The Complicated Relationship Between a Mother and Her Son, a Gay Muslim
Hussain Alqattan’s mother has refused to speak with him or his twin sister since 2011 when she discovered they both identify as gay. Seven years later, he’s still uncertain of where his mother lives, how she’s doing or when he might see her again.
Yet Alqattan is quick to defend his mother, a devout Muslim who moved with him and his sister to the U.S. in pursuit of an education and a better life.
“People are quick to judge,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to judge her because she brought us here to be educated in the U.S. This doesn’t make her a bad person.”
The incident occurred on Feb. 1, 2011 when Hussain’s mother stumbled upon suggestive photos of his twin sister Farah and her then-girlfriend. What resulted was an “escalated” conversation on one of the final days the three would live under the same roof.
“It turned into a violent altercation,” he said. “Things were thrown, and there was lots of pushing and yelling that day. My sister really stood up for herself and I was really proud of her – I was very scared during the fight.”
When Hussain finally came out to his mother he was forced to do so over text. He hasn’t seen her since she disappeared from their Detroit apartment with its furniture in tow.
“I asked to see her following her leaving due to my sister coming out, and she said I was welcome and my sister was not,” he said. “Then I texted her I was gay. I texted her that my sister and I have supported our household, are going to school and have been good children. She never responded to any of my texts.”
His mother’s reluctance to even entertain the idea of his sexuality reflects the twins’ upbringing. Both were raised in the Muslim faith with the expectation they’d pray five times a day, participate in Ramadan and even abstain from drinking. He describes his upbringing as very strict, with most nights calling for a 9:30 p.m. curfew.
“Any time we had arguments it was very hostile,” he said. “In the Arabic and Muslim culture the parent is always right, so her comeback was always, ‘You think you can teach your mother?’ It’s not OK for us to speak our minds in the house. I tried to stay at school as much as possible.”
Sexuality was also scarcely discussed in the house. The topic was so rare that Hussain admits to never even having “the talk” with his mom.
“Being gay is something we never ever discussed because it’s not even in the books,” he said. “I stumbled across porn once, and when I learned about it I was scared. I would even schedule my counseling meetings during our sexuality classes in school.”
He eventually grew into his own identity, though, dating a man for the first time at age 20 and then another at 21.
“I had to sneak around and pretend they were my friend,” Hussain said. “We had to hide everything. One my exes climbed through the window to see me – it was very romantic.”
Hussain admits that his mother was likely aware of his sexuality, though they never dared discuss it with one another. Sex in general wouldn’t have been discussed even if he was straight, he said.
The twins were left to come out to each other with Farah making the first move on a family trip to Florida.
“I was very supportive of her and told her she’d make the perfect girlfriend,” he said, adding that he came out to Farah and her then-girlfriend in a bathhouse, and the conversation went similarly to their first. Their respective coming out stories were especially ideal compared to what happened next.
Following the Incident
Hussain and Farah were 22 when their mother disappeared, and have since had to grow up faster than most American young adults are expected to. An average day for the pair involved scheduling time for both work and their studies at Wayne State University where Hussain was pursuing his bachelor’s in health sciences and Farah was taking 19 credits for her criminal justice major.
Hussain not only met his educational goals but exceeded them. In addition to founding the Pre-Professional Medical Society for pre-health students – an organization that provided volunteer and fundraising events, among other things – he also became the class president, held a student senate seat representing his college and even started a 5K race that supported a local pro bono physical therapy clinic.
The real victory, however, was when Hussain got accepted into the Doctoral Physical Therapy program.
“I was struggling to pay our monthly rent due to my mom leaving suddenly following her knowledge of my sister’s sexuality, and I almost decided to drop out of school,” he said. “But the following month I received my acceptance letter in the Doctoral Physical Therapy program at WSU. Over 350 students applied to the program that year, and 36 got in.”
Hussain realized that this was an opportunity he could not throw away.
“I worked hard daily for three-and-a-half years, and graduated in 2015 with my doctorate degree.”
Hussain now lives in Chicago where he works as a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy, while Farah is finishing her master’s in computer forensics down in Florida. The distance has yet to put a strain on their relationship, even though Hussain has promised to fund Farah’s education all the way to the end.
The move to Chicago – as well as the growing realization that his mother may not come back – has allowed Hussain to more fully explore his sexuality. He has also begun perfecting his skills in the art of dressmaking and costuming at his regular gig with SKIN Productions — a Chicago-based organization that funds local charities through dance parties.
“I like designing things, and I started dabbling with that after my mom left,” he said. “I try to make [my costumes] about awareness – for a Thanksgiving party they were more about Native Americans. There’s one I made about Muhammad Ali, and another for the first man who landed on the moon.”
He takes a fairly unorthodox approach to design method, too, as he’s still not properly trained in the art of dressmaking.
“I’ve known how to only do a regular stitch since middle school – I never took classes,” he added. “I like to take ordinary items from stores, deconstruct them and make something new.”
The city itself has pushed Hussain to live out a more honest version of himself. He noted that his area features many LGBTQ-friendly bars and social events, opportunities for STD education, as well as a “huge” facility with services tailored for the LGBT community.
Farah says she’s seen a tremendous amount of growth in Hussain.
“He inspires me personally to do more and be more,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people in my life from various cultures and countries and to be honest Hussain has a heart of gold. I feel like words can’t even begin to express the transformation he’s had since coming out.”
Farah continued: “I feel like with every day he’s finding more of himself, but in a way it’s through helping other people – whether it is by dancing to fundraise or sharing his story to help encourage others.”
And though his Chicago lifestyle certainly isn’t one his mother would support, Hussain remains level-headed in his feelings toward the woman who raised him.
“She suffered a lot of depression,” he said. “She grew up in the Middle East with nine siblings – she was always supportive of them and they weren’t supportive of her.”
Hussain described other events involving divorce and sexual abuse that he believes affected his mother’s mental status. In his retelling of events, there’s a sense of sympathy for his mother that outweighs the years of bitterness and anger.
“She has other kids, but none of them went to school – we were her prized possessions,” Hussain said. “To her it was a big deal we were successful and had kids.”
Hussain isn’t trying to bury the incident in his memory. Years back, when he was finishing his program at Wayne State, he decided to commemorate the anniversary of his mother’s disappearance with a tattoo on his chest. It’s a quote from Lady Gaga that reads: “A hybrid can withstand these things, my heart will beat on bricks and strings.”
Next to the quote, Hussain placed a barcode with the date “2.1.11.”
“With time I slowly started to forgive my mom,” he said.
More information about SKIN Productions, including upcoming events and fundraisers, can be found on the organizations Facebook page.