It is no secret that religious and cultural ties in the Arab world create a big identity challenge for Arab gay men. The subject itself has been a taboo and no one talks about it openly.
However, this controversial subject deserves to be discussed today. I’ve decided to break the “taboo” to try to understand what it is like to be an Arab Gay.
When you hear a story about gays in the Middle East, there is always a little bit of drama in it; family disowning their son, honor killings, imprisonments…etc. I have to admit that it was what I expected when I met Pierre, but once he started sharing with me his insights on the Arab gay community, he shed a new light on the situation!
Pierre is a 33 year old Lebanese makeup artist, he studied makeup and beauty consultancy at the YWCA in Lebanon, and he continued his education with Lancôme in Paris, France. He started his career in Amman 11 years ago. Now, his artwork is well recognized in the region. He is called to work with celebrities, magazines, theatres and movies. He is a role model for successful artists who create beauty in this world through their work.
When I first requested an interview with Pierre about homosexuality in the Arab world, I sensed in his voice some hesitation at the beginning:
“My reputation! My image! In the Arab world people tend to stereotype gays, they don’t know what a gay person is. They assume he is a sex freak! This is what they know. I don’t blame them for that either, because what they see from Arab gays can be elusive.”
As I wasn’t sure I fully understood what he meant by “elusive”, I urged him to tell me more.
“The underground gay society might shock you, it’s really huge, but they are not all out of the closet.
They don’t declare it. I know many gays that are forced to be married to women just as a cover up, they hide their true identity to fit in, or only to have children. They lead parallel lives.”
So it seems that gay ostracism in the Arab society is creating a more serious issue. How real are all those marriages? How many of us are just playing house? Could it be that we have reached a point where our cultural and religious judgments are forcing gays to be a little bit creative in surviving the battle of social acceptance?
“Many gays in the Arab world are a bit aggressive or confused, I understand that they became like that as a result of the abuse they get. The way people look at us, they way they treat us. We are not a disease, we are Humans. To them we are abnormal, so we have to put an extra effort just to be accepted, it is not easy.
I too would love to have a child of my own. Adoption is always an option and with technology, everything is possible nowadays. But I would never get married and ruin a woman’s life just to have children. Unfortunately this is happening a lot here, and innocent women and children are paying the price.”
Generally speaking, women worldwide love to have at least one gay friend, they are fun to hang out with; they are creative, they have a great sense of fashion and style and they see the world in a way that a woman can relate to. Arab women are no exception to that as Pierre explains:
“Women accept gays more than men; because they know that the most creative designers and beauticians are gay. The fashion world is ruled by gays! Also, while straight men perceive the beauty in a woman sexually, Gay men see the beauty in women as Divine! They say that Diamonds are a woman’s best friend? No! Gays are! They are far more precious!”
Another great thing about a woman having a gay friend is that she communicates better with him, and his willingness to sympathize and try to understand her is surely one of the reasons a woman loves her gay friend.
“Many of my female friends and clients come to me before getting serious with anyone, they show me a picture or they introduce me to the potential boyfriend/husband to make sure.
Many times I catch a friend’s boyfriends or husbands in the act, but they always beg me not to say anything about it.”
Pierre tells me that he has been out of the closet since he was 17 years old, and that it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. I asked him what advice he would give to gay men who are afraid to come out:
“Luckily, I am a popular person, gay or not. That is because when I interact with people and make friends, I connect with them on a human level. I try to help as much as I can, and so people welcome me. I don’t introduce myself as “Gay” when I first meet anyone; if they want to know they have to find out. Why should I declare my personal life to just anyone? Respect me as a Human being and that’s it.
We cannot deny that a big part of the social rejection for gays in the middle east stem from religion; The famous story of the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah is mentioned in the Book of genesis, the Hebrew bible, the New Testament, and the Quran.
Yet Pierre is a man of faith, He goes to church, he also meditates and practices yoga. He sees no contradiction between his religion and him being gay. I asked him how he finds the balance between his religious beliefs and his personal choice
“Being guy is not a choice! I did not choose to be gay. Even if we have a choice, why choose to deny our feelings and be miserable?! When I was young I would pray to God, and ask why did you create me this way? Why didn’t you make me a woman? Did you create me like this to make me suffer?”
“People tend to forget that God created all of us, straight and Gays! We are all Human beings .We have feelings, we have pride and we have love. They see us as a disease; they see it is against their religion! But I do pray too, and I believe in God as much as any straight man. But until the judgment day arrives, I don’t want to be judged by anyone!”
Pierre explains to me that it wasn’t till later on in his life, that he found balance:
“It wasn’t easy, and life experiences showed me how people think, but when I pray I put all that aside…In my prayer, I speak to god as a sinner, as a human and a worshiper …regardless of my Sin. And who is without sin?! I believe that God is love and mercy, and I am sure that God listens to me.”
“I found peace because I’m at peace with myself. I accepted myself as I am. And if I am given my life again, this time I will choose to be Gay! We are born into this world to play a role, or to deliver a message. My message to people is: ’Before you judge anyone, find inner peace. God knows what is going on in this world; you are doing no good trying to point fingers on who’s right or who’s wrong. Who knows who is closer to God, him or I, can anyone know for sure?! Of course not! That’s why we should try to live and let live! And we will all have better lives.’ “
Whether you agree with Pierre or not, no one can deny that many of us are trying hard to find their true selves, to be accepted and welcomed in the society. It doesn’t matter if you are Gay or straight, black or white, a woman or a man… Everyone has the right to be who they truly are. As a community we need to learn to accept diversity as it is necessary for the evolution of mankind. We need to learn to celebrate our differences and to respect one another even if we disagree, because at the end we are much more alike than we are different.