- Bareed Mista3jil
The combination of limited sources on non-hetero sexualities in the Middle East, particularly regarding women, and increased scholarly and public interest in this subject makes Bareed Mista3jil a critical and timely publication. This collection of forty-one narratives about Lebanese lesbian, bisexual, queer, and questioning women and transgender [End Page 111] persons is published by Meem, a Lebanese organization for homosexual women. The wide range of non-heterosexual experiences depicted in this book succeeds in capturing the intersecting complexities of people's identities and lifeworlds. In order not to exclude those unable to write their own stories, Meem assembled most of the stories in this collection from 150 interviews, which were written into narratives, approved by the interviewees, and published anonymously.
The narratives are accompanied by an Introduction, written by Meem, which suggests that the objective of this publication is to allow the stories of lesbian, bisexual, queer, and questioning women and transgender persons to be heard. This, Meem hopes, will encourage the embracement of different sexual orientations in Lebanon. While Bareed Mista3jil is not organized by theme, each story is tagged according to the areas it covers. The twelve themes addressed in this text are: discrimination, self-esteem, gender identity, activism, coming out, family, relationships, sexual diversity, religion, community, self-discovery, and emigration.
The strength of this book lies in the diversity and richness of its narratives. While some are more dynamic than others, as a collection Bareed Mista3jil paints a vibrant picture of the personal and intimate stories of forty-one different people. Through this multiplicity, Bareed Mista3jil counters any singular or hegemonic understanding of non-heterosexual women's and transgender people's experience in Lebanon. For instance, the intersection between religiosity and sexuality is a prevalent theme in many of the stories. "Becoming" is one such account, in which we hear the narrative of a woman who was born into a Maronite family. Without knowing the word itself, the narrator suggests that at the age of six she knew she was gay. At fourteen, she read a bible passage that led her to believe that homosexuality was a sin, which terrified her. But her panic did not last long; a few weeks later she heard a preacher on television speak about Christianity's "tolerance" for homosexuals, which relieved her of all of her worries. Two years later when her mother found out about her sexuality, she pulled her out of school and locked her up in her room for over a week, only letting her out to visit various doctors and priests. While this narrator felt a momentary conflict between her religiosity and sexuality, the tension was located in the spheres of family and school, not within her own personal faith. [End Page 112]
"God's Will" is another rich story about a familial experience. The narrator describes her mother as a "devout Muslim…[whose] belief in God is so powerful that she surrenders everything to His will" (83). Disregarding her friends' advice not to come out to her parents, she told them about her homosexuality. Her parents' reaction was far from what she expected. They told her it would be a greater sin to lie about her sexuality and pretend to be something she is not than to be a homosexual (83). The narrator reflects, "I consider myself a religious women. I often hear a lot of criticism about being a veiled lesbian. Members of the gay community don't quite understand; they think that homosexuality and religion are contradictory identities" (83). Thus this story suggests that the gay community in Lebanon was more uncomfortable with her pious sexuality than her religious parents. In fact, the narrator notes that her parent's religiosity was the source of their acceptance of her sexuality.
Although not tagged as a theme, class issues are both explicitly and implicitly present throughout the text. The majority of the stories appear to be about people from upper socio-economic backgrounds, but there are two extremely rich stories of lower- and working-class women. As the narrator of "When You Burn" notes...