Yesterday at 8:30 p.m., New TV aired an episode of Al Hal Bi Idak
(The Solution is in Your Hands) which focused exclusively on homosexuality and society's acceptance of it. The two-hour episode featured the host, Rania Barout, a panel of four expert guests, two gay men behind a curtain who wished to remain unidentified, numerous call-in partipants, and a soap-opera-esque dramatization of the life of a sterotypically queeny homosexual.
I give the program 1 1/2 thumbs up.
The panel consisted of:
Georges, the coordinator for Helem, the first gay-rights organization in the Arab World
Mounir, the editor of Barra, Lebanon's first gay magazine
Drina, a psychiatrist
Teddy, an androgynous nightclub dancer in a terrible gold lamé shirt
(Unfortunately, I do not remember their last names, but I wrote the program an e-mail asking for them; hopefully, they will respond.)
The program ran like this: Rania said hello and introduced the panel. They discussed gay life for a bit and introduced the first part of the drama, in which the boy, Fouazi, screams at his mother, "I'm a girl," and his sister tries to hook him up with a girlfriend, with a devastating lack of success. Then, during discussion, the first audience question flashes at the bottom of the screen - "Should he go to a doctor?"
After a break, the second sequence of the film. 65 percent of the callers voted no, so Fouazi does not go to a doctor. He does, however, try to commit suicide by throwing himself off the roof, hence the second question posed during panel discussion, "Do you support his getting a sex change?"
After a break, more than half of the callers said yes, so he goes to a surgeon. He does not, however, get a sex change in the film. More panel discussion, including the men behind the screen. Third question: "Do you accept him as he is?"
After the last break, a resounding no: 92 percent of the callers do no accept Fouazi. The dramatization ends with Fouazi wearing a colorful scarf tied around his neck and hanging out with another extremely flamboyant gay man and a transsexual (notably, Fouazi is not around his family). Rania says goodbye.
It's hard to rate such a program; it had quite a few very good aspects, but also a few very, very bad ones.
First the good:
The program did not feature religious leaders on the panel, a first for what I've seen. This was essential because it made it so the program was not about homosexuality in respects to Islamic or Christian theology, but about gay people in real-life society. One could not ask for more; for in modern Lebanon, nothing is more important than respect for others' right to exist. This program pointed out that our main goal is not to make Muslims or Christians change their beliefs, but to convince them to respect our right to exist peacefully.
Furthermore, Rania Barout was obviously in favor of acceptance and tolerance of gay people. One of the highlights of the program was when a sheikh from Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni religious authority in Lebanon, called in to rant about how homosexuality is against Islam. She replied coolly, referencing a saying attributed to Ibn Abbas that any "person guilty of the homosexual act should be thrown down from the highest building in town and then showered with stones." "Is this how you treat your neighbor?" she asked.
Drina pointed out that reperation therapy often leaded to intense trauma, stating that there is no effective treatment for sexuality, which is not a disease. There are, however, treatements for homophobia, she mentioned.
Drina later pointed out that statistically, gay rights advocated claim that 10 percent of the population is gay, meaning 400,000 Lebanese. Even if you use the estimates of anti-gay advocates, which tend to claim five percent, that's still 200,000 Lebanese who are currently suffering under an intolerant society.
A myriad of callers showed their overwhelming support for gay people. Interestingly, while the panelists tended to stick to Arabic terms for homosexuality (derivations of "mithliyoun junsiya", "مثليون جنسيا"), callers frequently used Western terms (English "gay" or French "homosexuel"). My favorite was when a straight caller voiced her love for gay people, using the term "gay friendly", causing Rania to laugh.
Rania showed a two-year-old photograph of Teddy, when he looked like an average man, with very short hair and unremarkable attire. Teddy emotionally stated that he felt better the way he is now, with long hair, manicured eyebrows, and lips that were locked in sarcastic pursing. Seeing a tangible before-and-after representation of coming out is, I feel, fundamental to society's understanding of the process.
Rania closed the episode with a beautiful "live and let live" speech calling on everyone to respect each other. Again, it didn't focus on accepting homosexuality, it focused on accepting other human beings.
I'm not sure if the call-in voting was good or bad. Sure, it started off well, with most people not believing that homosexuality needs medical treatment. Despite this, it ended badly, with such a huge margin rejecting Fouazi. This discrepancy could merelyy signal that anti-gay groups rallied their troops to call in, or that pro-gay callers saw that they did well after the first vote and didn't feel the need to call again. Nevertheless, the final vote was disparaging. It did, however, point out the great opposition in Lebanon to gay rights. But everyone knows that exists, does it need restating?
The beginning of the program began with a discussion of gay sterotypes, emphasizing that not all gay men are effeminate, not all drag queens are gay, etc. Fantastic. But, honestly, that really didn't come through in the program. The program talked so much about male femininity that even though the panelists may have repeatedly pointed out that feminine gays are only a segment of the gay community, it was hard to believe.
The drama. Horrible. Reprehensible. For the program to work, the scenes obviously had to be filmed beforehand, and the writer/directer must have had no idea of what real gay life is like. The main character was waifish and extremely stereotypical. You never really understand whether he is gay or transgendered, which are two very different things
. In the lives of most gay men, transsexualism rarely enters the picture. He dresses more flamboyantly than any Lebanese man would ever dare around his family. In fact, he seems to do nothing to hide the fact that he is gay, which is certainly a more common representation of gay men in Lebanon. I can think of nothing good (or realistic) about that idiotic dramatization.
One of the gay men behind the curtain said that he believes that he is gay because his parents got divorced when he was three. By the age of eight, he was having sex with his brother. Even more than the film, this is not representative of the gay population in Lebanon. Granted, there are thousands of gay men who believe that there are reasons for them being gay, such as divorce, unloving fathers, sexual abuse, etc. But few have had incestual sex. I can't imagine that this gay man's testimony left a good taste in the mouth of the average Lebanese tuning in.
The absence of lesbians and discussion of lesbianism. Period.
All in all, I was glad the show was on. As I always say, the best tool for the achievement of gay equality is visibility. It's so much easier to oppress gay people when it only seems like there are five of them, and they live miles away. When there are 400,000, and some of them live on your block, are your friends, or are in your family, it's much harder to say that they are less of a person because they are gay.
Thank you, New TV.