By Sara Racek, 16, Staff Writer
Twenty-one-year-old Khalid still remembers being 14 and attracted to his friend.
“There was this older guy in my school who was interested in me, friendship-wise. Being around him, I always felt safe and secure. I felt I couldn’t be touched or harassed. I remember waiting for my mom to pick me up after school, and he’d be there doing the same. We’d talk, and whenever my book would fall from my hand, he’d lean down and pick it up for me. That made me feel special.”
Khalid couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something about this particular friend that made him feel special and silly and completely confused. Khalid spent hours pondering his feelings and what they meant. Was this a crush?
Khalid lives in Amman, Jordan, in the Middle East. At 14, he had never heard the word “gay” before.
“I remember reading the word ‘gay’ on a cover of a magazine, which led me to look for the meaning. After finding out what it really meant, I was in this phase of confusion,” Khalid explains. “I isolated myself from all the people around me and kept my distance from my friends and family. I created my own world—my own cocoon, where I felt free and more myself.”
As a Muslim person—someone who follows the religion of Islam—Khalid knows the rules about being gay. According to the Koran—the sacred text of the Islamic faith, which records what Muslims believe to be the revelations of God to the prophet Muhammad—being gay or lesbian is an act against the will of God and a sin.
At 14, Khalid never thought he would have anything other than a typical life: get a good job, marry a woman and start a family. He never suspected how out of the ordinary his life would be and how much he would change the society he lives in.
Breaking the Rules
As Khalid looked at the Arab world around him, he always knew that “coming out” really wasn’t an option. It goes against Islamic teachings and is just socially unacceptable. In spite of this, Khalid was amazed by the number of people who were out.
“You’d be surprised by the amount of people who’re out, whether to family and friends or in universities and schools. Most of the gay people I know are out. Many are supported, and many aren’t, just like everywhere else,” he says.
Khalid explains that while he uses the word “out,” he doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on it. Being completely open about being gay or lesbian isn’t truly an option. There are people who are honest about being gay or lesbian, who are disowned by their families, suffer from loneliness or are the victims of other people’s intolerance.
Despite this, Khalid didn’t want to hide the fact that he was gay from his family and friends anymore, so he told them.
“I consider myself to be really lucky. I live among people who know what I am and who I am, and I’m not judged. My brothers and cousins know, even my parents and uncles as well, but we don’t necessarily talk about it. Well, not as much as we used to,” he says.
Even though Khalid’s family accepted him, his religion didn’t. You would think that he would have totally abandoned his faith, but he didn’t.
“I don’t feel that my sexuality has affected my religious belief in any way. I do consider myself a Muslim,” Khalid says.
He is still a firm believer in Islam, and he gets his basic morals from his religion. He had this to say about it: “Islam has a lot to do with the basics of our lives. It teaches us to accept others regardless of who they are, to give and demand respect, to forgive and to offer a helping hand. It taught me different kinds of love, including self-love. I think my religion has a lot to do with the basics of living well: soul, body and mind.”
My Kali Changes the Game
Whether Khalid’s strength comes from his faith or just his inner strength, he had the confidence to do what no one else in the Middle East had done before: he appeared on the cover of MK, the first magazine for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Jordan.
Khalid loves reading magazines. One day, while riffling through magazines at a magazine stand, he tried to find something he could relate to. Holding an issue of Cosmo, he thought, Why would someone in Jordan read this? It’s nothing I’d be interested in or anyone else in my country for that matter. In fact, as he looked around he realized that every magazine talked about the issues of the countries they were written in, and none of them were Middle Eastern or Arab. Not only were most of them Westernized, none of them were publications for people who identified as LGBT. What Khalid wanted to see was something that translated the local gay culture into a creative and impressive magazine.
That dream almost came true in the fall of 2007. Khalid was to appear on the cover of MK, a new gay magazine. A tabloid found out about the magazine and printed a negative story about it. Though the issue, featuring 18-year-old cover-guy Khalid—or Kali as he is known—was never published, he had become what some people called the “first gay face” of Jordan.
MK folded, but this didn’t stop the creation of a LGBT magazine. After all the media attention Khalid had received for being on the cover of MK, his friends decided they should call their new online publication, My Kali Mag. A few months after the MK controversy, My Kali Mag was published online. Khalid became the spokesperson for the magazine. He now is regularly interviewed by publications from all over the world.
My Kali Mag is all about creating a safe space for people who identify as LGBT. Khalid is working to reach teens still in the closet, who may feel like social outcasts. He knows exactly what it feels like to be isolated and wants to do everything he can to keep anyone else from feeling like that. Khalid knows that My Kali Mag is reaching LGBT readers. The magazine not only gets e-mail from readers all over the Arab world, who are inspired by the online magazine, but from Brazil, India and the United States.
“The magazine is all about creation, discussing issues that matter to LGBT communities and raising awareness about LGBT issues.”
With people like Khalid working tirelessly against ignorance and trying to make their society a more accepting place, I feel there’s still hope for a world completely free of discrimination, prejudice, judgment and hate.
Check out My Kali Mag at MyKali.weebly.com.