Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sadness, Woe, and IDAHO

On Tuesday evening, I spent the night with someone else in my bed for the first time in months. For me, spending the night with someone is something very special; I am a fiend for space, and to sleep next to someone on my tiny bed requires a great deal of compromise on my part. But on Tuesday, I made an exception out of need.

That night, I met a guy in the Gay Lebanon room on mIRC. We'll call him Rami. Rami and I started chatting, and I learned part of the tragic saga he was undergoing, and how he was going to spend the night on the street unless he found someone to take him in. Following my conscience and subduing my better judgment, I offered to let him spend the night at my house.

I met him in front of a café. Rami was 24, but his height made him look much, much younger. He must have been around 165cm tall, with no weight on his bones. He was a hairdresser, which was hardly the only stereotypically gay thing about him: his hair was carefully spiked, he wore earrings and bracelets, and his posture was impeccable. During the walk to my apartment, he proceeded to tell me his story:

On Monday night, he was robbed. A service taxi picked him up, and he sat in the front seat, as he always does, in order to avoid being trapped in the middle of the backseat, which could be dangerous for him. The taxi driver then proceeded to pick up two other men, who sat in the back seat. Rami noticed that the taxi was not taking him where he wanted to go. The man sitting behind him reached forward and held a knife to Rami's side, until they reached a remote location, where Rami was instructed to get out of the call. The men took everything Rami had, including his money, his phone and his jewelry, then proceeded to beat him up. Rami was left with bruises on his back and scratches on his face where his robbers had playfully ran the knife across it.

Somehow, Rami made it home, where he told his mother the whols story. Instead of comforting him, Rami's mother told him that he deserved it, and they should have killed him. In tears, Rami packed up a few of his possessions in a shopping bag and left the house.

Monday night, he stayed at a friend's house, but he couldn't stay there any longer than that. He made enough money as a hairdresser to get his own place, but he was in debt and wouldn't be able to do that for a few weeks. So, he planned to sleep on the street in Solidere, near policemen so he would be safe.

To make a long story short, this guy was living in a state of constant danger. First, the street was unsafe - he already had a history of being robbed, beaten, and raped by people in the street, and this was not likely to change, even in a place as saccharine as Solidere. Second, at home he was in danger. His family obviously cared very little about him because of his sexuality, and might be capable of anything. Third, he was reaching out to strangers on mIRC, who could easily take advantage of his frailty.

I tried to convine him to seek help - to reach out to Helem, Lebanon's gay-rights group, for example. At least, I told him, find a friend with whom you can stay longer than a day.

On Wednesday night, I went to the second annual International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) celebration at the Monroe Hotel downtown. The event, which was attended by around 300 people, included informational booths, guest speakers, and four small films documenting gay life in Lebanon, which were the highlight of the event.

The fourth film was by far the best. It chronicled the life of a young transgendered person (male to female) who was working as a maid. Rejected by her real family, she now considers the family she works for to be her own.

The protagonist's life was similar to Rami's - marked by rejection and sadness. She spoke with fondness of movie stars she adored, including Nabila Obeid and Sabah, the memories of her first movies, and the woman she'd like to be. But what shone through was always the daily rejection and strife she experienced as a transgendered person in a country as unwelcoming as Lebanon. She worried about catcalls and violence in the street, and was in constant danger of rejection and threats to her security.

One part in particular stood out. The interviewer asked her if she thought she was beautiful. "That's not for me to decide," she said. "Society doesn't accept the man that I am." She said that she has always felt that, on the inside, she was a woman, and waited for the day when she could physically become one. "When I wear my makeup, I feel beautiful."

According to the movie, her favorite motto is "To want is to be able".

There is a point to all of this. Both Rami and the woman from the movie lead very difficult lives, exacerbated by a society which rejects them. Yet they persevere, fighting to be who they are. This underscores one main point - being gay or transegendered is not a choice. Who would choose to be rejected by family in friends, to risk living on the streets, to be ostracized by the community?

Opponents to gay civil rights always say that gay people want to "advocate homosexuality," i.e. convert people to be like us. This isn't true. All gay people really want is a society where we don't feel threatened, where we can live without threats, danger, and sadness.

Homophobia is breaking up families. What we teach our children in turn may hurt their children. It's easy to preach homophobia when you don't know any gay people, because you don't see who you hurt. But people do get hurt, and people die.

I'm getting emotional...I'll have to come back and edit this later.

Update May 24:

I think Rami's living on the street. I saw him two days ago and he said he had gone back home. But I keep seeing him out late at night, sitting in random places in Hamra. (Don't ask me why I'm out late at night.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

geez....sometimes it's easy to forget how bad it can be in lebanon.

i hope that kid isn't staying on the street

May 22, 2006 8:38 PM  
Blogger arch.memory said...

Yes, indeed, it is very easy to forget... I also was at the Helem IDAHO screenings on Wednesday where I was torn by conflicting emotions: on the one hand, the joy and almost disbelief that this screening is finally taking place so openly and respectfully in Lebanon; on the other, the subject matter of the screenings, homophobia, drove home the distressing idea that all was still way far from okay. Reading the accompanying book, Ruhab al-Mithliyya, which was launched on Friday, filled me with the same conflicted angst: here was this dainty reception at a lovely old Lebanese atelier (with perhaps the biggest gardenia tree--not bush--I have ever laid eyes on!) launching a book whose subject matter was as far from it as possible. I guess that only goes to highlight the necessity of Helem and it's activities in our society. It may cause a temporary surge of homophobia during the initial confrontation as it raises awareness (at least in the innocuous form of an upsurge of homophobic comments on sites such as Al-Arabiyya), but I do strongly believe that it is all for the better.

May 23, 2006 11:37 AM  
Blogger Charles Malik said...

Why doesn't Rami contact Helem?

May 29, 2006 1:14 AM  
Blogger Al-Fil said...

I implored Rami to contact Helem, pointing out that protecting and supporting gay people was the entire reason Helem existed. I don't think he bit the bait, so to speak.

I don't really know what's going on inside Rami's head. From the way he acts, it seems that he is too proud to accept help. I think, however, that he really just doesn't want to admit to himself how dire his situation may actually be.

May 30, 2006 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the previous post u said helem isnt doin a good job in an ironic way and i see that in this post u said u encouraged Rami to go to helem...wats wrong w u...

May 31, 2006 6:19 PM  

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