Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The politics of being gay and Palestinian


By Maria Correia - July 17, 2018
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [identity]

“The notion of being unsafe isn’t because you’re Arab or Muslim. It comes from the upbringing and culture of the environment. People here have been holding onto their pride and culture even stronger because of occupation; it’s more intense.”

The struggles for LGBTQ folk in Palestine are similar to those of LGBTQ folk in Europe; there is a fear of being excluded, frustration at a lack of representation, and the issue of being stereotyped. For Palestinians however, their position is more politicized and weaponised, which goes across the public and private aspects of life. From coming out to how the Israeli occupation of Palestine influences their sexuality, this is what LGBTQ Palestinians had to say about it.
 
Four out of the five Palestinians interviewed asked to remain anonymous. This was due to the concerns about their families, friends or close community members finding out about their sexuality. They will from now on be referred to as N, S, D, and J. One of them wished to have her name included in the article; Marineh is a 22-year-old Palestinian living in Jerusalem.
 
Coming out
 
Marineh is the only one of the group who is publicly out. She described her coming out experience as easy because of her supportive father. It’s because of this that she has never struggled with her identity. She did however acknowledge that most LGBTQ folk in Palestine don’t have the same support.
 
N. (homosexual male living in Ramallah) also addressed the topic of being out. He talked about how the LGBTQ community is very underground because of the lack of a support system, which is why there isn’t a very explicit manifestation of LGBTQ life in Palestine. Because most of the community is in the closet, there isn’t a big public sense of oppression or resistance to it, although obviously there are many stories you hear about individuals being endangered or prosecuted by their families or the authority.
 
For S., D. and J. their reasons for being in the closet was the fear of their families reactions. S. (lesbian female living in Jerusalem) fears her family would be upset by it: “They could get sad or mad, I don’t know what they would do, so I would prefer to not tell them or come out.” D. (bisexual male living in Jerusalem) feels like families have a sort of sixth sense about this stuff, but just choose to ignore it for cultural reasons, or because of shame. He himself thinks that if he were to tell his father he would not accept it.
 
J. (bisexual male living in Ramallah) resonated similar feelings; he has heard about stories of families killing their sons for their sexualities so has chosen to remain in the closet. He confessed that he has only in recent years accepted his sexuality, and he feels that it’s because he lives in a community that has socialized him to see bisexuality as something unacceptable.
 
Pinkwashing and Israel
 
Israel is often referred to as the only Middle Eastern nation that welcomes the LGBTQ community, which is a frequently used as a political bargaining tool. Simultaneously in June 2018, the Knesset rejected a same-sex civil union bill only a few days before Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade. The phenomenon of using contradicting image portrayal and political reality for LGBTQ people in Israel is called Pinkwashing.
 
N. confessed, “Israel was really smart to use the LGBTQ issues as their campaign and way to purify their image.”. He talks about how stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs being particularly hostile to the LGBTQ community are apparent in his conversations with Israelis: “They always ask me if I'll be safe or if I will be killed if someone finds out about me.”
 
He told me he is frustrated with the collective sentiment of Palestinians who attend Tel Aviv’s Pride, as he feels there should be more awareness of what complicity means. His frustration extends to the international community, who reinforce this false and exploitative image of Israel.
 
The general consensus from all five Palestinians was similar; Israel is working hard to seem LGBTQ friendly, and protective of Palestinians. Each of them felt that Palestinian LGBTQ folk aren’t in reality included the movement.
 
When asked if they would ever date an Israeli, the response was quite unanimous. The issue is not so much with being Israeli as it is with being Zionist or non-acknowledging of the Palestinian political identity. “I would never be able to date anyone who has and serves in the IDF. Why would I be with a person who doesn’t recognize as a Palestinian or as a human?,” Marineh said.
 
“I would never date a Zionist: I would be denying my own self if I did.”
 
While the four others agreed with this sentiment, J. seemed the least politically inclined in his dating preferences. However, he did mention that although he chats with soldiers occasionally on Grindr, he is still too afraid to ever meet them in person.
 
LGBTQ life in the Middle East
 
The sentiment that came across from all statements was that Middle Easterners or Muslims are perceived as extra homophobic in comparison to other communities by outsiders. There was keenness to make the international community acknowledge this as hypocritical. “It’s not tied to religion; it’s really more about the environment and culture. People have been using religion as a weapon, and rights now it’s the Muslims that are being demonised,” Marineh said.
 
“People aren’t used to seeing anything different [here] than what they’ve been living with for thousands of years. Wars causing schools to shut down made the society less open to the outside world, and made them very attached to those tradition and beliefs,” Marineh continued.
 
“I think a big part of it is our long history of colonialism and how certain values and principles were instilled within the Palestinian culture and we became so conditioned to the fear of going off-script. Homophobia is one of these things. To support my opinion, going back to Palestine pre mandate era and the Ottoman era, things like homophobia did not exist,” N. added.
 
Christians were brought forth on a number of occasions.  “Christians are just as against LGBT and same-sex relationships as Muslims. […] Let’s be clear; even in America, Christians are on the front-row in the fight against the LGBTQ community. It’s not about religion, its cultural,” S. told Palestine Monitor.
 
N. talked about the LGBTQ scene in Ramallah. He described it as a very insecure community, with a lot of internalized hatred and discomfort. Jerusalem seemed to have similar issues, having no places or bars dedicated for LGBTQ meet-ups. Nevertheless, internal solidarity within the group seemed very strong and loving.
 
There was a strong desire to let the world know the struggles of LGBTQ Palestinians are the same as the LGBTQ struggles elsewhere, with same hopes and dreams. The added factor was the political reality of living under occupation.
 
N. said he felt it important that struggles as Palestinians should be worked at alongside struggles as LGBTQ folk. This extends to Israelis: “I’m not going to belittle the struggles of LGBTQ Israelis because they did struggle to reach the freedom they have now. But the freedom of the LGBTQ Israelis will not be complete without the freedom of the LGBTQ of Palestinians. Having them separate makes them only complicit with the occupation.”

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