"Disfigured" is a word that might be used by some Iraqis to describe a person with special needs. Hearing this word causes huge pain so what if the person with special needs identifies as part of the LGBT+ community while living in a homophobic country like Iraq? The pain seems to be even worse.
People with special needs are the ones who suffer from physical or mental impairment. Sometimes, they are born with the impairment while some other times the impairment is a result of an accident, an injury, or a disease.
Iraqis with special needs rarely live in a healthy environment where they are truly comfortable and accepted since the majority of them are surrounded by people, including adults, who often tend to avoid them or abuse them. In addition to that, people with special needs who live in Iraq struggle with a government that does not provide them with medical services that would enable them to live in a good condition.
According to an article published in 2021 on “Nas” website, the percentage of Iraqis with special needs reached up to 13%, which translates to more than five million people. Among these millions, Hassan comes forward to tell us his story of being a gay person with special needs.
Hassan is a 19-year-old Iraqi guy who lives in Babil with his family of seven that he describes to be as religiously and tribally strict as all the other families that live in villages.
To understand Hassan's story, we need to go back in time several years, specifically to his childhood. Although Hassan was in good health and did not suffer from any disease when he was born, he got diagnosed with a very rare disease called “Retinoblastoma” when he was only two years old. His illness led to the extraction of his left eye and the removal of some muscles and bones of his face, so he ended up with one eye and a face that looked quite different compared to other kids his age.
Living with one eye caused Hassan a lot of abuse by kids in both his neighborhood and school. Hassan says, “I was suffering on a daily basis so I thought several times about quitting school and staying home to avoid the pain, but somehow I was able to continue regardless of my suffering. Despite the difficulties I dealt with during my school years, I survived, I graduated, and I got enrolled in the College of Pharmacy.
The illness I suffered from as well as the way my face looked after the surgery were not the only differences I had compared to others around me. During my teenage years, specifically at the age of fourteen, I started noticing the happiness and excitement I would feel when I dress and act like a woman. Plus, I never really got attracted to the opposite sex.
At first, I thought these feelings were the result of the trauma and the abuse that I had been subjected to throughout my life. I was thinking about it all the time so I decided to search it online and eventually I learned about sexual orientation. I read about homosexuality, transsexuality, and all the other classifications that I never knew about before.
I learned about my sexual orientation as well as about the fact that other people had the same desires as me and after all, I was not alone or odd. Realizing these things gave me a great sense of belonging and allowed me to look at things from a completely different angle.
My teenage years were extremely difficult and messy since I was trying to understand, accept, and build myself from one side while I was being violated by my family to be who they wanted me to be from the other side.
My father, along with my other family members, hated my feminine side, so they tried their best to change me by abusing me. They used to tie my hands and legs, beat me, then lock me inside a room in the house for days or sometimes weeks. Despite my need for seeking help back at that time, I chose not to do anything about it because I was too scared.
None of that violence happened because of my sexual orientation rather it happened because of a haircut that I used to have, a face cream that I used to buy to treat my acnes, or for buying a certain type of shampoo. Doing any of these things was enough for my family to hurt me.
When I turned seventeen, another phase in my life began as I had my first mobile phone which I used to make friends on social media. Some of them stood by my side and we became good friends while others bullied me and did not accept me. One day, my father looked through my phone and became suspicious about my sexuality that is also when the violence got worse. As things got worse, I came to the conclusion that I will never be able to change my family so I had to do whatever it takes to keep myself alive and safe.
Luckily, I can say that things started getting better as I became a university student. I am no longer spending a lot of time around my family so I am dealing with less violence and problems. Life is also way better in college compared to how my life was during school although I still hear a lot of criticism about my feminine appearance. ButI am no longer hearing bullies and jokes about my eye and this is good for me.”
IraQueer is interested to know more Iraqis with special needs from the LGBT+ community to share their stories with others from inside and outside the community to raise awareness about the importance of accepting differences of all kinds.