Recent Comments

    Coming Out in the U.S. After Feeling Like the Only Homosexual in Turkey

    By Okan Sengun, Esq.–

    I’m a methodical person: I like lists, I like organization, I like starting at Point A and discovering the fastest route to Point B. Ask anyone who works with me and they’ll attest to my bullet point laden emails. I’ve always been this way and it’s helped me immensely in getting the education I wanted, but, as I discovered, coming out doesn’t work like that. 

    I didn’t plan on being gay. I came to my sexual awakening in Ankara, Turkey, absolutely certain I was the only homosexual to EVER set foot in the entire country of Turkey. Growing up Turkish, there are no gay icons to look up to, no gay leaders to admire, and no gay relatives in which to confide. It’s very dangerous to be gay in Turkey, so I convinced my parents I wanted to study abroad and I came to the United States.

    It was here that I realized I could live as an openly gay man. Oh, and I did! I was in my twenties and living single in West Hollywood. There were parties and nightclubs and a lifetime of repression coming undone. I ended up in San Francisco to continue my legal studies and volunteered at various LGBTQI nonprofits. I would meet potential suitors, but the first thing I would tell them was that I’m not looking for a boyfriend. And then, I met the love of my life.

    He was handsome, successful, out, proud, and extremely persistent. I insisted I didn’t want to go on a date; he was undeterred. I insisted I didn’t need a man in my life, yet here he was, day after day. One day I was sick with the flu, and he showed up with homemade chicken soup. My walls came crashing down. Suddenly I had a boyfriend and soon, I had a fiancé.

    My parents had always been supportive of me throughout most aspects of my life, but discovering my homosexuality was very hard for them. It was foreign to them; they had a difficult time understanding it. I would’ve loved to have them at our wedding, but I didn’t know how they would react. I decided not to invite them to our wedding. It was a painful decision, but the best one for me at the time.

    However, my husband was a very public person in San Francisco. Our wedding was a huge affair with over 450 guests and was actually broadcast online around the world. I could not have imagined a more perfect wedding. My closest friends from Turkey flew in for my special day, which meant the world to me. But Turkey can be like a small town when people start talking. My father saw mentions of our wedding on social media and immediately jumped on a plane to come to San Francisco! From Turkey!! 

    I was nervous, I had no idea why he was coming all that way to see me. Was he going to disown me? He never seemed like that type of person, so I kept an open mind. When he arrived, I checked him into his hotel in Union Square. We barely spoke, conversation was awkward at best. I didn’t want to spend the next 5 days like this.

    The next morning, I arranged it so that he and my husband would just happen to be in the same place at the same time. He was taken aback at how masculine my husband was. He actually expected one of us to be “the woman.” I snapped a quick photo of us together and then I took my father to a brunch that lasted hours but was a lifetime in the making. I explained everything about sexuality and gender. He didn’t realize gay and transgender were two different things because sex education is so censored in Turkey. I even explained how two men have sex!! Yes, we were blushing! After four hours, and maybe some wine, he totally got it. For the first time in my life, he understood and accepted the real me. We checked him out of his hotel and he stayed with us for the rest of his trip. Since then, he has been one of my closest friends. 

    That inspired me to call my mother and we had a tearful, hour-long, heart to heart. A lot of times, I think parents just want to know that their children will be safe and happy. In a place like Turkey, or even the Midwest, parents can’t fathom that happiness being available to their gay children. They imagine a life of pain and despair. Once my mother realized how happy I am, she became very supportive. Though she still hasn’t met my husband in person because of the distance, they have “met” on FaceTime. Every time my mother or father uses the word “gay” or “your husband,” it brings tears of joy to my eyes. 

    I am so proud of them for accepting my sexuality and all the openly activist LGBTQI work that I do, despite the fact that they live in such an oppressive society. I truly believe that coming out is a process that will happen when you are ready and when the timing is right. It can’t be rushed and it doesn’t follow a schedule!

    Okan Sengun, Esq., is the founding immigration attorney at Okan Immigration Law Group ( https://www.okanlaw.com/ ). He is also the Executive Director and Co-Founder of The LGBT Asylum Project: https://www.lgbtasylumproject.org/

    Published on November 5, 2020