Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Being Queer in Lebanon

This graffiti was in Gemayze, an area of Beirut with many restaurants and nightclubs that are frequented late into the night. It is also the home of beautiful old buildings that you can appreciate if you take a walk to see them during the day. I have been waiting to share this photo with this post. I find the image of stiffled voices fitting.

I am not Lebanese, but I am a lesbian and I just came back from visiting Lebanon. I therefore have an opinion about this. Being queer in Lebanon is tiring. I found myself wanting to shout out the word QUEER! This is because I rarely heard it mentioned. I sparsely heard any of the words that make up LGBTIQQ, actually.

In the States, one of my friends always wants to get together and hang out with other lesbians. She also tries to get me to go to gay bars. I honestly don't see the need. I surround myself with open people, so who cares if they are queer or straight. This was not the case in Lebanon. I was keenly aware of everything queer.

I made one friend who is also a lesbian. This and the fact that we had a good list of things in common made us friends. We even went to a gay bar together. A cafe/bar, really. My gaydar was on the lookout, but to no avail. I think a few of the waiters might have been and I know that the owners are, but that is as far as it goes. And, I am not going to post the name of the bar, just to be on the safe side. That's how paranoid you get in Lebanon. Nevertheless, according to my sources, this is one of the few places in town where you can hold your girlfriend's hand without being greeted with stares.

I was able to attend a reading of an amazing author, Rabih Alamedinne, when I was in Lebanon. I have just finished reading his Koolaids and have been planning a short review of it. He is gay and Lebanese, by the way, and so are some of his characters. It is so refreshing. He read from his new book, The Hakawati, and I was surprised that he did not directly mention gay issues in his talk. Seeing that I was in push mode, I did. Then, he used the word "sexuality," and even "fuck" a bit later but that was all. He did say that he was no longer as angry as he was when he wrote Koolaids. Perhaps Alamedinne has gotten to where he is smilingly comfortable as Arab presses buy the rights to his books and then decide they can't publish them in Arabic after reading them. He is pushing buttons, but making a living all the same :)

I, on the other hand, am angry. So angry that I made whatever trivial points I could. I even had my mother marrying a woman in our on the board writing assignments in Arabic class. One of my teachers tried to correct me. Your mother cannot marry a "zouja," you must mean "zouj." When I assured her that I had put the feminine signifying ta marbouta there on purpose, she let it go. I know I baffled her, which was my point.

Why am I angry?

I am angry because I have friends whose parents avoid the subject. Who leave the room when my friends try to talk about their loved one. I have friends who don't feel comfortable telling their family who they are and who they love and may even fear reprisal (Honour killings do happen). I have friends whose families lock them in their room forcing them to climb out of their windows to be with the persons they love.

When I was thinking of leaving Lebanon, a friend of mine wrote this in an e-mail: I love my life in the U.S. too much to be able to live in Lebanon. Take "U.S." out of this, and it is an even more striking statement.

In other words, I love my life. I want to live my life without having to avoid topics or jump out of windows.

More questions and statements that I have heard:

We need to find you a good husband. (You can find me a wife if you want.) The friend who responded this way is wonderfully bold.

Why is your hair so short? You would look so much more feminine if you let it grow long.

Mommy, why isn't Margaret married? (Because people should get married when and only when they find someone they love.) That was a hetero Lebanese friend of mine's response to a question that her 5-year old daughter asked. Bless both of their hearts.

However, there is one place in Lebanon where women can love whomever they choose. If you are in search of a space in Lebanon where you can be yourself as a queer person, I recommend MEEM. The group was young and oozing with energy. Their location is secret and I plan to do my part to keep it that way. I was honored to go there and meet these incredible young women. One woman in particular struck me. When I first met her, she was wearing a veil. I left the room and came back, introducing myself to a young woman in a boy's shirt and shorts. She looked vaguely familiar. Of course, it was the woman in the veil whom I had met earlier but I can be a bit dense. We talked about how her sister was up on the latest veil fashions while she threw on whatever was available. The clothes she had on underneath were her baby brother's.

Most of the members of the family, even those who shun you, are decent people. They just never had to face someone with your courage. -Rabih Alamedinne, Koolaids

A week or so later, I was in a swankily shiny mall in East Beirut feeling super frumpy and not fitting in. After a high heeled shoe buying experience, (I don't wear high heels), I couldn't hold it anymore and went in search of a restroom with a straight friend of a friend. I recognized one of the Meem women in the bathroom. Ah, let there be light. A short dyed punky kind of hair light. For confidentiality purposes, I wasn't sure I should say anything but she smiled and so I said "Hi" while dashing to the stall, my friend's friend behind me.

But there was a tinge of uncomfortableness in me. I want the world to know who I am but at the same time, I am under the illusion that I can assexually maneuver through this Lebanese landscape. As Alamedinne puts it in Koolaids, "He [I] wasn't ready for his [my] two worlds to meet." And yet, I was proud to know the one spikey haired boundary pushing queer in the mall. I'm a contradiction.

I will end this post with two short videos created by the incredible Meem Team. Be inspired and love whomever you damned well please in the process.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where Glued Blue Glass is Right Now

I have a confession to make. I got back to the U.S. the other day. It was a very long trip home that took over 24 hours but facilitated an arrival in the same day. Time travel. Then I slept for two days. I felt like Sleeping Beauty. I'd wake up for a little while and then my head would get heavy, my thoughts fuzzy, and I would fall back asleep with Maya, my kitty, by my side.

I had taken two months off from work because I was burnt out and needed a break. Travel is always a great way for me to gain perspective. And so, because I could, I planned for and eventually embarked on a not so cheap adventure.

I have always wanted to learn Arabic and have been a little pissed at myself that I don't speak and read it. I have a foundation. And it comes easier to me. I don't even struggle much with pronunciation. I have also always wanted to learn a language that is indigenous to the Americas, and I haven't accomplished that dream either. Not yet at least. I am digressing.

And, I wanted to go back to Lebanon. Last trip was mostly about making the country tangible again. This one was about creating or rediscovering, whichever is really the case, my connection to the country.

Unclogging my burnout, studying Arabic, and creating connection proved to be alot to take on. Studying Arabic was taking up all of my time and I was loving it but wasn't working on the other two components, and mostly not getting the rest that I needed. I learned alot about myself. I cannot, no matter how hard I try, not do my homework and feel OK about it. I need to work my ass off no matter what even if it means sacrificing right brain creativity and health. Which is why I needed the break from work to begin with.

I also learned that I have this Protestant work ethic that makes it very difficult for me to accept unstructured time off. Which is why I decided to take the course anyway. Plus, what better way to create, establish, rediscover,... connection than through language. Right?

Because I wasn't getting the rest I really needed, I decided to come home early to be with my two sweeties Maya and E. and spend the remaining month resting and creating. Did I say that I also wanted to work on my writing during these two months?

This is my new struggle. The Protestant work ethic is in true form right now. I am staying at E's because my deck is in pieces. Another story. She works and I feel guilty that I have time off. I've been reading and writing but have not been patient with the writing at all. I WANT IT OUT NOW. But, I don't even know what form I want it to take. Right now I am trying to force a poem about nostalgia and my romaticizing Lebanon. Just the fact that I can tell you exactly what I want the poem to be about tells me that a poem may not be the right form for it.


The other day, at the Rafic Hariri Airport in Beirut, I stood in two lines that were a half hour each. Some people, with "connections," were being escorted to the front of the line. The man behind me was fuming in Arabic. I told myself to breathe.

Which is what I will try to do now.

Blogging will be my balance. And, yes, now that I can post photos without AUB security, I will be regularly writing and posting photos about my trip and my current creative frustrations. Don't worry.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Soap kills

You may have noticed from my last post that I now have the ability to post photos, and videos. Some of my friends have been asking me about the music I have been discovering in Lebanon. Soap kills tops the list.

A few of their songs are on the soundtrack of the movie A Perfect Day, which I mentioned in a previous post.

Now that I have video posting capabilities, I can also include the trailer.

If you are in Lebanon, I want to recommend CDteque. It is thanks to them that I have been discovering new music. They let me listen to anything that I wanted to before buying, plus they have great photo books for sale as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Downtown Beirut

Once through security, beautiful new buildings simulate old ones. Shiny objects adorn store windows. The fewer the items inside, the more expensive they are priced. A Rolex clock towers over the Place de l'Etoile. It is pretty quiet whenever I have been here. But then again, I seem to come when the hot sun is the strongest and not in the evening or night.

This is the first time that I have ever been able to walk around this area so freely. When I was a child, this whole area had been a bullet ridden ghost town. And in 2006/2007, Place Des Martyrs was filled with tents.

It is empty now with only a few signs of the current political situation, one of which is the Haagen Dazs Doha Agreement cone.

Calm, peaceful, and perfect for the new Lebanese lifestyle. At least that is what Solidere would like us to believe. GENTRIFICATION Lebanese style. Planned Communities. Why the hell didn’t I ask about the vacancy rate? My smart cookie suitemate, asked who the investors were. Private investors that remained unnamed.

Another classmate asked why the Normandy area wasn’t going to be turned into a beach. My heart churned. The Normandy area. Did Solidere give it this name? This is where the mountains of garbage rose above the sea. It pulled at my memories and my emotions.

No. No beach, please.

It took me a while to work through my feelings. It was the first day of my period and that was contributing to my zigzagged emotions. There was no memory of all of those that died. No reminder of what this area looked like during the war. Erased. That does not seem healthy. There are reminders of the Roman Baths, why not the civil war? And what was it like before the war? Were the souks more inclusive of all classes? While there is an attempt to include and acknowledge religions, class seems yet again to be swept aside.

After wandering around Solidere's website, I did discover that they are planning a Garden of Forgiveness. It could be just me, but it seems very sterile. I hope to write more about this, but this trip has gotten me wondering if I am the only one who is holding on. The Lebanese have moved on, but I haven't. I am stuck in memory quicksand.

The last time I was in Beirut I took a walk to Martyrs’ Square.
Martyrs’ Square has been renamed Democracy Square.
Forgive me if I can’t join in with the buoyancy.
But I feel unrepresented.
A red and white Virgin Megastore in the background blends in with a sea of red and white flags in the foreground.
It provides a seamless visual continuum I’m afraid of.
They’re waiting for world peace to break out in Lebanon.
I reckon it’s too late for that.

Zeina B. Ghandour

Memory quicksand or not, I take solace in the fact that Zeina Ghandour also has mixed feelings. I took some photos of the Virgin Megastore for her. The crane is also fitting. No series of Beirut photos is complete without at least one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sorry I haven't been on here in awhile. I have been a bit frustrated because I haven't been able to upload pictures. Plus, I've been a bit homesick.
I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cultures of Resistance

For a few minutes I actually thought that I was going to be able to upload photos. I am so behind on my posts. In the mean time, which will hopefully not be forever, enjoy the following links. I learned about Cultures of Resistance the other day. Their mission statement makes so much sense to me:

Worldwide, people from all walks of life are finding creative ways to oppose war and promote peace, justice, and sustainability. Culture, including film, music and food, is fertile terrain for this struggle. Education that nourishes a critical mind and fortifies the soul is just as essential. CULTURES OF RESISTANCE was established to identify and support international and diverse initiatives that embody these values, and to fortify an international network of activists and agitators, educators and artists, insurgent musicians, guerilla filmmakers, vanguard gardeners and gourmands.

They also have a blog that celebrates "creativity in resistance." The current post links to a Newsweek article about a new comic book series designed to give another perspective to "angry, impressionable young people that fit the “accepted” terrorist profile." Worth checking out.

A Perfect Day

I just saw a really interesting movie about Lebanon. The English title is A Perfect Day. The main character's father was one of the 17,000 Lebanese that disappeared during the civil war. After 15 years, Malek and his mother go to sign papers to declare him legally dead. We stood outside discussing it after class and came to the conclusion that the movie is about frustration and works well as an allegory for the political reality in Lebanon. I thought it was quite thought provoking.

Sorry, still no photos. I'm a bit frustrated about this fact. Internet security here appears to be so tight that it is very difficult to upload photos during waking hours.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

My First Typed Words

انا ادرس اللغة العربية فصها. احب الدرس اللغات وادابهم
This is my first attempt at using the Arabic keyboard. I am missing a period but I can't seem to add one on blogger for some reason. Anyway, my amazing sentence says:
I am studying the Arabic language "Fusha/Modern Standard". I like the study of languages and their literatures.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cell Phones

I still can't post photos. Well, hopefully they will be worth the wait. Instead I will tell you about cell phones. I have been resisting the urge to get one. I am enjoying the fact that I am not super easy to reach right now. Well, somewhat so. I am very e-mailable and skype and I are close. But I draw the limit with cell phones. I have been using a "telecarte" for local calls and my one Lebanese friend that calls has to leave me messages. She is as attached to her cell phone as I can get at home in the U.S.. I know she wishes that I would get one. But, this trip is extravagent enough for me and so different from my other bare bones mindful traveler trips. I just can't get myself to look into getting a local SIM card. Somehow, I feel a cell phone will affect my ability to be present. Ah, silly me. Perhaps cell phones are the present.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I am a little burned out with studying. I hate to say this since it hasn't even been a week since I have been in classes yet. Plus, I prepared for this trip for months. I knew that I was going to spend alot of my time studying. I want to learn the language. I just also want to make sure that I take advantage of this time away from work. Refresh myself, not burn myself further. In addition to learning Arabic, I want to write, explore, read, and reflect. I want to be able to walk through a place and say, "I went to school here," "I fell off my bike here," " My parents and I went to eat here,"... Plus, I want to rid myself of any exoticised memories that I may have. I want to see as much as I can as clearly as possible. I will have to give up being a perfect student to accomplish this. This is a good exercise for me.

Lebanese Vibes

One of my schoolmates is reading Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation. I told her I had tried reading it but have never gotten very far. The truth is, I don’t want to spend my valuable free time reading 700 pages of one violent male exploit after another. She looked at me with a quizzical look. She couldn't understand.

One of my dear friends who lives here in Lebanon stays away from politics. She says that I know more about the political situation than she does. I don't blame her one bit. The Daily Star said it well in their headline today, Lebanese Parties Find New Ways to Argue Old Disputes. I am not even going to bother reading the article unless I want to analyse the rhetoric of getting nowhere.

My suitemate is a journalist. There are many in the program. Story stealers I call them. That's why they are all here learning Arabic. Being here and/or learning the language may help them get a story. I told my suitemate how I felt about journalists, that they only report on the negative and rarely on the postive. What would happen if journalism used a strengths-based perspective and reported on something like the Al Najdeh Association instead? She is very empathetic and saw my point.

I asked my dear childhood friend what she thought would happen if we just stopped reading about their idiocy. Are political leaders like children, do they seek attention by misbehaving? If we stop giving them attention, will the violence stop? She thought that I was being silly.

I was talking to another woman today who has spent a good part of her life dreaming of returning to Lebanon. Now after the May conflict, she no longer wants to return.

There are probably more Lebanese living outside the country than in it. I'm not sure that they could all fit in the country if they visited at the same time.

An article I just saw in L'Orient-Le Jour discusses male infertility due to the trauma of war.

A woman at the beach helped me with my homework this weekend. "Why can't men say they love you?" she asked.
"Maybe for the same reason that you told me that you don't plan too far in advance," I answered.

Cynicism. It is very much alive here.