Seeking Identity in a Homophobic Society
“May they rot in hell and suffer for the rest of their existence! Gays? God forbid!” cried Sheikh Ahmad, frowning as to the motives of my inquiry. I smiled, trying to cover the profound sear that his words caused me.
I have lived in Lebanon for seventeen years, and Lebanon has never been very welcoming. When I reached out of my confusion to the sheikh, I was twelve, a time where many of us are introduced to the merciless world of desire.
But what if, tallying the emotional turmoil that comes with adolescence, one of our most powerful feelings is silenced and suppressed? What if the way we love is deemed illegitimate and subject to imprisonment? What if society forces its members into an unforgiving mold?
Far from being ‘Provincetown of the Middle East’, Beirut was more of an Auschwitz to my desires. People were blinded by years of war and Lebanon was entangled in an everlasting political conflict. A couple of minutes away from my home, radicals preached a Koran of their very own, full of hate. Eastwards, Syria was slowly being turned into ashes and its people were being indiscriminately slaughtered. Southwards, an everlasting conflict over a promised land ripped families and nations apart. How could one think of fighting for the right to love when the right to live was not fully acknowledged? Homosexuals, like any other ‘minority’, were not a priority. Human rights were not a priority. As I relentlessly sought identity, Proust’s novels were my only solace and Abou Nawas’s poems my only anthems.
However, searching for acceptance, I have realized that crossing axes with my society’s absurdities has profoundly shaped my identity. I had no other choice but to raise doubt on the rules that my family and community followed in order to find legitimacy. Abiding by them would have only led to a complete denial of who I truly was. My difference endowed me with the courage to question the ethics of my culture, where tribal behavior is rife and where it is frowned upon (to say the least) to hold values that clash with those of your family and religious community. I believe that it is the strength I gained through the intellectual and emotional process of accepting myself that defines my identity, rather than the pain of rejection.
I met people who had been driven out of their homes, beaten by their parents, and imprisoned for displaying affection in public. The difficulty of their lives made me feel paradoxical emotions: gratitude and pain, privilege and compassion. I often thought of ‘going out there’, initiate a support group or anything else that would make me feel that I am contributing, even the slightest, to social reform. I wanted to give others the chance to tell their stories without fear, and, secretly, I wanted a space where I could safely share mine, however trivial it seemed compared to the atrocities I heard. I wanted to construct a community in which people like me could openly hope for a future where our love is no longer deemed “contrary to nature” as stated by article 534 in our laws. But seeing the Lebanese society so blinded by political and sectarian divisions discouraged me from pursuing any social activism. “One thing at a time”, I would say to myself, perhaps hiding to myself my lack of courage or momentum to change things.
I am proudly gay, and I am undeniably Lebanese despite what the sheikh bitterly spat years ago. These two vital aspects of my identity have always seemed antagonistic, but looking back, I see clearly that they have shaped each other, fueled each other, and completed each other. My struggles to accept my sexuality only increased the concern I have for all Lebanese teenagers who don’t sleep at night because they cannot understand their own feelings, whose hearts sting brutally with that so familiar pain in the face of such hate. As a proud oriental queer, I want to show all those troubled adolescents that after every storm, there is always, a glorious rainbow.