely thanks to my looks or origin. I do have to admit to noticing some preferences that I have looks-wise – and that’s often a western, European type. That doesn’t mean that I can’t fancy other types. I have also had experiences with men who did not fulfil that image, both my ex-boyfriends didn’t either. I think that this is a process, which remains changeable. It is not as if I categorically exclude people because of their looks.
„Schools should talk about sex“
Khaleds wish regarding dating and love is for better sexual education for young people in Egypt. Particularly Schools should talk about sex, so that it is not a taboo issue. Missing understanding leads to missing knowledge and toxic or factually incorrect ideas of how sex works. Khaled sees this as a problem, especially for heterosexual men. He notices the shameful element himself by not enjoying dating in Arabic. Lots of sexual terms are unknown to him in Arabic, sexual terms are shameful and people use them as swear words. He wishes for a queer-friendly “healthy sex culture” in the Arabic language.
Would you like to become part of the series and share your experiences with dating? Reach out via email@example.com or via DM on Instagram or Facebook. The portraits in the series “Culture of love” are illustrated by Maxi Spalek.
This article was first published in German and translated into English by Sassetta Harford.
Kultur der Liebe #2: Wunsch nach sexueller Aufklärung in Ägypten