Philip Henry

With a Desire to be Free

I’m not good with beginnings. Never have been. I’m more of a middle and end guy. Beginning from a previous end is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn. For the past year or so, I’ve considered myself a nomad. I’ve traveled to three continents and back. I’ve worked. I’ve lived. I’ve seen. I’ve toured. I got lost. I spent three months without unpacking my suitcase before having to repack it to venture out on another excursion.


All of this was done under the assumption that it wouldn’t be done. You see, my travels abroad were not endorsed by my mother and father. They wanted me to get a job and start saving money and live with them. That was something I couldn’t do, nor could I have explained to them why it couldn’t be done. I defied their request and promptly boarded my flight at 10 one rainy night.

This all started years prior on a cool Southern afternoon. I was ready to board my flight back to the Northeast Corridor and return to school. That evening, I would tell my mother that I am gay. I would lose all that I knew and would have to rebuild my character, my soul, my sense of self, from the ground up. Years of reflection have told me that it was this sense of self that I lost. I spent two years under constant fire–hearing the likes of “no mother raises a faggot,” “you are not God’s best,” “you are going to die and burn in Hell,” “you won’t be able to handle your life.” Worse was how she said it and that my father never defended me. It was how my mother looked at me as if she were looking at someone who was not her child.

She did look at me like I was not her son. She did criticize who I was. She was wrong. She is wrong. That experience taught me that I have more power over who I am than I initially thought. You’d think it to be common sense, though if who you are is never challenged, you never realize all that you are or could be.

This is why I now consider myself an advocate.

Any one of us who have been admonished by anyone–society, close friends, family–are desperate to be understood. We are desperate to be free. We want to live our lives and be who we are without any pressure of conforming.

Conformity. Funny word, that one.

Why do people feel the need to conform? What about our societal structure tells us that we should conform to this small pool of potential selves? I simply told my mother that I am gay. You, the reader, could have told your father that you want to be an artist, not an engineer. You could have told your mother that you wish to not be called by a gender-specific pronouns. You could have told your best friend that you no longer understand the value of organized religion and will stop attending religious services.


The point is, we all have a desire to be free. Though we live in a country that calls itself free, do you not find it ironic that freedom is actually hard to come by?

Hello. My name is Philip. My story is not new. My story is not the worst one or the best one out there. But I believe in history: you must know where you have come from to figure out why you believe what you believe and what you can do to change that or enhance that belief system as you grow into the future. I am not perfect. I don’t want to be. What I want to be is a sponge that soaks up information and thoughts and spits out more and more questions. So let’s get started.

Blue sunrises, Philip

Images by: Nyttend – WikiCommons and J. Billinger – Media Wiki

Samira Ibrahim: Local and worldwide hero

Egypt’s ban of virginity tests for female detainees came with smiles and a sense of victory and justice recently, thanks to a heroic woman, Samira Ibrahim. She was detained in March of 2011 and was forced to undergo an invasive virginity test, and decided to file a lawsuit to have these tests banned in Egypt. Even though the Egyptian army initially denied the use of these  tests, it was quickly revealed that women were in fact forced to undergo virginity tests, as a means to shield the army from false allegations of rape and other possible sexual violations.

These tests were a clear violation of women’s rights. Thankfully, Samira Ibrahim responded and speaks out about this injustice.

People all over the world should admire Ibrahim for standing up and making such a strong statement to conservative Egypt, and the world. What was first an issue of human rights has become a touchstone for the empowerment of  many young women.

While I know of many women’s rights issues facing a majority of the countries in the world, I sometimes find myself feeling sheltered from the worse realities and their impact. I am not experiencing their struggles directly, and many stories of what women are actually dealing with continue to go unheard. At 25, Samira Ibrahim did have the courage to share her story with the world, forever impacting all of us.

VenusPlusX blogger Kushaba Moses Mworeko offered another reason, or excuse, for the use of virginity tests.

“Long before the introduction of Christianity on the African soil, it’s worth noting that virginity tests were performed for different reasons across various cultures in different parts on the Continent. The major reason for these tests was and has always been for marriage. For instance, in African states virginity was largely determined the bride’s price; a virgin is sold for a higher bride price than a girl who is not. First, there would be a naked eye indicator of pregnancy, then on her first night of marriage, the paternal aunt of the groom would make sure an inspection of the bed sheets to verify the blood stains that would indicate whether or not virginity was lost the night before.

This same practice continues today in many cultures, including among many orthodox Jewish-Americans.”

Moses is really talking about a complexity that I find to be both confusing and disheartening. Worldwide, there is an obsession with calculating the value of women. There are many ways of doing it, across cultures (virginity tests, imposed images of beauty, expected roles to live out), but the result seems to be the same everywhere. Women are being demeaned, violated, silenced, and more.

The oppression of females and women has certainly been at the core of many nations’ founding and history. The  oppression is sometimes clear to me, along with its effects, but a root explanation and any logic behind it is not so clear. Together, we must try to understand why so many cultures find it acceptable to objectify women and devalue our talents and advantages, in order to rid the world of sexual oppression.

Choosing to live outside of systems of oppression, instead of underneath, Samira Ibrahim showed her strength, and I definitely saw and heard all of it!