El Khatib is a half-Palestinian, half-Iowan New York-based marketing executive and journalist. He covers art, culture, and the intersection of LGBTQ issues and Islam. He shares his unique experiences growing up in Iowa as the gay son of a Muslim father.
This story is part of a virtual exhibition, “I Am Mohammed”, produced by Narmeen Haider and Aanjalie Collure. The project aims to subvert stereotypes by showcasing the stories of people – of all ages, sexes and nationalities – that bear the name ‘Mohammed”.
“My name is Khalid Mohamad Al Khatib. I’m half Palestinian, my dad was born just outside of Jerusalem. He left in a period of conflict in 1947 and grew up mostly in Syria before migrating to the US in 1976. He met my mom here; she’s an all American girl who’s born in Iowa. They settled in Iowa after he completed his medical residency on the East Coast. As a Palestinian American in Iowa, I had a really unique coming of age. This was compounded by the fact that I am gay.
One time I did the math and researched how many gay Palestinian Iowans might exist. There are maybe 2 or 3 of us. After college, I moved to New York, and that is where I’ve lived and worked for the past 10 years. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be named Khalid Mohammed Al Khatib and to be pale with blue eyes, to be gay, to not have an accent. The greatest challenges in my life are really tied to my name. At the most superficial, I’d say it’s a pronunciation thing. I grew up telling everyone that my name rhymed with “salad;” “ Khaleb, like salad.” I spent maybe 20 years saying that. When that basketball player Khalid El-Amin was big, everyone said my name incorrectly. When Dj Khaled was a huge deal, and I think he still is, I found so many people were able to pronounce my name the way that I do.
There’s also the issue of travel. I was sort of on the no-fly list for a period of the mid 2000s. I have been detained or interrogated to varying degrees from Washington, Dallas, to a cruise-ship down in Key West. The irony is that a of couple times I’ve been with my dad — whose name is Osama, who has dark skin, and a black mustache, and he’s waited for me as I sat in the interrogation room.
But most of where I’ve struggled in life is balancing those different identities; reconciling my foreign name and my dad’s really difficult journey to America as a refugee, with my pretty privileged upbringing, navigating what it means to have all these devout Muslim relatives that I love, who may not accept me because of my sexuality.
Ultimately, I feel lucky to have a background that’s so complicated. Throughout all these years of unpacking it, I’ve never been bored.”