Being gay in Algeria: ‘I’ll never live with the one I love’
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Thursday was the seventh national LGBT day in Algeria, a country in which homosexuality is illegal. FRANCE 24 spoke with Amelle, an Algerian lesbian who hides her sexual preference rather than risk prison time and familial shame.
Under Algerian law, Amelle* is guilty.
Her crime: a sexual preference for women.
In order to avoid the risk of a fine or prison sentence, the 27-year-old long ago decided to renounce her right to a love life.
Alouen, a gay rights association in Algeria, marked the seventh consecutive “LGBT day” on Thursday, October 10, calling for Algerians at home and abroad to light a candle in support of homosexuals in the North African country.
“It’s to show that we’re there, that we exist,” Amelle told FRANCE 24.
The pain of forbidden love
Beyond lighting a candle, Amelle does little to reveal or suggest her sexuality. She says that she “always knew and felt that there was something different” about her. It wasn’t until age 16 that she realized she was gay.
“It wasn’t a shock,” the Algiers resident, the oldest of four children, said softly. “I was able to talk about it with people close to me. My friends did not have a violent or negative reaction, even though they thought it was just an adolescent phase. So that helped.”
Amelle had several flings with women, but her first serious lesbian relationship came when she was 19. The experience was formative – and painful.
“It was hard living a forbidden love,” she confided. “I couldn’t take it. Seeing each other twice a week wasn’t enough. When you love someone, you want to live with the person.”
As a result, Amelle made the somewhat radical decision to deny her desires and her needs.
“I avoid meeting women. I know that if I like someone, I’ll fall in love and end up suffering. It’s easier to stay single,” she said.
Today, she seems resigned to her fate. “I live in Algeria. I’ll never be able to live with the one I love. That’s just the way it is.”
A marriage of convenience
According to Algerian custom, a young woman leaves her family only to marry, and sexuality is not supposed to exist outside the institution of marriage.
The solution, Amelle decided, was to leave Algeria and go as far away as possible.
She chose Canada.
She is currently applying for her visa, but leaving Algeria has proven complicated.
“My mother told me that I could go wherever I want, as long as I was married,” Amelle said. So, like many gay Algerians, Amelle is planning a “rainbow marriage” – the term used to describe a union between a gay man and a lesbian that allows them to avoid suspicion of their true sexual preference, bring an end to family pressure, and pursue same-sex sexual relationships if they so choose.
“Rainbow marriage” groups have flourished on social networks in recent years. For the past year, Amelle has been the administrator of a Facebook page called “Marriages of convenience between gays and lesbians” (translated from French), where individuals can publish announcements or requests.
“I sense that my mother is suspicious. Everyone asks me ‘What are you waiting for to get married? You’re beautiful, and men are lining up,’” Amelle recounted. “I say that I’m not ready, but my mother reminds me that by my age, she had already given birth to me and my brother.”
For Amelle, a “rainbow marriage” would, above all, be a path to motherhood. “In our society, a single woman can’t have a child,” she noted.
Amelle has met potential suitors for a “rainbow marriage”, but has no concrete plans for the moment.
A gradually evolving society
Some, though not many, gay Algerians are lucky enough to have “open-minded family members”, Amelle explained. Her aunt, for example, “often asks me why I don’t have a girlfriend”, she said.
Thanks to television, which offers Algerian society a window onto the world beyond its borders, mentalities in the country are starting to change. “Especially with what happened in France – gay marriage being legalised – that opened up a debate here,” Amelle said. “I have several colleagues who say they aren’t against it. Things are evolving, and it’s a relief.”
But Amelle’s parents are still in the dark when it comes to their daughter’s sexuality.
“It would hurt them too much, especially my mother. It would be like telling them that they failed in raising their child,” she said, citing the importance of her role as the oldest sibling and her moral obligation to take care of her parents as they get older.
“There is nothing more important than the love for one’s parents. What I fear most in the world is seeing my mother unhappy. I wouldn’t be able to bear being the cause of that,” she told FRANCE 24.
Amelle has often thought about coming out of the closet to her parents – before deciding against it.
“I don’t have the right to break her heart,” she said. “I would rather suffer than see her suffer. It’s the price I have to pay.”
*Name changed to protect identity