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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Lebanese author fisks British opinion on gay Lebanese life

A bearded man making love with a beardless you... Image via Wikipedia
Source: Bekhoos

By shant

Ah! The joys of reading articles in western newspapers, written by “Arab” journalists who assess our situation with their “find the homo” glasses.

On the 28 August, I received an email which linked me to an article posted in the Guardian, written by Diamond Walid and titled “Gay, straight, or just Lebanese?

To cut things short, the article didn’t sit right with me; it felt like another poor researched, feel good, male-centered, classist and generalized piece using Boy George as a gay-o-meter to analyze our society’s gayness and homo-eroticah.

Here is my first impression of it all…

When it comes to 534 [Lebanese sodomy law], Walid writes that “there is less fear of harassment since the anti-homosexuality law is no longer really applied.”

This is not entirely true, as the law might not always lead to imprisonment but is still used to harass people, blackmail and humiliate them. One cannot pretend to know that there “is no organized homophobia as one can find in some western countries.” Organized homophobia does exist, but just like most crimes, it is neither shown to you on your television screen, nor discussed or brought to light. Organized homophobia is preached, reinforced, and taught. It is on TV, in bars that refuse you access because you’re too queer, in schools that throw you out, fail you, or ostracize you because of rumors circulating about a possible relationship between you and a same-sex classmate. It is organized because it is part of the organized system. Crimes are kept in the shadows, and while friends and families mourn their loved ones, media claims them to be crimes of passion or unresolved conflicts.

The article mentions pariahs and entertainers. Excellent point! However, departing from such a statement, we can also understand that society is willing to accept you as long as they can stare and make fun of you, with a subtle nuance between laughing with or at you. It tends to consider you as something exotic which will entertain, then be forgotten about. The article keeps on talking about how Phoenicians and Romans had no gay shame, but that is simply because Phoenicians and Romans did not identify as gay. Homosexuality is culturally specific and has a much coded meaning, and the recurrent analysis of History through the lens of contemporary ideologies is erroneous. We cannot generalize by affirming that Romans were open to homosexuality when it is known that in Ancient Rome, women were subject to men’s definition of sexuality and that female homosexuality was viewed with hostility. They considered women who engaged in sexual relations with other women to be biological oddities. How inspiring to reclaim indeed!

And just as history and present tend to erase women’s sexuality, the article does the same by refraining to mention the diversity of the community.

Our society might be homoerotic, but that doesn’t mean it is no longer homophobic; it is sometimes the same people who indulge in homo-eroticism that engage first in homophobic acts or who believe that there is no need to fight for recognition because that will only shed light on the fact that homo-eroticism exists and is acted upon, which might restrain their escapades.

To be fair, one statement I agree with goes as follows: “What Lebanon needs in order to genuinely advance gay rights is a leap into modernity. Not an imported, ready-made idea of modernity. But, instead, one that reclaims the past and reinterprets local culture.” It is true that it is very important for us to understand that sexual diversity is not something that is brought to us by the West, to research and “unearth” writings and histories of diversities. But then the writer goes on to say that we should perhaps turn to the East instead of the West where religions have a more relaxed relationship with sexuality. What happened to not turning anywhere, and analyzing and reclaiming our culture instead? Not to mention that considering Eastern religions to be more relaxed is indulging in an exotic ideal.  A lot of the texts don’t mention homosexuality specifically but are interpreted to do so, and one can find contradicting views in religions of the East as much as the monotheistic religions; it doesn’t take more than a Google search to realize that.

Finally, why would I be worried if Boy George is satisfied about how far “camp” has come along in Lebanon? Why is he used as reference (other than giving a concert in 1997) in the timeline? Is he the new camp-meter assessing our situation now?

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