Story Seventy Three: Khitam from Palestine
The name is Khitam (ending) because heaven forbid my father’s manly pride is insulted ever again with another daughter. A third boy was all he wanted. Having four daughters already, he hoped for a boy. In 1973, during the October war in Egypt to liberate the Suez Canal, my father wanted to take my brothers outside to show them the zionist air fighters headed for Egypt. None of my sisters showed any desire to join them, but I did. I was almost three years old. They were fast, but I followed them up the stairs and stood under the pine tree with them and looked up at the sky and saw the air fighters. That was the earliest memory of my childhood; me joining the boys of the family.
Though my father wasn’t happy with the fact that I was born a girl, he somehow turned me into the unofficial third boy of the family. My two brothers had few responsibilities and when the eldest left the country to get an education in the West, which he never got, my younger brother spent his time playing with the neighborhood kids. Who was left to take their place? I was. Since my older sisters were not allowed to go out much, whenever they needed something from the store, I was the fetch boy to get what they wanted. When my mother would buy a big sack of flour, I was supposed to take our cart and wait for her at the bus stop to wheel it back home. Whenever my father needed to fix something in the house, I was the one who assisted him; something that none of my sisters ever did.
I never liked skirts because they restricted my movement. They called me a Tom Boy all the time. I was the alpha male in our neighborhood and though I was petite, all the kids feared me. I never used violence against anyone, but I always outsmarted everyone.
And then one day, I was told that I was a woman who had to wear skirts and be a lady because no one would accept to marry a Tom Boy. I refused because I felt naked in skirts. My mother’s ultimatum and threat descended upon me. “If you refuse to wear a skirt, you won’t get out of the house.” I was forced to wear them for some time until my mother got off my back and I was able to wear my jeans again.
My useless younger brother used to pick fights with me all the time. He realized that in his absence, I had taken his place. His mission was to subjugate me. He used to steal my things, hit and verbally abuse me. Every time I complained to my mother, she would lament over her far away brother she didn’t see very often. One night, my brother’s verbal abuse pushed all my buttons and I decided to run away from home and I did. I spent the night walking on the streets of Ramallah until I made it to my teacher’s house where I spent the night on her balcony. In the morning, she found me and called my family to come and pick me up. When I got home, my father wanted to lecture me about the family honor that I tarnished with my action. I don’t remember everything he said because I fell asleep since I didn’t sleep all night long. My mother’s attitude changed a bit not because she understood why I ran away or had any sympathy for me, but because she feared that I would do it again.
When I couldn’t pass my high school exams, I couldn’t go to college and even if I passed and wanted to go to college, my father would have refused to fund my education like he did for my two brothers. My father didn’t even bother to console me and all he did was tell me to find a job just like my sisters. He told me once that boys are more important than girls because they take care of the parents while the girls get married and take care of their new families. Later on in life, my two brothers got married and moved out and took care of their new families while I became the bread winner and gave my elderly father an allowance.
Getting out of my family home could have only been done through marriage, but I wasn’t fit for marriage in the eyes of many. I was petite, dark-skinned with a boy’s body and no skirt. I was too liberal for other men. Others didn’t want to marry someone from an impoverished refugee family. Or I wasn’t woman enough because I worked and earned money. Finding a decent husband to rescue me from my misery was near impossible. Working in a field that allowed to work with foreigners gave me the chance to travel to a western country where I met a man who saw me as the exotic Palestinian with interesting food and fascinating stories. Of course, I didn’t realize that then. It took me almost a year to convince my family to let me marry him. My younger brother whose wedding expenses came out of my pocket agreed to be the male relative during the signing of my marriage certificate since my father wasn’t mentally capable due to his old age. My father died shortly after I got married. I forgave him everything he did to me though I do not have any loving memory of him. I was always there, but he never saw me.
According to my society’s standards, I’m officially a whore. Would you like to know why? Because you need more than your two hands to count the number of men who touched my body and fondled it. My first was not a Muslim. The first time he kissed me, I almost fainted. Our relationship lasted for almost two years and I was madly in love with him. I was in my early 20s and I felt that he was my world. He ended it with me when it was time to get married and he decided to marry someone from his own religion. Issa loved me. He took me to a monastery once where we made love in a cave by the monastery. Actually, he came and I did not so that doesn’t really count as making love. He wanted to marry me, but his mother had a heart attack when he wanted to convert to Islam and he feared that if he told her that he wanted to marry a Muslim, she’d die. A few months later, he left the country. Later on, I met Asaad, a married man with two kids. We used to have sex at his work when everybody was gone. It ended between us when I realized that I was being used by him. I went out with another four married men afterwards. There were two Americans, one French, an Italian and one Arab and the rest were Palestinians. You’ll be surprised to know that though I went out with all those guys who touched every bit of my body, there was one place they didn’t dare to come near; my vagina. I did everything else with them, but I never lost my virginity. If they wanted penetration, they had another hole in my body to use. Though they all enjoyed having sex with me, I only enjoyed it with two of them who were willing to go down on me (the Italian and one American-Palestinian). The last Palestinian man I dated was extremely abusive. He always accused me of cheating on him when he was the one who was cheating on his wife with me. After several months of abuse, I told him to take a hike and I swore to never come near a Palestinian man. Thus, finding a Palestinian husband was pushed out of the equation.
I dated all those men in my desperate attempt to find a husband to get me out of my family’s home. They always said that a woman can only leave her family’s home either to the grave or her husband’s home. The grave didn’t seem to be possible and I had to focus on the husband. When all failed, I sought the help of three therapists. The first one was a woman in her forties with high-cheek bones and salt and pepper hair. Loved that hair! I became so attached to her and that bothered her and at some point, she refused to see me anymore. I tried to see another two therapists, but one didn’t have time to see me and the other spent our sessions talking about his successful wife. Failing to find anyone who could understand me, I decided to check myself into a mental health hospital. I wasn’t mad enough for them and they sent me home. That day, I took all the pills that my general doctor had given me. My attempt failed and it only gave me a stomach ache.
So, I couldn’t find a husband and I couldn’t kill myself. The solution came when I started making more money that I was able to give to my mother. The more money I gave her, the more freedom I gained. Finally, I was able to speak the language that my mother understood. While I spent money on my family, my mother kept sending money to my brother in the West and my younger brother was busy saving his money to get married. As long as I made money, my mother didn’t care when I came back home or where I was. But when I lost my job at some point, I went back to square one. An American friend of mine mentioned a job opening at some foreign company and told me that I should apply. I did and I got the job. A year later, I was sent on a training program to the US. During the three months I spent there, I met my husband. He was shy and on our first date; he didn’t dare to kiss me. During the third month of my training, I lived with him. No, I didn’t lose my virginity then.
He followed me back home where I rented a place for him and found him a job working for a progressive Palestinian center in Ramallah. After almost a year of arguments with my brothers and the religious court we were able to get married. I was already two months pregnant.
Two months before we got married and during one of our fights as a result of being unable to get married, my husband said to me, “Are you keeping your virginity for your Arab husband?” I had no answer for him because he couldn’t understand my fear of losing my virginity outside of marriage. After a few days of thinking, I decided to give him what he wanted or I tried. I went to see my OBGYN and asked for her help. She gave me a sedative to relax me, but it didn’t work. I had two bloody marys with the pills and I couldn’t relax. In our final attempt, I knew that I couldn’t do it. I had only one solution and though he was against it, he reluctantly did as I suggested. He tied my hands and feet to the bed and and penetrated me despite my pleas to stop, but that was my suggestion. Was it rape? Perhaps, but who is to blame? My society that makes a huge deal out of a bit of skin or my husband who pressured me to have sex with him? I got pregnant on that day. A few months after we got married, we left Palestine and moved to the US.
Though my husband and I had sex during the seven years we stayed together, I never felt any pleasure during penetration. The only time I could have an orgasm was when he went down on me.
It took me years to understand why that was happening and why I was never sexually happy with any of the men I dated. It wasn’t because there was no penetration, but because they never understood my body and I didn’t understand it either. Let’s backtrack a bit. Though I dated all these men, I fell in love with my high school teacher and got extremely angry when she got married. I was attracted to another woman I met after high school. There was another woman whom I was attracted to at a typing course that I took. I was also attracted to other girls during my school years even when I was in elementary school. I always collected photos of famous sexy women and followed their lives. Now you know where I’m going. Almost ten years ago, my husband and I agreed that our marriage failed. He went out of town for a week and I went out of the closet. There was this sexy woman who was interested in me. She took me out on a date and then took me to her place. I got drunk, then stoned and we spent the whole night making love and I never looked back again.
Ten years out of the closet. Ten years of being really me. Ten years of appreciating my body and loving it. I’m no longer a Tom Boy. After coming out, I embraced my body and my femininity. Many men think that I’m straight and I enjoy watching them drool over me while knowing that this body of mine shall never be touched by a man. Call me sadistic, I don’t care. You can also claim that I “became a lesbian” because of a complex created by my father and those vile men I dated. Wrong! I was born that way and I will no longer deny who I am. I didn’t choose my sexuality; I was born with it.
I’m still angry at all the men that came into my life and abused me and used me for sex; the men who claimed that they wanted to marry me if I only slept with them. I’m not going to claim that I’m fine or will be fine and I won’t forgive them for the hell they put me through. If there is a hell, I hope that they rot in it for eternity.