The intersectional experience of Arab queerness can be complex to express; it involves a whole spectrum of sexual identities, sexual orientations, and a whole world going from the Levant to the North of Africa, including all of the Arab diaspora dispersed everywhere. Each experience is individual, so what better way to explore this existential struggle than through the lens of a variety of artists?
This Arab is Queer is an anthology written by eighteen LGBTQ+ Arab writers from 11 different countries in the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region and from the diaspora. The editor, Elias Jahshan), is a Palestinian-Lebanese Australian journalist and writer, born and raised in western Sydney and currently based in London.
Each chapter explores a particular aspect of the authors’ experience as queer Arabs and how the two intersect and shape their identities and experiences of existing.
this rich anthology echoes the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Quality education and Reduced inequalities. It offers a sense of belonging through knowledge and exposure. It makes the initiation to the community and the concept of intersectionality more accessible. Additionally, by giving this community more voice, as well as the freedom to express themselves, their experience, and the validation of their struggle, it opens new doors to the community members. It helps in the reduction of these inequalities.
It can be challenging to grow up queer in an unwelcoming place (that we describe as home) towards who we are, with homophobic tendencies, and then move to another place only to feel like foreigners, with similar yet different feelings of marginalization and stigmatization.
It is the forever struggle of intersectionality, where an Arab queer experiences both “Arabness” and queerness drastically differently from both Arabs and Queers. It is an intersection that does not mix up to either queerness or arabness. When considering the struggle of intersectionality, it is essential to see it as a point of intersection that does now mix well with each of its components. Racialized queerness reflects a drastically different experience from white queerness, the same way queer Arabness has everything and nothing to do with straight Arabness. To compare these elements not only would miss out on the most important parts of the puzzle, but it would also be similar to working with pieces of two different puzzles to try to get one done.
Some other artists who took part in this anthology are the Lebanese-American composer, writer, performer and former singer of the famous alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila, Hamed Sinno, the Sudanese Norwegian visual artist Ahmed Umar, the Lebanese writer, actor, professor, founder of Cliff Hangers Storytelling in Beirut Dima Mikhayel Matta and many others.
More specifically, two of them take us into their most intimate spaces by sharing the emotions they go through with their lovers, they take us in bed with them and their thoughts, at their most vulnerable moments.
Iraqi-German writer, cinematographer, and humanitarian worker Saleem Haddad gives the readers details about his return to Beirut and consequently to an old lover. He underlines the unavoidable interconnectedness between his feelings towards his home, his origins, and his lovers, questioning whether these emotions are felt towards his lover or if it is just a way for him to get himself a more tangible version of a home he has lost touch with forever, due to the destruction of the city he’s always known.
“Is it his body I am pining for or something else, something more elusive and intangible that I have somehow enfleshed with his muscle and skin? Yet I am uncertain what composes this soil I am fearful of: my city or my lover,” states Haddad in the book.
He describes it as “a sort of homecoming, a return to oneself.” His lover becomes his reflection, himself, his home. His lover is his sexuality and his identity. He sheds light in this chapter on the undeniable link in one’s identity between origins and sexuality. He sheds light on the whole adventure of self-discovery through one’s partner.
Egyptian writer and journalist Mona Eltahawy talks about intimate moments she shares with a Bosnian woman and the conversation they have about the pressure of being normal in societies with more homophobic tendencies. In the same sentence, she puts queerness next to genocide, to underline the absurdity of homosexuality in such contexts where unity is needed more than ever, but most importantly the absurdity of the enormous influence this stigmatization has on her relationship with herself. How can one’s genuine love be compared to the hate and violence of genocide?
“Imagine a Bosnian woman who had survived the Srebrenica genocide being made to feel she is not normal. Surely it is the savagery of the genociders which is not normal? Surely that violence, and not our bodies together, is not normal?” questioned Eltahawy in the book.
Some of the other topics brought up in the other chapters are the struggle of dating white people as a queer person of colour, the struggle of being transexual and the forced performance that comes with it, the concept of queerness as transgression, as a sin, the creation of a safe space, the ties with family, and so many others.
To conclude, this book explores this issue of queer Arab intersectionality excellently and offers exposure and a sense of belonging to queer Arabs, who can feel more understood and validated, which can be truly liberating, introspective, and healing. Not only is it a beautiful way for them to get to discover more queer Arab figures they would not necessarily know about otherwise, but also for “others” to grasp a better understanding of this undercovered reality.