Saturday, April 29, 2006

Beirut's Anti-Gay Gay Bar

Apparently, the new gay bar in Beirut, Wolf, is operating under the same discriminatory policies as the infamous Dunkin' Donuts, which has been known to deny service to "overtly gay" (i.e. feminine) guys.

A few weeks ago on a Saturday evening, a gay man and his boyfriend, who could easily be defined as "flaming", were denied entrance to Wolf because of the latter's appearance.

Worse yet, when questioned about its policy, the owner freely admitted having instucted the bouncer to turn away any "overtly feminine" clientele, presumably to safeguard the desired "bear" ambiance of the bar. The bar's website used to be www.beirutbear.com, but is now www.wolfbeirut.com.

I will no longer frequent Wolf. It's reprehensible for some gay men to reject others based on vague notions of masculinity. As gay men, we are all rejected by the larger society, and further segregation serves no positive purpose.

I understand that in order to be a bear bar, Wolf wants to entice burly, bulky, hairy, (and often bald) guys to its dimly-lit, overly-decorated den. Furthermore, the owner may have foolishly thought that its desired clientele would be diswayed by the presence of "feminine" guys. But, as I have said, this notion is foolish.

In no other country do you see bear bars enacting discriminatory laws. Sure, they might be "jeans and leather only", but they don't discriminate based on "femininity".

Nevertheless, they still manage to remain burly. Why is this? "Feminine" guys generally have no interest in being in bear bars. They much rather hang out at limp-wrist havens like X-OM. They might stop in to leather clubs once in a while, just as leather men might go see a drag show, just for a change of scenery and to see what everyone else is up to.

And that's what makes the gay community a strong community. Knowledge, acceptance, and solidarity.

Wolf, unfortunately, seems incapable of this. Shame, shame, shame.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Tragedy Never Ends in Iran

In article on Iran's sabotage of gay websites, Doug Ireland published this picture of the two gay teenagers hanged in Mashhad, Iran last year.


I had never seen such a graphic depiction of this travesty. It horrifies me. Those poor, poor boys. I've been reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. There's a chapter in it called "Rebellion" in which one of the main characters questions the existence of God. He says, in a much more eloquent manner, that he would have no part of a religion in which children, who are innocent, have to suffer so. Any religion's version of atonement and harmony at the day of reckoning is not worth the murder of even one child. Oh, the things people do for God.

The rest of the article is all right, but not a big surprise. Gay and lesbian sites in the Middle East have been appearing and disappearing for a while. Go to any of the sites on the right, and most of them will have a "links" page. I'm willing to bet that 50 percent of them are bunk.

It does, however point to an extremely insightful report issue by London-based OutRage!, which depicts in great detail Iran's homophobic slaughter, citing many cases.

A few quotes:

“RawaagiiS (plural of raaguuS) are generally killed in Ahwaz, by the security forces or by their male kin, in one of three ways: strangulation, throat-slitting or decapitation. If the homosexual youths are killed by the security forces, their corpses -- frequently decapitated but accompanied by their heads -- are left in the street. Their families therefore have a certain tragic incentive to kill them more humanely and bury them secretly. In addition, amongst Iran's Arab minority, male relatives of homosexual youths regard their murder as vindicating the honour of the clan and, indeed, of their ethnic group as a whole. [Name deleted] said that he knew of another youth from al-Aamiri [in Ahwaz], who was a raaguuS, and who had expressed the wish to escape Iran, but who was unfortunately killed before he was able to do so.”

"Another unofficially tolerated form of Lavaat (sodomy) occurs in religious colleges. Iranians tell me that young trainee mullahs will often have sex with each other in such places, with impunity. The rules of Islam are apparently for others, not themselves...On this evidence, many of Iran's Islamic judges, the Qazis, who pronounce sentences of death on sodomites, are likely to have engaged in same-sex relations. They order the whipping and hanging of men and teenage boys for acts they have probably done themselves when younger. They are not much different in this respect from skinhead and other ‘queer bashers' who attack obvious ‘queers' while having guilt-ridden sex within their own peer group."

"There may be a further explanation for the standard Iranian formula of charges of homosexuality being often accompanied by charges of kidnap and rape. The regime clearly does not want its people to view same-sex relations as something a respectable person might engage in with consent. That could present Lavaat as something desirable and positive, and this might encourage tolerance – and even curiosity and experimentation. The clerical regime wants to depict sodomy in the worst possible light to deter and discourage its practice. To do this, it needs to present gay and lesbian people as repellent, dangerous individuals. In these circumstances, the mere charge of Lavaat is not sufficient. To prompt revulsion and support for executions, homosexuality needs to be associated in the public mind with violence and child abuse. "


Update May 15:

I found this criticism of US President Jimmy Carter on Gay Patriot. It's an interesting pro-Bush, pro-war take on the situation of gay people in Iran. I'm not sure that an aggressive American stance in the late 1970s-early 1980s would have been a great idea, though.

Gays Versus the Turkish Wilderness

Bağımsız İletişim Ağı announced yesterday that the Turkish Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL) is planning to hold the first "International Rainbow Summer Camp" for homosexuals.

When first heard this, I was speechless. I didn't know whether or not to laugh. I mean, who thought up the name "International Rainbow Summer Camp"? I imagine little gay nine-year-olds making pink macrame and roasting gourmet kebaps by the fire.

It turns out, however, that it is for adults, and it's some sort of political planning session. Nevertheless, the article makes it seem crazy!

"According to Erol, many potential participants were scared off from attending the very first of the Kaos GL picnics held nine years ago in Kizilcahamam, Ankara, whereas now these events had become traditional. 'Many friends were scared saying everyone would be cut up... but now the Isik mountain picnics are a classic,' he said."

Oh, Turkey seems like such a gay place, in both senses of the word.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Boys for Rent in Syria

So, I spent the weekend in Damascus. Of all the problems that I wrote about in my last post, things in Lebanon are certainly not as bad as they are in Syria, where no one has any freedom to speak out. For while we have the limited freedom of having semi-open places like Acid and X-OM, Syria has nothing of the sort.

I did see one thing of note, however.

I wanted to see the gay hammams that I had heard about in Syria, but due to their extremely secretive nature, I couldn't find them. So I visited the famous Nour al-Din hammam in the old city of Damascus. While I was undressing, I noticed a portly, balding American in his late forties accompanied by a young, buff Syrian in his late teens. They had come in right after me, and thus followed the same path through the hammam as I.

The Syrian boy acted as a guide, leading the man from room to room. It became clear that the Syrian did not speak a bit of English, as all conversation with the tourist was done through gestures and pointing. He stood by as the American was scrubbed down and massaged. He showed the man how to use the clam-shaped sinks and metal dishes. He even rubbed the American down with soap, and let the same be done to him, at the American's request, of course.

I, of course, had realized what was going on from the beginning, but it was solidified at the end. At the end, as I was sitting, wrapped up in towels and drinking tea, the couple emerged and sat near me. Waiting for his tea to cool, the Syrian thumbed through an English-Arabic dictionary. He found a word and tried to pronounce it, but couldn't. He showed the book to the American. "Oh, 'wrestling,'" said the American, and nodded with a smile. The Syrian then pointed first at his own lips, then the American's lips, and then shook his head.

The couple left before I did, ducking into the neighboring barber, where the American was apparently buying the Syrian a haircut.

I was, and still am, a bit appalled at the situation. I understand that often young men have no recourse other than offering themselves to tourists, for unemployment is high and even if they were employed, salaries are meager. I cannot blame them in the least. In addition, I find it hard to blame the tourists, for they tend to treat the boys well and often offer them plenty of compensations.

Nevertheless, I still strongly feel that such situations should not exist. I am not necessarily against prostitution, but prostitutes should choose the vocation because they want to, and not because they will face poverty otherwise. But I can see no solution. As is the situation in many parts of the world, as long as gay tourists want to have sex with young men and can pay more than other jobs would, there will be plenty of boys willing to sell themselves. Such is life.

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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dubai Censors Brokeback Mountain

Quel surprise! The UAE has banned Brokeback Mountain from screening in its theaters, says Middle East Online.

Dubai is going to have to do better than that if it is going to achieve its desire to become the liberal, metropolitan destination of the Middle East and take Beirut's title. Sure, it won a World Travel Award in 2005 for Best Destination in the Middle East, but that can change. Especially as gay travellers get tired of Paris, São Paolo and San Francisco.

As I recall, a few months ago no one thought that the movie would screen here in Beirut, either. But now it's been at the Concord for almost a month, even if it lacks a few lascivious minutes. The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir even gave it a passable review.

The Middle East Online article says that Brokeback Mountain is being hawked by Chinese bootleggers in Dubai. I expect that, within a few years, Dubai will loosen its grip on censorship. Any press is not good press when it comes to tourism, and no city loves money more than Dubai. Except Riyadh.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Irony and Abu Nawas

I found the following story about Abu Nawas, a gay poet from Iraq a long time ago:

A young man, Badr by name, had in his youth gathered with the other gay blades of Basrah, even serving as go-between at times. Abu Nuwas had been one of his lovers, under cover of the friendship which tied them to one another. Later they drifted apart, much time passed, and they saw each other no longer.

Many years later he told this story: “One day, when I was in Baghdad together with my children I ran into Abu Nuwas; he was riding a gray mare, and had obviously recognized me. He seemed familiar to me also, but I could not think of his name for the life of me. He greeted me, and as I was standing there looking puzzled he exclaimed, 'Misfortune upon your head, O Badr! don’t you recognize me?'

'No,' I said.

'I am Abu Nuwas!'

I started asking him about his life, but he only wanted to know one thing: 'Who are these young boys you have with you?'

'These are my children,' I answered.

'There is no God other than Allah!' he cried out. 'And to think that once upon a time you might have borne me children, which would certainly have happened had I only stayed a bit longer with you, and had our deeds come to fruition.'

'Go get lost, and may Allah strike you ugly,' I threw back, 'and may he curse all your doings!'

'Nonetheless the truth is as I have told it,' he replied with restraint, and rode off doubled over with laughter."

Isn't it ironic that the Badr Corps is persecuting gay men in Iraq and the Abu Nawas Group in London is trying to protect them?

Another Terrible Night at Club Acid

So, I went to Acid for the hundredth time last night. Oh, it's awful!

The proprieters of Acid need to change their evil ways and let Acid be the gay club that it can be. They need to realize that no matter how much they try to hide it, Acid is a gay club and would not survive without its clientele, which is about 80 percent gay men and 10 percent lesbians.

The main problem is the hideous bouncers. They spend all their time roaming the dance floor, shoving people and acting important. If a gay men who can dance gets up on the platform, he will be pulled down in favor of some ugly straight girl who will stand up there and fool with her cell phone. (That is, unless the gay guy bribes the bouncers, of course).

Gay men can't dance together without being shoved apart.

You can't stand near the bathrooms without being told to move.

Straight couples, no matter how trashy, get treated like royalty by the staff. They think that by having a few straight people in the club, no one will think it's a gay club. It's almost like the proprieters are trying to protect their reputations.

Worst of all, gay people are willing to take it. They rather have a gay club where they get treated like slime than no gay club at all. Which, I suppose, is understandable. Nevertheless, it's still tragic.

Acid gets away with being terrible because there's nowhere else for gay people to go. I'd love to see a new club open that lets gay people be gay so no one goes to Acid anymore.

And, besides the gay stuff, the drinks aren't good. It's not worth paying 30,000 LL for an open bar when you have to wait 20 minutes for a watery drink.

X-OM is a much friendlier environment for gay people. If only it were big enough for the weekends...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Netherlands Stops Deporting Gay Iranians

Praise be to God that the Netherlands has finally stopped deporting gay Iranians back to their homeland, if only temporarily.

Yesterday, Radio Netherlands reported that the country will no longer deport gay and Christian Iranians seeking asylum - at least until a new investigation. This is due greatly to the hangings of two gay teenagers in Edalat Square in Mashhad, Iran on July 19, 2005. That, coupled with numerous other reports, was enough to convince the Dutch legislature that the issue should be further researched.

The image of a "safe" Iran comes from reports by the Dutch foreign ministry which claim that gay people face no risk in Iran, even though Iranian leaders have been extremely venemous towards gay people and homosexual deeds have been punishable by lashings and death for ages. Furthermore, the two teenagers were not the only gay people hanged in Iran. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took power, many young people accused of homosexual acts have been executed.

Strangely, Dutch officials have been adamantly defending the obviously bogus reports, unexpected from such a liberal country. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk even stated, "I regularly see reports which show that all kinds of things are faked to be able to come to the Netherlands. There have also been cases of homosexuals who fake being gay, and subsequently join their family with three children here in the Netherlands."

To put it plainly, Verdonk does not want to grant asylum to gay Iranians who may die in Iran because some people would abuse the policy. By this logic, you shouldn't provide food at homeless shelters because some people might not be needy, but just want a free meal.

At least the legislature is not as numb-minded as Verdonk.

If only Britain would follow suit. In the last two years, two gay Iranians have committed suicide because of deportation. A good report on the predicament of a gay Iranian asylum-seeker was published March 21 in U.K. Gay News.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gay Iraqis Fared Better Under Saddam

During a March 23 program on the American program Democracy Now!, Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi living in exile in Great Britain, stated that being gay was far easier under Saddam Hussein’s regime than it is currently. He says:
Iraq, at the time of Saddam, was — I mean, I'm talking about as a gay Iraqi — it
was not as bad as we can see now. In fact, it was a little bit — we [had] a
little bit acceptance … There was no homophobic attitudes toward gay and
lesbians. Most of them [were] welcomed in the community and the society … Well,
we started to receive information, in particular, the last two years, when we
made contact with our friends, in particular, my old friends in Baghdad. And
horrific, horrific details about, I mean killing, intimidation, harassing,
arresting. It's a very dark age for gays and lesbians and transsexuals and
bisexuals in Iraq right now. And the fact that Iraq has been shifted from a
secular state into a religious state was completely, completely horrific. We
were very modern. We were very, very Western culturalized — Iraq — comparing to
the rest of the Middle East. Why it's been shifted to this Islamic dark ages
country? … We were much better off in the Saddam time, although he's a tyrant.
Such a statement is not a surprise, what with the numerous Shi'a death squads abducting and murdering gay people throughout Iraq. In a article published in the Gay City News, Doug Ireland relates the dangers gay Iraqis face on a day-to-day basis. According to the article, the Badr Corps is entrapping gay men via the internet under the guise of a date, and then beat and kill the victim within hours of meeting. The Badr Corps, the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is infamous for violently killing targeting propenents of what they see as immoral behavior, including unveiled women, sellers of alcohol and people who listen to Western music.

The Badr Corps has been targeting gay people for a while, but incidents increased in late 2005, when Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, the 77-year-old Iranian-born cleric and the supreme Shi'a authority in Iraq, issued a fatwa against homosexual people in the Q&A section of his website. Translated, the section reads:

What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism?
Forbidden. Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.
Essentially, this statement gives a green light to Shi'a militants to hunt and kill gay people, a passtime they did not so freely enjoy under Saddam Hussein's regime. Why?The answer is complicated. Firstly, it involved the issues of power and control. In order to keep control, innumerablte leaders in the past have created enemies - often artifical - in order to maintain control over the populace, in effect distracting the people from noticing their leaders' faults. Such was the tactic of Pol Pot, Hitler, McCarthy, Louis VII, etc. Under the regime of Hussein, the people of Iraq were provided with a malicious enemy: the West.

Hussein was easily able to blame the Iraqis' troubles on the injurious actions of the West, mainly the United States. Ostensibly, the sufferings of the Iraqis were due to Western sanctions and not a result of Hussein's tyranny, when, in fact, both were huge, symbiotic factors.

Such was a main reason why gay people were not as much of a target under Hussein. Sure, "honor killings" of gay people were tolerated, but there were neither roving gangs kidnapping and murdering gay people nor numerous court trials on homosexual activity.

Currently, the situation has changed drastically due to one main factor - Iraqi leaders can no longer effectively use America as a scapegoat. With the breakdown of the Iraqi government after the U.S. invasion, leaders are scrambling to gain power in the inchoate government. America cannot be used as an enemy because it will not leave Iraq in an anti-American state. Furthermore, it will actively dissemble the anti-American leadership, as witnessed in the folly of Moqtada al-Sadr, whose newspaper was banned in March 2004. Thus, an internal enemy is needed, and gay people, supposedly immoral and subversive to society, are an easy target.

To add insult to injury, gay people are a target that the United States will ignore. With American support for the war continuously decreasing, America wants to pull out from Iraq as soon as possible, which can only be achieved when leadership that presumably represents its interests is in place. In addition, America will do almost anything to appeal to the Shi'a, for it wants to be in a position to negotiate with Iran and stymie its nuclear plans.

Because of this, America is willing to ignore certain scapegoating. Shi'a-Sunni tension it will definitely not, because a civil war would irreparably tarnish its image of success. Targeting of women it will probably not, because women's rights was a much-publicized "reason" behind the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But gays? No problem. Americans don't overwhelmingly care about gay people, and a few gay people dying daily in Iraq will not tarnish the U.S.'s image of success.

The situation for gay people in Iraq is unlikely to improve. The legality of homosexual behavior is uncertain. A death penalty imposed in 2001 for homosexualty was ordered by Paul Bremer to be removed when the U.S. occupied Iraq, but whether or not that was accomplished is uncertain. Other laws in the Iraqi Criminal Code are vague and loosely applicable. Furthermore, the new Iraqi constitution is equally indeterminate, with the stipulation that Islamic law will be the rule of the land.

If there were legal clarification regarding homosexuality, the situation for gay people might improve, simply because punishment would be in the hands of the government and not roving gangs. In addition, gay people would know better what to expect, and how to avoid persecution.


April 14 Update:

Doug Ireland published another article in the Gay City News about gay people in Iraq. In it, he states that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has confirmed that gay Iraqis have been targeted for kidnapping and murder. An interesting excerpt:

The U.N. report said that Iraq’s gay community is one of those targeted 'for
reasons other than ransom money,' and said that one local non-governmental
organization reported that 'members of Iraq’s small gay community had received
more than 70 threats from kidnappers in the past two months, while 12 have been
killed.'


April 15 Update:

Apparently Moqtada Al-Sadr's followers are in on the action, too, according to the New York Times:

Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army, a force of armed men loyal to the Shiite cleric
Moqtada Al-Sadr, has been pushing into Musayyib, introducing a harsh brand of
Islamic law. According to Staff Sgt. Joseph Schicker, a psychological operations
soldier, Mahdi militiamen recently threw battery acid on a woman whose ankles
were showing and dragged a man accused of being gay through the streets.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Welcome

This journal was started because not enough information or criticism exists regarding the situation of gay people in the Middle East. Most sites are shoddily updated, are not involved incurrent politics, or are driven by hookups.

Send comments about what you would like to read.

Posting will start soon!