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shifting the conversation

Pride month: Shifting the conversation with Hashem Mandeel

Hashem shares his personal story of hardships that have made him the person he is today.   

At Sabre, we are committed to embracing and celebrating our diversity. In this inclusion & engagement series, Shifting the Conversation, our people share their stories to engage in open dialog and shed light on their broad, rich and unique perspectives. In celebration of Pride Month, Hashem Mandeel, an active member of the Sabre Pride inclusion group, shares his personal story of hardships that have made him the person he is today. Pride is dedicated to establishing Sabre as an organization that meaningfully stands for equality, by visibly engaging in business practices, social issues and outreach programs that are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.

It was when I was around 9 or 10 years old that I was first conscious of being different from the other boys. Although I enjoyed playing the traditional gender-assigned games, I also found myself drawn to playing with dolls, dressing up and watching TV shows and movies that normally catered to girls. Like any child, I didn’t think much of it and carried on as usual. My parents were a bit concerned but hoped I might grow out of it.

When I hit puberty at 12, my journey began, riddled with hardships, discoveries, thick fogs, heartaches and revelations. While the other boys in my neighborhood and school looked up to action film stars and sports players, I had secret crushes on them. During this period, while my body went through the usual changes, my mannerisms evolved too. While other teen boys tried to look masculine, I steered more towards being more effeminate.

During my teen years, the bullying and taunting began. In my first year of intermediate school, a couple of wannabe tough guys decided I would be their punching bag for the year. My only defender was my role model, my older sister, who waited for me outside the school gates and would defend me if they even glanced my way.

At the end of the year, my father made a decision that, in hindsight, was a turning point and one of the most memorable moments of my life. He decided to send me to an all-boys boarding school in India. He and my uncles had attended the same school, and he wanted to continue the tradition. I gladly accepted this decision because I felt out of place and never really embraced my mother tongue, Arabic.

When I first reached Panchgani, a hill station in India, and saw the gates of my new school, it felt like a new beginning. A place where no one knew me, and I could carve a new identity. In the six years I was there, I had adventures and made lifelong friends. I still reminisce about this period being the most treasured to me. However, I learned the hard way that no matter how far you run from your troubles, they are like a monkey clinging to your back. They stay with you until you learn to either embrace or make peace with them. My 13-year-old self would not have been able to make such a profound realization. So, though there were wonderful times, the struggles followed me there too. I faced new bullies, wrestled with my identity and tried to conform to being as Indian as possible to fit in.

After finishing school and returning home to the Middle East, a new chapter began with college and part-time jobs. This period was a little easier, but at 19, I decided to come out to my family.

I recall the evening I mustered up the courage to finally come out. It was a weekend, and my family was chatting in the living room. I had rehearsed how the entire scene would play out in my head, but when I stood there before my dad, I started uncontrollably sobbing and blurted it all out. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces: disapproval, disgust and disappointment. My dad’s exact words were unforgettable.

“Hashem, you know I don’t like all this gay nonsense and I will never accept this part of you. However, you are my son, and I will always love you and be there for you till my last breath. And if you decide to come out to people outside this house, you will have to deal with the consequences on your own and stand your ground. We live in an Arab society, and you know exactly what most of their views are of your kind.”

At this time, in my part of the world, members of the LGBT community either stayed in the closet and unmarried their entire lives or got married and led a double life. If you decided to be out, society’s reaction depended on whether you fit traditional norms. If you did, nothing was said to your face, but plenty was done behind your back. If not, then you should expect smirks, subtle barbs and even outright derogatory insults.

I believe that is what influenced the way I look, act and dress in the present. It’s a tightrope act. I want to live my truth, fit societal norms and not compromise my uniqueness.

Despite the past hurt and pain, I feel content and blessed for:

  1. An awesome support system in the form of my best friend and circle of close friends.
  2. My family may not ever accept me being gay, but they love me regardless and have my back.
  3. A wonderful psychiatrist who has provided counsel for the past eight years.
  4. Being part of Sabre for the last 11 years, where I feel safe from discrimination based on my sexual orientation.

I believe it is because of my hardships that I am the person I am today. I am strong, resilient, compassionate, empathetic and ever ready to stand against the tide of adversity. I am proud of who I am.

It is because of what I went through that I tend to be a mother hen to younger men going through the same struggles I did. I may not be able to take away their pain, but I can guide and support them, reminding them they are not alone.

If I could speak to my 12-year-old self, I’d say, “Keep moving forward. It’s ok not to be ok. You are not alone. Don’t ever back down from people who tell you to be someone you aren’t. It will get better. Read a lot. Keep an open mind, and keep falling in love, no matter how times your heart breaks.”

So, that is my story in a nutshell. If it helps even in the tiniest of ways, I have achieved my goal. We may be strangers, but remember you are not alone, and know that I am rooting for you wherever you are in the world.

Sabre is shifting the conversation with stories from passionate and bold inclusion group members. At the heart of our inclusion & engagement efforts, our eight inclusion groups, and counting, aim to amplify the voices of our team members and create a sense of belonging for all. Together, we celebrate diversity, applaud individuality and embrace unique perspectives to empower our global team members to bring their true selves to work every day. Learn more about our inclusion & engagement mission.

about the author

Hashem Mandeel is a proud member of the Pride LGBTQ+ inclusion group at Sabre. He continues to support others globally, both personally and professionally, as a Product Support Analyst.

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