Noor Hesham Selim Takes Us for a Ride: Talking Personal Struggles, Gender Identity, and Love

By: Ali + Hanya

Despite all the chaos that last year brought with it, it’d be unfair to say that that’s all we can take from it. We’ve been given the space to start important conversations that we need to have in our society. One of many would be the rather infamous story of Noor Hesham Selim, who we literally couldn’t do anything but jump onto the opportunity to sit and have a long, comfortable conversation with.

Among many things, Noor is passionate. At just 27, it’s safe to say that he’s been through a lot, but the wisdom he has to offer and the ideas he has to share probably far outweigh the struggles he’s had to face to get to where he is now. And that’s not to say that struggles are the source of all he has to offer; the love, compassion and support he’s received, are as much a part of him as everything he’s had to endure. 

There’s still so much he hasn’t done yet -so much we’re excited to see- but in our (not so) little conversation, we already managed to bring back snippets of his life so far, from passions and university life, to hopes he has for the future, lessons he’s learned the hard way, relationships or otherwise, his multiple tattoos, and some of the experiences he’s gone through which have made him the person he is today. 

Though this interview has been one of the longest, we couldn’t do anything to brief it because Noor is an exceptionally diverse man.

Side note: this interview was conducted last December, so it is still 2020 here.

Side note #2: grab a tissue box and hot chocolate, you’ll need them.

So. without further ado, Noor Hesham Selim.

So for starters, who is Noor Selim in a few words? 

“I think this is probably one of the hardest questions- I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out. Banee2adam tabee3y: ba7eb so7aby wel nas wel negara [just a normal person: I love my friends, people, and woodworking.] But ask me in a year and I’ll have a different answer- I hope at least.”

Why negara [woodworking]?

“I think there’s something nice about it- almost everything in my home is made out of wood. I realized I can basically build my own home and the things that I need to customize them myself. I like things to be the way I see them in my head, and the best way to do that is to sort of do it yourself. I just like making things in general, whatever it is: earrings, candles, beds, anything.”

And are you making a living out of this?

“We’re trying- the goal is a furniture design/art house/just sort of a creative zone.”

You keep saying we, who’s we, if not Noor?

“We is Noor and all of the future Noors. Because I’m always changing, Noor of last year is not Noor of this year, fa ba7es en fi Noors keteer [I feel like there are many Noors]. It’s definitely we.”

So would you consider that your passion, in a sense- to create stuff in general?

“Yeah for sure. Since I was a kid I used to sometimes buy something and break it just to fix it. It’s always been like that, I’m not sure I know why. Even now if something breaks I would kind of  be happy because that means I can start playing around with it and finding out what it’s made of and what’s inside it”

Do you have a specific music taste that you lean on?

“Music has always been a very, very big part of my life. I used to wake up in the morning to my Grandpa listening to music and just looking at the view. I think in general, any form of art is something I lean on- whether it’s drawing or music or film; it just does something to me. The fact that I can listen to a song and a single note can make my whole body shiver- there’s no way to put it, it’s weird, but amazing. Oh and I also like pottery; kont baroo7 [I would visit] Fagnoon every week growing up and I loved it.” 

What was your college experience like in the UK compared to highschool life in Egypt? 

“College years were some of the best years of my life. Compared to school in Egypt; it was fun and everything bas matle3tesh be 7aga fel akher [I didn’t come out with much]. When I went to London, even if I wasn’t taking college very seriously but at least I was learning THE life experience: living alone abroad, taking care of myself, paying my own bills -the responsibility in general- it was a brand new experience. And, of course, living abroad alone, I’d do whatever I wanted to- I’d be walking in the street wearing whatever I wanted to wear and no one would bat an eye! In the beginning I didn’t understand why no one was looking, I was used to everyone always looking at each other if anyone passed by in the street, to the point where I started thinking, “is there something weird about me? Or are these people racist?” But in the end, I found out that these people just don’t care.”

There’s a kind of liberation in  starting over in a country where no one knows you. In a sense, you can try out a new personality every week until you start figuring out who you are. Did you ever find yourself doing that (or at least in a less extreme way)?

“Yeah for sure. I was there for Acting, Film and Theatre, so I used to literally take on the roles of some characters. Sometimes, I’d be this Russian guy, or maybe Italian or Moroccan or something, and I used to just talk to people and go to parties where I’d be one person this night and another the next. This one time someone even saw me two months after we’d met and was like, “Oh yeah, Mark!” Apparently, Mark was me.”

Going back to a time before you went to uni, you used to live in Hurghada, right? Could you tell us a bit about that experience and having your childhood there?

“Well for starters I was super young -the range of Grade1 or 2- so I don’t really remember that much about the school experience. I do remember, though, that I really enjoyed it. My friends all had different nationalities, so it felt super international. And like imagine finishing school and heading to the Gouna club house -it didn’t even feel like school- it was more like the coolest camp you’d ever attend. 3ashan keda ta3leemy fel ard [that’s why my education is crap] (like talk to me about school, I don’t know anything. Bas ermeeny fel ba7r ha3raf a3oom [but I’m really good with real life experiences/situation])

I’m also a licensed captain, so I can drive boats, which I honestly think is pretty cool”

How are you feeling now that we’re at the end of this “twisted” year?

“As bad of a year as it was, with all its natural disasters if you’d call it that because I don’t know what the hell it is. Fi haga ghalat w fi haga betehsal bas ana mesh aref heya eh [There’s something wrong and there’s something up but I don’t know what it is], and I don’t know if this is normal or not, but it actually was a really, really good year for me. I’m kind of confused, but I’m also very grateful for the place I’m in right now, mentally, spiritually, health-wise. 2020 gave me mesaha keda: you couldn’t focus on anything but yourself because there’s no work, no travels, absolutely nothing. You’re just stuck in a place and the only thing you can do is either grow and use this time for yourself, or you start being angry and blame the world for it. But I don’t know, it was a really good year for me and I’m very happy. Just a bit confused, I think, is the direct answer to that question if you will.”

Is this purely because of your mindset and the place you put yourself in or are there external factors that play a role in that?

“I think the fact that all of this popped (my story and coming out) shal men 3alaya [removed] a weight. I was always worried about, “is it gonna come out? Are people gonna find out? Is it gonna be leaked? Or will the sahafa [media] find out en ana bahawel a2adem 3ala tagheer beta2a [that I’m trying to apply for a change in my ID?]?” Fa the fact that it came out this way, that my Dad was the one to talk about it openly and he talked about it well and then it was me and him together. It doesn’t even feel like this was this year, it feels like a long time ago, but it was actually just March/April. It’s not even a year old, only like six/seven months ago. All these things that happened (and the support and messages I was getting to help them and all that) just made me realize el howa this is probably where I need to be right now.”

“I think the fact that all of this popped (my story and coming out) shal men 3alaya [removed] a weight. I was always worried about, “is it gonna come out? Are people gonna find out? Is it gonna be leaked? Or will the sahafa [media] find out en ana bahawel a2adem 3ala tagheer beta2a [that I’m trying to apply for a change in my ID?]?” Fa the fact that it came out this way, that my Dad was the one to talk about it openly and he talked about it well and then it was me and him together. It doesn’t even feel like this was this year, it feels like a long time ago, but it was actually just March/April. It’s not even a year old, only like six/seven months ago. All these things that happened (and the support and messages I was getting to help them and all that) just made me realize el howa this is probably where I need to be right now.”

It’s pretty evident that you’ve received lots of support online since your first public appearance, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been any backlash either. How has it been dealing with hate you get online? And do the supportive messages outweigh the bad?

Yes, definitely, a million times yes, no doubt. The rude comments don’t even phase me, they’d go like, “you’ll rot in hell” and I’m like, “okay cool.” There was one that was actually really funny, this one guy just said, “if i saw you in the streets ill f*ck you over” so I just asked him where he lives so I can go to him. Asl mesh beyday2oony fi haga, fa [They don’t really upset me, so I] might as well enjoy it, ba3od asef aleihom [I make fun of them]. They think they’ll throw an insult at me and I’ll go crying about it like how could you even say that, but no. They hate these reactions- it’s funny.

But my perspective is that those showering me with love and support, they’re on our side and there’s no conversation to have. However, I need to have a conversation with the haters, that narrative needs to change because it is a problem. So if I’m strong enough to take it, then why wouldn’t I? Definitely mesh hante7er ala comment fi [I won’t k*ll myself over a comment on] Instagram- so good thing enaha gat feya [that it hits me]? Edrab feya [come at me], it doesnt phase me, enta mesh hateegy te2oly kelma testafezeny w tewga3ny [you won’t throw a comment that would irritate or hurt me], I’m pretty self-secure and confident. Ben7awel [Or, we try (to be)]. 

Did you go through a specific experience that got you to the point where you have this much confidence in yourself?

“I think ever since I was very young, everyone was always telling me that I am a certain way and I had to deny that because I knew who I really was, so I had to, from a very young age, be very confident in myself.  I had to just make the decision and stick with it no matter what, because I knew my truth. I think that was one of the main reasons.

The second main reason is that I hated myself for a very very long time because of all the shit I was going through. So I had to reach this point where i was going to love myself and realize that self-love is  a very important thing. And it’s not exactly cockiness or being self-centered, but genuinely loving yourself and being okay with yourself. Once you get to this place of self-love and self-acceptance, everything sort of just rolls off your back like, ‘alright dude say whatever you want, I don’t care.’ ”

Do you have any advice for teens who are still trying to figure themselves out, and are maybe struggling to find out who they are?

“My only advice is probably just try to be kind to yourself. Once you’re kind to yourself, everything else will fall into its place when it has to.”

When it comes to support from the people you know personally – your friends and family – were things generally better/worse than what you’d expected?

“With my friends and family I didn’t expect anything because they were still in my life and they were always supportive, but I didn’t expect them to go out of their way to tell me they were proud of me.”

From your experience, is the younger generation really more accepting than older generations or have you found it to be more a matter of the culture and environment someone is raised in?

“I don’t think I can give you an exact answer since most people who speak to me message me on social media, so I don’t really know how old or young they are. But in general I can maybe give you an example of Twitter. So Twitter is very much occupied by the younger generation and I feel like they’re a lot more open for sure. Like when I first heard the word ‘transgender‘, I was 19 years old. For you guys, though, it’s more common for a kid to have heard it when they’re around 10 years old, so it’s sort of a given for you to grow up knowing about these things. 

There is something I’m not really a big fan of when it comes to the younger generation, though, and it’s that you’ve become so open that you’re closed. Thing is, being open minded means I’m willing to sit down and listen to anyone who wants to have a discussion with me, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t exactly share the same thoughts that I do then you’re not ‘good’. So that’s something that bugs me about the younger generation, but I do think it does have to be like that; it has to go from one extreme to the other until you slowly find the balance.”

Noor then proceeded to explain his views on acceptance, specifically mentioning that there is beauty to be found in diversity of thoughts; how we don’t all want to be clones of each other with the exact same ideals. That in no way means, however, that we can’t coexist regardless.

“You can’t force your opinions or your way of thinking on other people. The only thing that is required from everyone is to treat other people respectfully. I’m not telling you to accept me or whatever – I don’t care whether you accept me or not. As long as you treat me respectfully and let me live my life the way I see fit, that’s it. ”

You mentioned before how art and music – basically any creative outlet – is something you tend to lean on. Is there anything else that’s helped keep you going when things were particularly difficult?

“I think those are mainly the things, but – and this is gonna sound weird – science! I’ll read or listen to things about astrophysics and chemistry and just things that show you how big the universe is, which kind of makes you realize how lots of the problems you might be facing are meaningless/don’t matter as much as we feel they do. So yeah, that also helps sometimes – it just puts things into perspective.”

What is (a common misconception about being trans/) something you get asked/told a lot that can sometimes get on your nerves?

“Personally, I don’t really get annoyed very easily. I, of course, understand the confusion; if I were born cis, I’d also be like ‘what the fuck do you mean?’ Like the only reason I understand it is because I’ve been through it, so I get the confusion and the curiosity and all these things.

The one thing I think is annoying as fuck, is that the first question is always like, ‘but what about your genitals?’ There’re so many things that are wrong with that, like why are you thinking about that? We’re not ever gonna have sex so why does that matter to you? I understand the curiosity and wanting to understand how it works, but, you know, Google is a thing. And your curiosity shouldn’t trump my comfort or my privacy.” 

Noor even went so far as to give us some advice before we ask something that might come off as insensitive.

“So maybe ask yourself before you ask these things, like why do you want to know? Ask yourself  if this is something you should be asking a human being who’s going through a process that’s really uncomfortable for them. You might not  understand that it’s not easy for a trans person to answer something like that. I personally don’t care, but you have to understand that just because you’re curious doesn’t give you the right to put someone in a position that’s not necessarily the place they want to be.

Besides, just asking ‘do you have a dick?’ or ‘do you have a vagina?’ – it’s pointless, like you haven’t learnt anything – there’s no science there. You didn’t find out any actual information like, for example, what trans people go through or have to undergo, how much they are paying, whether any of it is covered by insurance – things that help you actually understand the struggle a trans person might be going through.”

As the conversation went on, we talked about how with all the privileges and resources we have, we’re really not using the Internet to its fullest capacity at all.

“The fact that we literally have all the information in the world at the tip of our fingers constantly, and yet, still,  nobody knows shit, is very shocking benezbaly [for me]. When I’m with my friends and I might be on my phone, I’m not texting – I’m fact checking what people are saying, researching or actually learning the things that we’re talking about.

I remember this one time someone asked what the difference between full cream and skimmed milk was, so I just started researching and ended up spending 30 minutes reading about milk. And at the end of the day, I learned something, and I read about something that I’m putting in my body. And actually, I stopped drinking milk after that day.”

Have you found that you often need to remind people that there is more to a person than their gender identity?

“Well, if you mean specifically as a trans person, I think as a trans man here in Egypt, I pass very well, and if I don’t tell someone there’s probably no way they would just know, so I think that gives me the freedom ‘cause people don’t see me as trans – they just see me as a guy. Maybe if I had ‘wider hips’ or a higher-pitched voice or I didn’t have a beard, I could be put into that box of just trans, like trans women in Egypt (unfortunately). 

It’s very rare that you see a trans woman who ‘passes’ especially in Cairo. There just aren’t as many services they can afford or access, like electrolysis to remove hair or facial feminization and removing Adam’s apples – you know – things that you can’t really take away without surgery, and surgery costs money. So yeah, as a trans woman in Egypt you’re always gonna be trans – like that’s something they put on you. I’m just lucky enough that I don’t fall under this category.

As for being reduced to your gender in general, I think this concept of needing to be treated a certain way mewadeyana fe dahya [is fucking us over]. Like, I’m a guy, I’m masculine in my own way, but I’m also super feminine. I love to hold my friends and give them love and adala3hom [spoil them] – everything my mother did for me I love to do for my friends. And I’m very proud of my feminine side. It took me a long time to get there but now I’m very much in touch with it and I want it to be there and I’m happy with it. I think it’s good to cry and it’s good to be emotional and it’s good to let out your feelings and do all these things that are ‘feminine’. At the end of the day, why do we even need to think ‘is this male? Is this female?’ Ya 3am enta bane2adam w bet7es. 7es. [Dude, you’re a human and you have feelings. Just feel.]” 

Noor then shared some of his views on feminism, and how it’s often misunderstood by men.

“It doesn’t take away from men at all – it’s just about raising the bar for women and equality. And that’s never gonna happen until men realize there are things that they’re doing that need to be undone. 

Also keep in mind that, for the longest time, men have been the providers. That’s the only thing men have. Women can literally do everything a man can do – everything – and they can give birth. Men need women, women don’t  necessarily need men. They need sperm; they don’t need men. This is perhaps one of the reasons men may find it difficult to uphold feminism in the sense that it feels as though they’re acknowledging this fact that they’re not strictly needed, which, while I understand can be difficult, is inevitable.

Radical feminism is scary, though. One time I opened a door for a woman, and she was like ‘what, you don’t think I can open the door for myself cause I’m a woman?!’ like, I do this for men too – I’m just polite. Calm down.”

How important do you think representation is in the media/did any form of media in particular play a role in helping you figure things out?

“I think representation is definitely important, so you can see that it’s possible for someone like me to exist and survive and thrive. Even Barbie started making black barbies and hijabi barbies – Baby Born, too. So yeah, representation is definitely important. Funnily enough, though, films and stuff I saw on TV actually pushed me away from transitioning. So Jerry Springer and Maury Povich were these reality TV shows where they’d get a woman who had a baby but didn’t know who the father was and they’d do the test on the show and stuff. Sometimes they’d have people who had sex changes on, but when they did, they’d always be ridiculed or presented as these ‘freaks’ so that was the only representation I had growing up. That was the only time I saw people who felt the way I felt, so seeing that, it made me feel like that’s not who I want to be. I feel like if I were like 10 years younger, I would’ve come out at 14-15 maybe; way sooner. So much has changed these few years.”

We haven’t heard much about your mother, but we obviously know who your father is. Do you not like talking about it or is there nothing in particular? Is she in your life or?

“No I have no problem talking about it, people just never ask about her. She’s very much in my life – we live in the same building, and yeah she’s the best, she’s the cutest thing in the world. She’s super supportive and just feels like this angel from the sky. 

When I first went vegetarian she’d call me to ask what we could make for food that day/what we could experiment, and she even bought vegetarian cookbooks… She just always tries her best to help me go through whatever it is I’m going through; if I wanted to go vegan or pescetarian or whatever, she’d support me.

And when I first came out to her, at first she was like,

 ‘Eh? [what?] I’m kind of shocked.’ 

‘Wtf how are you shocked?’ 

‘I just thought it was a phase’

‘I’ve spent 22 years – like – how can it be a phase, mom – it’s literally my whole life.’

And then like a week later I got a notification that she’d added me as her son on Facebook. It’s just these super cute little 7arakat [gestures] keda. 

She also has these internet fights, like someone told her once ‘your child is always going to be a woman’ or something, and she responded with ‘No, my son is not a woman, and if you ever said that to him, you’d really upset me’, like, mom, people don’t care.”

We do care, though, and we think it’s the sweetest thing ever.  

Did you have a defining ‘aha’ moment? Like, a distinctive memory that made you decide ‘fuck the world, I’ll live however I want to live’? 

“So, like I said, I went to the UK and I found that I didn’t like to introduce myself. I didn’t know why so I did some research and discovered the word transgender, and eventually I realized, holy shit this is me. I then entered this depressive period where I didn’t know what to do – my dad is a famous actor in Egypt so if this gets out, the family’s reputation might go to shit, so is this something I want to do or not? Obviously, I thought I would have to seek asylum and live abroad which would mean I wouldn’t be able to go back home. All of these things sort of played a role in the decision making, but I decided that first thing’s first, I’m going to talk to my parents about this and figure things out.

So I came back to Egypt and spent a year here. Every few days I’d go up to the door of my dad’s room to knock, get really really scared and then leave. Until one day I just decided that the time had come, you know, it needs to be done. What I have to do right now is knock on the door, enter, and tell him I need to talk – once I do this, it has to happen. So I literally almost ran into the room and told him we needed to talk, and then I started sweating, like ‘fuck, now I have to actually do this.’ So I think that was probably the moment where I decided this was something that needs to be done. And the fact that when I told him he said, ‘okay, what do we need to do?’ like, no questions asked, no refusal, it was just straight away, ‘what’s the process?’ and ‘what do you need from me?’ So yeah, that was probably the first moment where I was like, ‘Fuck the world, my dad is with me.’”

Taking a bit of a detour, do you consider yourself to be a romantic, or are you more level-headed when it comes to love and relationships?

“I think growing up, I was definitely the hopeless romantic. I would watch films like the notebook wel howa ‘habneelek beit be edaya’ w [and like, I’ll build you a house myself, and] that sort of thing so, very very stupid. But I think I’m getting to a place now where there’s no problem to be a hopeless romantic because the person you’re with deserves to have that, because you’re getting it back; it’s reciprocated. It’s not just a one-way thing where you’re giving everything to a person and not necessarily getting that back, or it’s toxic or whatever. So yeah, I think now that I’m older, somewhere between super romantic and also still level headed and aware that this person deserves it.

And also, like, a long time ago, even if I was broke, I’d do everything I could to like buy her the new phone that she wanted, or go on a date. But now, I’m realizing I can tell her, ‘listen, I know it’s your birthday and I wanted to do this but I have zero money so instead we’re gonna go to wadi-degla and have a barbeque.’ So I’m not spending a dime – maybe 10/15/20 pounds, but at the same time we’re gonna have a really nice day.

But definitely when I was younger it was some dumb, dumb shit. ”

Any useful relationship lessons you might have learned the hard way that you wouldn’t mind sharing? 

“Something that I learned is never be in a relationship with someone because it feels like they fill a void in you, or it feels like they are the reason why you’re happy, or that they are the reason you’re trying to be better. Be in a relationship with someone who is there for you when you need them to be, who is there to support you constantly and will support you unconditionally, and that’s it. Don’t look for a person who makes you feel some type of way – you have to feel those ways for yourself. You have to find those things for you, not for someone else. ”

As the conversion went on, Noor also shared some insights which he had learned from a past partner, which are particularly important for us guys, to learn to use our privileges to help dismantle the subtle patriarchal mannerisms that we don’t even always notice:

“So now if I’m sitting in a restaurant and the girl ordered the cheque then the waiter gives it to me, I’m like, ‘howa ana el talabto? La2 heya el talabeto. [Did I ask for it? No, she did]’ Thing is, if she does that, it’s just overlooked, but if I do that, he’s gonna take my word because ‘fi ragel bey2olly keda, akeed howa el sa7.’ [It’s a man who told me, so he has to be right.”

And are there any stories you want to share, specifically?

“I think just going through one relationship, I can’t say it was their fault or anything – it was very much a two-sided thing. There was just a lot of self-deprecation and internalized hatred, so all of my insecurities started coming up in my relationships and I’d get jealous and stuff like that. So I was definitely not easy to be with because of all of these things. That’s why I can’t really say anything about a specific relationship because all of my relationships were quite shit until I learned to take care of myself.

 And I think that’s also why all of these girls that were in my life are still good friends of mine. We both realized there’s still love there, it’s just it wasn’t necessarily the right type of love or the right time. But yeah we’re still very close. And there’s also something that happens when you’re intimate with someone where it’s like there’s a connection there which you can’t deny. Where does the love go when it’s over, you know? It’s still there.”

Noor then went on to share his opinion on the classical ‘Damsel in Distress’ trope of Disney movies and fairytales, where the princess is always waiting for her prince charming to come save the day:

“How is this even happening? That’s why I like Anime. Those are cartoons that are teaching you to take care of yourself and be strong and be powerful, to learn and grow, and to experience and be curious. All of these things as opposed to the classic Disney prince and princess. That’s not to say that I don’t of course love Disney, though, but I do think it’s a bit problematic.” 

Noor particularly recommends some Studio Ghibli classics; Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, two very creative and empowering anime movies. He went on, explaining how growing up, he always thought that if he had any kids, he’d have them watch all his favorite Disney movies from his childhood, but then realized that might not always be the best idea.

“What if I have a daughter who sees these things and she’s just waiting for her prince to come? Then I watched Spirited Away where the girl is like ‘I’m scared!’ and the guy just tells her that it’s good to be scared, to just go on and that she’ll be okay.” Noor said.

Run us through your self-care routine, please? We’re curious! 

“Not really. I’m very – I think they call it metrosexual? So I really like to take care of my beard, I have my old razor and badger brush, old school shaving creams – that sort of thing. So, yeah, when it comes to my beard, there’s a lot of maintenance and I enjoy taking care of it. I’m also very picky with my teeth – I brush my teeth, then I use something called a waterpik, which is essentially just a floss where you inject water in between your teeth, and then I have this interdental brush and a tongue cleaner. So when it comes to mouth hygiene, I’m very very weird.

As for my internal self-care, I’m always trying to learn and just become a better person, whatever form it comes in. Whether it’s educating myself, learning new concepts, understanding psychology and all of these things which I think can benefit me in my life and relationships – whether it’s a romantic relationship or a business or a friendship. All of these things start from inside and how you see yourself, and just the stuff you know about the world and how to deal with people.”

Do you think your transition was made any easier because your physical body matched your identity as a man, from that of a woman? It’s certainly a point for the patriarchy, right? As opposed to a person who identifies as a woman but was born in a male body, their choosing to transition from a “superior” body to that of an “inferior” one – according to the patriarchy, of course – has got to be harder, right? What do you think? 

“Yeah for sure, like no doubt in my mind. I don’t think I would be alive today if it were the other way round. Like to be completely honest, I don’t think I’d be strong enough to deal with all of that. Sometimes I’ll be standing fe lagna [in a police stop in the middle of the road (?)] or something w wa7ed yeegy ye2oly [and a guy would come over and tell me] ‘Ah enta Noor welcome to the club ya bro,’ like what? ” 

This issue, amongst many others, is sometimes considered to be in some way related to culture or religion, but Noor thinks the core problem lies in one single system:

“It’s purely patriarchy. That’s it.  Anything that is deemed masculine is good, and anything that is deemed feminine is bad.”

I can imagine it’s not necessarily easy being the son of an amazing celebrity like – well – your dad, Hesham Selim (I literally grew up watching him in Harb el Gawasees with my mom). Has anyone tried to get close to you/become your friend just because you’re his son?

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but like I do have a couple of friends who ask me how my dad is, or if he’s gonna do anything big soon, almost every time we meet, and it’s like, just ask about me, not my dad you know?’ ” → (explains jokingly)

But, yeah, I wouldn’t say it was ever necessarily been an issue. The only time it’s maybe been problematic or annoying is when I want to go have lunch with my dad or go on a walk for him, you know. It all comes from a place where people love him and they just want to say hello, so growing up I realized this is actually a good thing – as annoying as it is, it’s actually really wonderful and it’s just people showing love for my dad.”

What’s a meal/dessert you can’t live without? 

“It’ll most likely be a dessert. A long time ago I would’ve said meat, because I really love it and still miss it everyday. When it comes to desserts, I really love them – any kind – I love chocolate, ice cream, squeeze manga – I don’t know, there’s honestly so much. Food is life, it’d be really hard to choose.”

Noor, how do you feel about nail polish? Would you ever [dare] rock some?

“I think if you can rock nail polish, do it. I personally don’t think I can because my fingers are quite short so when I do, it shows how short my fingers are. But I do know some guys who have stunning hands and wear nail polish and I’m like ‘yes bitch.’ And you don’t even have to be gay or a crossdresser or whatever – you can just be a straight dude and do it, like it’s fine. Emo culture and punk culture is all about nail polish. I mean, not all about but you get it.

At the end of the day, it’s so simple, and I don’t know why it’s become so confusing, but my mentality is, kol wa7ed bera7to [to each their own]. As long as you’re not harming yourself or anyone around you, do whatever the fuck you want.”

Note: start of Trigger Warning – mentions of suicide

If our lowest moments define us, show us who we really are, do you mind sharing yours? What lessons did pain/fear teach you? (TW: suicide)

“One of my lowest moments I called a suicide hotline in London. I was at a point where I felt like life didn’t have a purpose and just thought ‘what’s the point?’ I thought that this way, instead of my parents getting criticism for having a trans child, they’d get love and support because their child is dead. I was in this really really weird zone. 

I called the suicide hotline and this woman picked up and was like ‘Hello, how can I help?’ and then I replied, “You can’t” and I hung up. At this moment I realized that nothing’s gonna change unless I change my perspective. And it’s not that I wanna die as opposed to I wanna live but not in this position. I want my circumstances to change and the only way that’s gonna happen is if I change my circumstances. Killing myself is never gonna change my circumstances – it’s just gonna end the option of having another life.

As for fear, I spent so many years telling myself, in my head, that if I ever told my parents they’d disown me, and that the world is gonna hate me. And then when I went through it, everyone was super supportive and loving and caring. If you keep something in your head for too long, you start making up these scenarios in your head which aren’t necessarily the truth, but you start to believe them because of how often you play them in your head. 

Something that I realized is that whatever energy you bring into a certain situation is the energy you’re gonna get back. From the world, from the people you’re talking to, whatever. So I think fear taught me, ‘don’t be scared.’ Because you can be scared and then do something and realize that there was no need to be scared, but you can also realize that there was a need to be scared but it wasn’t as bad, or there was a need to be scared, and I’m never gonna do that again. Either way, I learned something. ”

And as the emotions started building up in our call, we reached a beautiful explanation so as to why. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same situation, but the feelings are the same. The emotions are the same. It’s always relatable. We can always relate to each other. We can always empathize.”

If our best moments define us, show us who we could be, do you mind sharing yours? What lessons did hope/love teach you?

“Funnily enough this one’s harder to answer. I think the amount of love I’ve received from the people in my life and this support that I’ve got have helped me become the person I am today, and without it I wouldn’t necessarily be here. It’s so important to just love everyone around you, even if they’re not necessarily your friend, like I can love complete strangers. And when I say love I don’t mean I’d do anything for you or whatever, it’s just that I love you because you’re a human being on this planet, we’re part of the same species, and because the way we’re gonna evolve is if we care about each other. So I think love plays a huge role in people’s capabilities and the way they feel about themselves, and I think I;m very very lucky when it comes to the amount of love I’ve had in my life. 

When it comes to things like hope, I think every time I hear about a child whose parents – because of my story and my coming out – have accepted them as trans and helped them start their transition and supported them through it – things like this just give me hope. I can make a difference. I can make a change. Even if it’s not like I’m changing the laws or whatever. But maybe 4/5 kids have been able to start transitioning or have got their parents’ support because they saw Hesham Selim, who’s someone they love, talking about it.

The hope that I get from these 5 sentences from random children on Instagram is what motivates me to keep going and keep pushing, to have a conversation and turn this into a social discourse sort of thing, so we can all start talking about it at least.”

Where do you go from here? What plans and hopes and dreams do you have in place? Who do you hope to be, still? 

“Yeah, I wanna change something in the world. My dream is to make a difference, whatever form that comes in or however big it is. If I die before I’ve made some sort of change, then I haven’t fulfilled my purpose. I just wanna help people be free. Be free to choose their own destiny and lives without fear of persecution or violence in general. I wanna make a difference, and I think I can, so I’m hoping that I manage to do that.”

Well, boys/girls/enbys or she/he/theys, aren’t you glad we warned you to bring a tissue box, first? And aren’t you ecstatic that we were blessed with the sweet sweet soul of Noor? Thank you for being our light, Noor.

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