As I follow the ongoing debates about gay marriage in the US, and read the wave of criticism that hit actress Jodie Foster’s ‘reticent’ way of coming out during her speech at the recent Golden Globes ceremony (she never hid the fact that she was gay but also never spoke about it publicly); I can’t but think about the near state of bliss that homosexuals enjoy in most of the West, compared to their situation here. In fact, many of my gay friends have opted to leave the country in order to have a more dignified and free life, without the judgment, secrecy, frustrations and fears that the gay community inevitably and unjustly faces in our part of the world.
You’d tell me that Lebanon is way ahead of other Arab countries on this level, but again, like almost everything else in Lebanon, it is merely about giving the illusion of being ‘way ahead’. Yes, sure, we do have gay friendly pubs; and yes, we do have two excellent organizations (Helem and Meem) that bravely champion gay rights; but most of this goes on in the underground. Have you ever heard a politician support the gay cause? Even simpler: Have you ever seen two men holding hands, or showing signs of emotional complicity, while walking on a street in Beirut?
Way ahead, you say? Let’s not forget that in Lebanon, we still imprison homosexuals for no other reason than their sexual choice, which is condemned by religion. Let’s not forget that we deny them their right to sexual freedom and expect them to hide as if they represented a deadly plague (“if we don’t see you, you cease to exist”). Let’s not forget that police forces still perform ‘raids’ on places where homosexuals are suspected to be gathering. Let’s not forget the endless sickening list of insulting jokes we have about ‘Foufou’ and such. Let’s not forget the common denigrating terms that people use to describe gays. And the situation in other Arab countries is surely no better.
What is really disgusting in all this, in addition to the discrimination against gays and their stigmatization as ‘half-men’ or sissies (and the stigmatization of lesbians as wanna-be-men with penis envy) is the glaring hypocrisy of it all: Note, for example, that most Arab straight men find the sight of two gay men kissing ‘disgusting’ (their words), while they get turned on if they watch two women doing the same in a porn movie. Also note that though it is considered a punishable crime, gay sodomy is a common secret practice in many Arab countries because of sex segregation, and that the law enforcers and public condemners are often the main participants.
I despise homophobes, and it’s not just because I have many homosexual friends that I love and admire dearly. My despise goes beyond any private reason I might have to sympathise with their cause, and even beyond the fact that I, as a woman, suffer from the same source of discrimination: Patriarchy. My repugnance towards them is a result of my firm belief in human rights. Not only is homophobia proof of bigotry and idiocy, but it is also one of the most direct expressions of our macho culture. To man up is to be ‘not gay’, at all costs. To man up is to oppress/disregard women and make fun of homosexuals.
Homophobes, bullies, women beaters and sexual abusers: many men are trapped in a vicious circle of violence that derives from a flawed theory of manhood, a parody of the actual meaning of the word. One that interprets masculinity as inherently brutal; one that links testosterone with rage and aggressiveness, and reinforces a patriarchal system based on the dominance/subjugation dichotomy. The twofold formulas in our culture, which reject important sexual nuances and the ambiguity of gender (queer identities and atypical sexual orientations), are sadly endless.
It is time we go beyond the catastrophic categorization of individuals as heterosexuals or homosexuals (the dominant heterosexual is seen as legitimate and normal, while the marginal homosexual is seen as ‘deviant’) and all the meaningless branding that comes with such a categorization. But first and foremost it is time, in this land trapped in what seems to be an eternal adolescence, to start practicing tolerance towards those who are different than what is shamefully called the “norm”: That’s the first step towards the maturity of a people.
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