Omar Sharif Jr. on the sexual allure of gay getaway
Before starting college in the fall, my cousin Mikey and his friends had planned a ten day backpacking trip through Greece to kick off their next chapter in life. As we had always been close, Mikey invited me. Mikey knew I was always up for adventure, and wanted to hang out with him before he went to school. My father agreed to let me go and paid for my trip. A friend of his, Naldo, gave me a thousand euros to spend money on, and Grandma Faten and Aunt Nadia significantly increased the fund, telling me to have a good time.
I flew from Cairo to Athens a day before Mikey and his friends, Lindsey and Rob. When they arrived, the fun began. We went sightseeing, enjoyed traditional Greek food, and visited bars and clubs. Next thing on our itinerary was a ferry to Mykonos, one of the Cycladic islands. When the ferry docked I couldn’t wait to explore. We walked the narrow streets, spent time on the beaches, had lunch and packed it all. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Mykonos was an alluring paradise for gay men. The people were carefree and happy, I had never seen anything like it. No one had to hide – they were in plain sight, holding hands, kissing and showing affection for each other. No matter where we went, there were no shadows.
I was sure now that Mikey had heard rumors about me, but my cousin didn’t mention it or even hint at anything. Mikey didn’t judge me. He just let me enjoy being myself and being free. After we went to a few straight bars that first night, I ventured out solo so I could check out more. During the following nights, I felt myself breathing peacefully.
After leaving Mykonos, we took the ferry to Santorini, another of the Cycladic islands. The rugged landscape was shaped by a volcanic eruption and the city was built on a downward slope facing the Aegean Sea. There were charming and picturesque houses, white with blue roofs, resting on the cliffs. The colorful sunsets were painted with the most perfect strokes I have ever seen. Its breathtaking views have made Santorini the perfect place for lovebirds and honeymooners. But even with all its beauty, it doesn’t compare to Mykonos. Mykonos felt like a community, a home that I had never known.
The next day, the four of us were in line to board a ferry to the festive island of Ios. Our plans were to enjoy a few days there and then come home. I glanced around, observing my surroundings as we waited, and a small seaplane caught my eye. The sign in front of him read MYKONOS. I turned to Mikey with the biggest smile imaginable and said, “This is not my island. . . it’s my island, ”pointing enthusiastically at the sign. I gave Mikey a big hug, I said goodbye to his friends, and without further explanation, I put my big orange and black backpack over my shoulder, I jumped out of the line and rushed to a makeshift stand near the plane. As if I was trying to get away from someone, I asked the middle-aged man behind the counter, “Do you have room for another?” Folding the newspaper he was reading, he said: “You are the last. I paid him fifty euros, took my ticket and got on the plane. I was going back to paradise.
I didn’t have a hotel reservation or accommodation, but I knew I would find a solution. I hadn’t planned to return, but the island called me back like a mermaid beckoning a lost sailor. When I arrived, I went from hotel to hotel, looking for a room until I found one. I checked in, put my backpack in the cozy seaside room and set off on an adventure. I stopped by the receptionist’s office and asked him where to start. He took a small flyer out of his pocket, handed it to me, and pointed to me. “I recommend you go here. There is a party at Super Paradise this afternoon; I’m sure you will make some friends. I rented a Vespa and drove to my destination.
I parked the Vespa, followed the music towards the beach, and took off my sandals as soon as I left the paved path. The mood was cold and relaxed, like I wanted the rest of the world to be – whole and one. There were gays and straight guys partying together on the beach and sex wasn’t a problem. People did not look or point fingers, whisper or speechless. Everyone was equal, LGBTQ and allies.
After swimming in the bay, I put my towel on a lounge chair while my toes dig into the sand pebbles. I lay down to bask in the hot sun, but before I was settled in, a slim, toned guy wearing a dark blue Speedo used the other chair under my umbrella. Until then, I had only seen other guys wearing boardshorts, but when I looked around I realized I was the only one wearing them on this beach.
“Good day my friend.”
“Hi,” I replied.
“I am Adrien. And you are? ”He asked, scanning my body seductively.
“Nice to meet you, Omar. So what brings you to Mykonos? “
I wanted to say, “The same thing that brought you here”, but I didn’t. I said, “I originally came here to go out with friends.”
“Initially? Are they still there with you?” He asked, looking around to see if anyone was approaching.
“Not anymore. My cousin and his friends have been to Ios, and I have decided that I want to be here. I love this island,” I admitted as I watched the ocean flow onto the shore with its own pace. and its own timing.
“I like it here too. After a brief pause, he added, “You are quite handsome.”
I didn’t respond, because it wasn’t something I used to hear. Adrian was handsome, Australian, in his early twenties, and built like a footballer. I listened to Adrian tell me about himself and his job as a flight attendant for Emirates. He seemed to be worldly, friendly and good-natured. When he spoke, it was refreshing to hear him talk openly about whatever he wanted. He didn’t need to say he was gay, because there was no reason to hide it or explain it. He wasn’t shy or uncomfortable with his sexuality either, at least not in Mykonos. Unlike me, Adrian didn’t seem to be hiding a secret at all. At sixteen, I hadn’t reached that level of comfort, and I wasn’t sure I would ever get there. But the island didn’t have any closets, and until I left I was free to explore being myself.
“How old are you?”
– Seventeen, I lied. “But I’m going to go to college soon,” I added, realizing that I had just admitted that I was a minor, but woefully couldn’t make myself look more mature.
Adrian suddenly stood up and said, “Let’s go!”
“You are on school vacation. It’s hot in here, isn’t it? I nodded in agreement. “So let’s grab some ice cream and explore.”
As the day wore on, I felt more comfortable with Adrian. He bought us ice cream and we walked the beach until the heat got unbearable, forcing us to swim to cool off. When we emerged from the ocean, we stood there with the waves rolling over our feet. Adrian moved closer to me until I could feel his breath on my lips, as if asking my permission. With the heat of the sun on my back, I leaned down and he kissed me. I let go of all my thoughts and really let myself go for the first time. We returned to my hotel, and in short, we found out exactly what I was prepared to do for a Klondike bar. . . and it was wonderful.
The next morning I walked to the lobby to ask the concierge if he was aware of anything exciting happening on the island that day. Completely prepared for my question, he recited a variety of activities and parties happening on the beaches and in some of the local bars. When I turned to leave I met a group of guys who were staying at the same hotel. After an informal conversation, they asked me if I was with anyone. When I told them I was alone, they invited me to hang out with them and explore the island. After getting to know them, I turned to Rayan, a handsome Jordanian in his twenties. He told me a lot about him, especially that he worked as a dentist. The more we learned about each other, the more we became attracted to each other. I think it was mainly because of our common Arab origin, but his muscular and sturdy appearance wasn’t a deterrent either. A few hours later, my phone vibrated. I glanced at the message, realizing I had forgotten about Adrian.
He invited me out on a date, but I didn’t know what to say because I was exactly where I wanted to be at the time. I really liked Rayan and wanted to know more about him ever since he first caught my eye – and when I looked up at him, he still had it. I put my phone away without sending an answer. After a long day of activities, dining and dancing, I was sure I wanted to spend the night with Rayan. And that night turned into another.
I found myself in an emotional triangle with Adrian and Rayan. My interest was undoubtedly in Rayan, but I didn’t feel good ignoring Adrian’s message. I wanted to be polite to him because he was the first guy I had met on the island – and the first guy I had ever slept with – so I agreed to date him again.
On the fourth night, while Adrian and I were going to have dinner at a restaurant, we bumped into Rayan and his disappointment was palpable.
“I tried to reach you,” he told me.
“I planned to call you tonight.
“I’m sure. It looks like you took advantage of the island today,” he said, looking at Adrian.
“We were just doing tourism. Nothing else, really.
Rayan put his hands in his pockets, kind of shrugged, and then he left.
In the end, nothing worked with Adrian or Rayan. I never expected to leave Mykonos with a boyfriend, but I accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I had discovered and freely explored a whole new side of myself. Maybe I haven’t found love, but I have found permission to love within myself.
After my return to Egypt, dad and I went to see Omar in France before taking the plane back to Canada. In my world, I had become a little more comfortable with who I was, although no one knew different.
Extract of A Tale of Two Omars: A Memoir of Family, Revolution, and coming out during the Arab Spring by Omar Sharif, Jr., courtesy Counterpoint Press.