LBTQ Women in Palestine
Survival kit for a Palestinian lesbian
My name is Rima, and I am one of Aswat’s volunteers and board members.

When I was 13 years old I fell in love for the first time in my life. I didn’t understand these feelings for this girl and I repressed my feelings. As a teenager, I fell in love with many girls and I was full of hope every time I was next to them.

Although I was living with my family I still I felt lonely and alone. I didn’t feel that I belonged in the place I was living in. I needed my mom to be there, I wanted to share with her my feelings but I felt like a stranger. I was living with the closest people to me, still I didn’t belong. I was alone when I needed someone to talk to, and the only person I could turn to was myself.

I wished to be like the others and prayed to God to make me like everyone else. That I wouldn’t be different. I was depressed for many years.

When I was 24 I told my best friend, for the first time that I was a lesbian and it took me an hour and a half to say that word. I was so afraid that she would not accept me as a lesbian, that she wouldn’t understand. But she surprised me. She listened to me and connected me with other people like me. At that time, the internet was the only place I could find information about my sexual identity, mostly it was in English, and it wasn’t easy to read about myself in English.

One day I was watching TV. I saw a lesbian woman on TV talking about homosexuality. I wanted to talk to her, so I searched for her on the internet and I found her. She told me about Aswat and helped me meet the rest of the girls. I started to go to Aswat’s meetings with my girlfriend. My parents suspected that something unusual was going on between me and my girlfriend. At a certain point they came and asked me about my relationship with her. I told them the truth: That I was a lesbian and that I was in love with her. I was sure about my feelings. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be with her and to live with her.

At the beginning, I thought I was the only lesbian in the arab world, but as soon as I met other women in Aswat I realized that I was not alone, and that I had a family that can support me and help me. Aswat gave me the support I needed during that time. It answered all the questions I had. For me, Aswat was the reason I had the courage to stand up to my parents.

When my parents found out about me they felt like it was the end of the world. They accused me of being sick and crazy, that I need a psychologist to cure me. I stopped being smart, special and naive and became the sick crazy one who doesn’t understand her feelings.

I spent sleepless nights trying to go over my life and I remembered that my mom and dad used to call me “hasan sabi” (tom boy). I heard my mom telling me hundreds of times that God was wrong when he made me a girl and that I turned into a girl only the day I was born. What I am trying to say is that my parents knew that I was different. I even remember my sister telling my dad many times “Rima is in love with that girl,” but my parents chose to ignore that and to pretend that nothing was different about me. I realized that I couldn’t ignore who I am and run away from being a lesbian. All their thoughts were around what my relatives and society would think. They didn’t think for a moment about my feelings and my life. They wanted me to be like everyone; to get married and have kids like everyone else, but that is not who I am. I am Rima. I am a lesbian, and I have feelings. I have dreams and I have hopes.

World War three started when I told my parents that I was moving out to live in Haifa. As a woman, who comes from a Palestinian society I was supposed to stay living with my parents till I get married or till the day I die.

My mom told me: “your brothers are going to come and beat you… I don’t know what they will do… I can’t stop them.” She thought that she would scare me and would make me come back to live with them. Although I knew that my brothers would never hurt me, I was afraid that they would. Today I know that my parent’s only concerns were their honor, people’s talk, and their image in society.

Today I know that my parents might never accept my sexuality but I know that they get used to the idea that I am different. Which is for me very optimistic, since I didn’t think it would happen even in my wildest dreams.

Telling my parents about my sexuality put them, in a way, in the closet, and I know how it feels to be alone because I was too. I don’t blame them, I understand them. It is hard to be different in our society, a society that does not accept the different and that criticizes everyone and talks behind everyone’s back, but we need to face this society in order to change it and clarify misconceptions.

Aswat is here to do that change. It is one of the most important supporting bodies for me and for lesbians in the Palestinian society. Palestinians in Israel are a national and a cultural minority. We live in a country that threatens our citizenship and existence. This makes our society cling to its identity and cultural heritage هِرِتِدج. This means that no change can happen. Homosexuality is considered foreign and it is seen as a threat to the Palestinian identity. Aswat believes that the change should come from within the Palestinian society that is why it works with and from within the Palestinian society.

Networking with other human rights and feminist organization created a coalition with them, because we all have shared aims. Having common beliefs such as human rights and women’s equality, made us all work together on joint projects such as sexual education and leadership projects. This helped us see that we have partners and we have other people, who are not necessarily gay, who also believe that we are still part of the Palestinian society.

So how does the Palestinian lesbian survive in the Palestinian society?
Despite all that I mentioned before, being a Palestinian lesbian woman is not impossible.
Now I am going to talk to you about our Palestinian survival kit:

First of all, get a job! Getting a job will free you from your parents hold on you. If you have a job you can take care of yourself, be independent, self reliant, and release yourself from your family’s control.

Secondly, get an education. Education empowers you. It gives you an entrance ticket to find a decent job. It exposes you to different opinions and world views.

Thirdly, Get out. Be active. Go to different activities or workshops, social, raising awareness, artistic workshops or events. This can give you tools to express yourself and maybe you can meet other women like you. Usually the people who take part in such activities are open minded and liberal.

Forth, you need a support group. A group of people who know about you and accept you. They will be there for you when you face the challenges and rejection of your family, friends, co-workers… your support group will make your life much easier. They could be a group like Aswat or a group of friends that you trust.

Fifth, it is not black or white. It is not that you have to be in the closet or out of the closet. You can choose, where and with whom to be in and with whom to be out. Coming out is a process that might take a long time, and that might never happen fully. You need to think in advance and know the reality of your surrounding, and do what it takes to keep yourself safe. You will find your own balance that suits you and your needs.

Last but not least, when you feel that you are ready and that you can take care of yourself, your coming step should be moving out and living on your own so you can live your life the way you want it to be.

From my experience and the experience of Aswat’s women, we believe that these are the most important elements that can help the Palestinian lesbian live as a lesbian in our reality.

I hope that these tips will help you. It worked for us; maybe you can take something from it.

Thank you!

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On behalf of ASWAT, Palestinian Gay Women, at the LGBT Human Rights Conference of the Outgames 2009, ILGA workshop "Being lesbian, bi, trans woman in the Middle East: survival kit."