Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Cedar Closet

Yesterday I was bored, so I went to an internet café, sat in the most secluded and private seat in the corner, and spent an hour chatting on MSN (and, admittedly, a bit of time in the Gay Lebanon chatroom on mIRC).

Another guy sat next to me, checked his e-mail, and then proceeded to chat on MSN. I noticed that the guy he was talking with was not only using a webcam, but was also rather attractive. I hate to say it, but because of this I became nosy and glanced repeatedly at their conversation. They were gay and exchanging sweet nonsense.

I felt an overwhelming urge to stand up and shout, "Look! I'm not the only one!"

I was immediately ashamed of my behavior. What this man was doing was certainly none of my business, and I was wrong to spy.

Nevertheless, my emotion was strong. It was a deepl-seeded frustration at the situation for gay people in Lebanon. Why had this young man and I both chosen to hide in the corner? Why were we chatting online, in vague anonymity, instead of meeting people openly in public? Why weren't we frequenting gay coffee shops instead of sterile internet cafés (granted, there really aren't any, but I'll get to that)? Why should this clandestine, unfulfilling, lonely method of conduct be the gay status quo in Lebanon?

In Lebanon, gay people strive to live under the radar. We don't tell our friends and family because of fear of rejection. In fact, we try to make it so that no one knows our true identity, hoping that we will be able to fit in. We may even get married, lying to our spouses and children.

But gay people can never be fulfilled shutting away such a large part of themselves, their sexuality. So the timid Lebanese spend time online at places like gaydar.com and mIRC, while the more brazen Lebanese go to Walimat Wardeh, X-OM, or Acid. These mirages of freedom, however, dissipate when they log off or leave the bar, returning to their false, "normal" personalities.

Nevertheless, despite trying to fit in with society, gay people still end up endlessly alone, with everyone around them only knowing pieces of their personality. It may be trite, but false façades don't build real relationships. Furthermore, gay people are lonely because they can't find eachother, and can't build meaningful, non-clandestine relationships.

Many Lebanese look at the unacceptance of society and shrink away, not wanting to be ostracized. They see societies like in the Netherlands and say, "I'll come out when Lebanon is like that." But this leads to a great paradox:

Gay people will not come out unless society changes and becomes more welcoming.
Society will not change unless gay people speak out and give it reason to.

Societies in the West did not change because of riots like Stonewall or because of a few hard-core activists. They changes because masses of gay people stood up and demanded recognition. Right now we have a few people, like those at Helem, advocating for us. But Lebanon will not change because of Helem alone. It will not see the need to. So what if 100 people at Helem want gay-inclusive laws? That's a drop in the ocean. But if 10000 Lebanese want gay-inclusive laws? That's a tidal wave.

It won't be easy for those who first come out. At the very least, they will face ostracism. But it mayt have to get worse before it gets better. Do we want gay people in Lebanon in 2099 to be living in a gay-inclusive country, or do we want them to live the same hidden lives we do?

It may be foolish to think that Lebanon can be as progressive in regards to gay people as countries like the Netherlands, Spain, and Canada. But of all the countries in the Middle East, it surely has the best chance. Of any other country, is there any that embodies the same multiculturalism as Lebanon? The same respect (although often bitter) for those different from us?

In Alchemy of the Heart, Sheikh Muhammad Maulud states, "A hadith says, 'The heart lies under the tongue.' which means that the tongue is the interpreter of the heart as it tells you what is in the heart. A munafiq (hypocrite) is wretched for this very reason: he says with his tongue what is not in his heart. This is in opposition to the purpose of the creation of the tongue as the tongue was created to express what is in the heart. Thus, the hypocrite is in fact oppressing his tongue as well as his heart."

By not coming out, we're lying to ourselves, we're lying to the world, and we're aiding our continued repression.

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