Coming out of the Homophobic Closet
On the week of May 15 to May 21, Beirut held a series of significant events marking Pride. It is worth noting that this was not the first time Pride was held in Beirut or Lebanon. However, the events were immensely significant in this time and context, especially with the increasing hostility in Lebanon towards the LGBTQ community from major political and religious figures—from Hassan Nasrallah to the Association of Muslim Scholars.
Reading some of the comments for or against Pride and LGBTQ rights within the ruthless arena of social media before, during, and after the Lebanese Pride week, I began to think of my own growth in relation to the subject. Indulge me, if you will, with this personal story that I haven't shared much before. I think it’s perhaps worth sharing now, as a cisgender man who hopes that he’s considered an ally to the LGBTQ community.
When I was a young, arrogant fool (some may argue I still am in many ways), I used to have homophobic tendencies. These homophobic beliefs and tendencies were nurtured from a position of sheer ignorance, as well as the common (mis)narratives of families, friends, and the societies the surrounded me.
Growing up mainly in Kuwait, my relationship with homosexuality was determined by the slurs and jokes that were uttered by my friends (mostly a reproduction of American pop-culture tropes), the constant threat of damnation and hellfire presented in religion class if any of us dared to have same-sex relations, the horror stories in the newspapers of men being raped by other men, as well as the overbearing insistence of family and relatives that a man must marry a woman, bring forth children, and have a “home”.
Curiously, I had seen queer men in public in Kuwait during my youth—whether they were cross-dressers, transsexuals, homosexuals, etc. Their existence in the spotlight was capriciously tolerated by the authorities, only to be arrested and repressed when the cops and officials felt that things were getting too out of hand for their tastes.
These factors, among many others, naturally developed within me a warped understanding of homosexuality and queerness.
'To all my heterosexual, cisgender friend, let's not pretend we were always on the right side of history.'
Confessions of a former homophobe...
Up until my early years at university, I was homophobic. It was the Homophobia of the Liberal Flavor, and that was largely thanks to my parents. My parents definitely had a liberal flare—to a degree. During our visits to Canada, it was my parents who insisted that my sister and I come with them and see the queer district of Toronto and watch the Pride Parade. Looking back on it now, we watched without an understanding of the undercurrents of struggle that gave birth to these parades—they were viewed as a novelty, an exotic event to marvel and blush at.
I still remember, to this day, my father running around taking pictures and joking about sharing them with his conservative family members back in Damascus. At the same time, my mother would grow uncomfortable if my sister and I joked around about being gay.
“Don’t say the word ‘gay’!” she would demand.
So, yes, I was homophobic, albeit with a liberal slant. I wasn’t calling for the queer community to be out-rightly killed or repressed, but my stance was one that I now find to be both cowardly and sinister. I parroted the usual asinine sentences: "Homosexuality is unnatural", "Homosexuality doesn't make sense"; "Homosexuality is weird"; "Homosexuality shouldn't be practiced in public." You know what I’m talking about.
There were two milestones that forced me to change.
The first was a person I was previously dating, and who still remains a good friend. On one particular occasion (I shall never forget, because I deserved it), she ruthlessly ripped into me for my positions. She schooled me, and she schooled me hard. I still recall with a chuckle now the way I grasped at straws and tossed in all my silly arguments, in a sad, desperate attempt to defend myself. How I still adore her for standing her ground. I think she knows who she is, and if she is reading this and does remember that conversation, I just want to say, with undying respect: thanks.
The second milestone, after that intellectual ass-whooping, was when I decided to stop shying away from contact with the LGBTQ community. I began to notice that people I had known, friends of mine, were inextricable parts of these communities. I began to hear their stories of struggle against families, friends, and societies. Struggles small and immense. I began to witness these struggles myself, and gradually learned to recognize the acts of discrimination, oppression, and terror that the queer community was constantly subjected to—whether overt, subtle, with rods, or with words.
I found myself joining them in marches. And I appreciate so many of them for their willingness to be open with me. They shared, and continue to share, their stories with me. I found their unabating will to exist in a world that considers difference to be an affront a great example of resistance—one that I have seen echoed in other contexts.
So I think it is worth saying to my friends, strangers, and others in the LGBTQ community that I will never stop apologizing for my stupidity of the past, and I am and will gladly make amends by doing my best to be an ally. I will fight tooth and nail if you need me to. I will listen if you need me to. I will drink whiskey or tea with you if you want me to. I will be whatever you need me to be to support of your cause.
In turn, I think it is worth saying to my heterosexual friends, strangers, and others: let us be honest with ourselves. Our so-called progressive positions in support of the LGBTQ community were not always the same; they developed out of our own internal processes, mistakes, and growth. We weren’t allways allies or supporters in the past, and just because the zeitgeist seems to be changing for the better, let’s not fool ourselves by claiming we were on the right side the whole time. Let us admit and recognize our moments of failure, in order to do what we need to do to be better, more decent human beings.
To those who continue to hold fast to their homophobia out there, and they are unfortunately still many, through the resistance against them is arduous, they should know this well: your time will be over eventually. I recommend running and hiding now, to save everyone the effort down the line.
In conclusion, that's my personal story on the topic. I don't know what people will think, but I would like to add that if you enjoyed this, rather than just sharing this article, support the LGBTQ community in the ways you can, and in the ways they need you to.