Article SX Magazine Feature - A New Beginning

 A New Beginning

A New Beginning

CREATED ON // Monday, 10 February 2014 Author // Danny Corvini
Michael El-Bacha was forced into a pre-arranged marriage at 19. Two decades later, he is out and proud, with a son, and one helluva story to tell. He shares it with Danny Corvini.

Born in Sydney to Lebanese Christian parents, Michael El-Bacha grew up in Sydney’s western suburbs, the areas where he says “you hear about shootings happening every day on the news”.
As a teenager, he was well aware of his attraction to men but he fought those feelings because, he says, “I couldn’t be gay – there was no room in my background to be gay”.
Aged 19 and having just finished his HSC, Michael was sent on a trip to his parents’ homeland. At the airport his father said to him pointedly, “Get to know your cousin Afaf”. That’s when the penny dropped: his parents had arranged a marriage between him and his first-cousin, Afaf, who was just 16 and whom he had never met.
Decades later, and now an out and proud father with his own teenage son, Michael believes that his parents knew that he was gay and that’s why they married him off when he was really young. “They didn’t want me to start going out and finding out who I really was,” he says.
Now Michael wants to share his story for the sake of other Lebanese Australians who might be struggling with their own sexualities in a culture that’s largely unforgiving of homosexuality. He doesn’t have instructions to give; just experiences to share.
“I was just a kid; a virgin and I wasn’t attracted to her,” he says of the wedding. “The morning after, my father and her mother came in. They said ‘Did you?’ I said no. We were given an hour to do the deed, otherwise I would’ve disgraced the family.”
A few days after the ceremony, Michael was hospitalised for three days with what he now recognises as a nervous breakdown.  
Regardless, the marriage had to continue and Afaf gave birth to their son Buddy. “That was the best part, we were in that together,” he says. “I thought, ‘She’s here [in Australia] now, let’s just see how we go’. My son being born was the most amazing moment of my life.”
After two and a half years of marriage, Michael started shedding false skins. “I changed my whole persona,” he says. “I got into modeling and started dressing up a bit. We went to Oxford Street together and I dressed her up as Kylie in ‘Better the Devil You Know’! We were at the Albury and [drag queen] Portia Turbo pointed me out and she said, ‘Who’s that lady next to ya?’ I said, ‘That’s my wife’. She said, ‘Does your wife have a dick?’ I was attracted to the barman and the atmosphere was so comfortable; that was the first moment I knew something wasn’t right”.

[Image] Michael El-Bacha with ex-wife. Photo: supplied

Michael was like a runaway train at that point: “I couldn’t sleep around behind her back, so when we went home I said, ‘Look, I don’t love you anymore’. She stood in my way and it turned nasty, and I had to sort of shove her out of the way. My parents turned up and I got slapped across the face and I just ran away. I just needed to find me, what I was about.”
For the last 15 years Michael has remained closeted in the western suburbs and out in the east, including a 6-month stint when he worked as an escort. But that all changed dramatically last October when he came out publically on a Network Ten news bulletin about arranged marriages. And now he is making up for lost time by telling his story in a variety of formats. He has a blog which is moderated by Buddy, now 17; he’s written a book which is currently being considered by publishers; he is in talks with SBS about producing a screen version of his tale; and this Saturday he will talk about his unique personal journey at Mardi Gras’ Queer Thinking.
In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Michael writes:
"Sunday 31 July, 1994 was my wedding day. How could I ever forget? I kept thinking that once I was married that everything would be OK. I couldn’t look her in the eye; Fifi (Afaf) and I didn’t look at each other at all. We were uniting as partners for life, yet we remained emotionally and spiritually disconnected. Forty minutes later we were husband and wife.
“I was brainwashed,” says Michael looking back at his youth. He insists that he doesn’t blame his parents, despite the fact that they continue to talk about his need to re-marry.

As for Afaf, who changed her name to Fifi when they got married, she is now married to an older man who already had two children, and she has recently given birth to another.
In a twist of irony, Michael admits that he came out to Fifi in 1997 just before she and Buddy boarded a plane to Lebanon for a mother and son holiday. “My family thought her tears of despair were tears of departure,” he says. “I left her with so many questions. We get along really well now, but this didn’t turn out really well for her.”

Michael El-Bacha will be speaking at Queer Thinking, part of the Mardi Gras, on Saturday, February 15, at Seymour Centre, corner City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale. For details, go to
Visit Michael’s blog at