LBTQ Women in Lebanon
Alternative Strategies for LBTQ Women in Lebanon
“The common misconception in Lebanon is that lesbian relationships don’t last. Here’s the insider’s guide to a stereotypical Lebanese lesbian relationship. Two women meet (probably online), fall in love within a week (if not faster), vow eternal love and devotion to each other (forever and ever), meet in person (probably at Dunkin Donuts), announce that they are girlfriends (7ayeti enti), tell all their friends (including lesbians on their MSN they have never met) that they are now in love, go dancing in Acid a month later (where one of them will throw a jealousy fit because the other looked at someone else), start fighting about everything (and nothing), break up (over the course of six months), and finally decide to become good friends (lesbian ex’s never leave). Repeat as necessary.”

Hi! My name is Stephany, I’m a member of Meem. I’ve just read an excerpt from The Lesbian Relationship Myths; one of 41 stories of Bareed Mista3jil (translated “Mail in a Hurry”) a book written by Meem members.

Meem is a support group & a community of Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer & Questioning women, Trans people & any women with non-conforming sexualities. We keep a low profile for the protection & privacy of our members as part of our survival kit.
The organisation started when we felt the need to have our own private space away from gay men whose focus at the time was mostly on HIV/AIDS. We are in contact with some organisations in Lebanon, others in the Middle-East, Europe, & North Africa. Our book for example was funded by Heinrich Böll Shtiftung.

I’ve been with Meem from the beginning, almost two years ago, but my journey as an activist for women’s rights started long before that. Because I have the body of a female, I face a lot of discrimination, because I do not look like what a woman should look like or what any human being should look like, I face more discrimination, disgust, & danger. But I face the world as it is with whoever & whatever I want to be. Being part of Meem has made me even stronger because I’ve finally become part of a large activist group. I feel how powerful we are, not to mention scary!
Within two years we reached around 315 members, rented a safe space that we call “our house” where we hold our meetings, workshops or just hang out, we’ve started mental, medical, & legal help programmes. We also have internship programmes to which LBTQ people can come to & be part of.

It came as a surprise to us that mainstream International LGBT movements are not aware of how feminism can advance our cause. At ILGA world conference, Nadine - our coordinator - was asked to hold a session about feminism & why it’s important for LBTQ movements. ILGA’s women coordinator, Patricia Curzi, took care of Meem & gave us a space to talk about this issue because we were disappointed in LGBT movements, whom we thought were feminists or at least understood the concept.

One of the major problems of Lebanese women is that they are not allowed to a “life” or to an individual identity, they’re either the daughter of the father or the wife of the husband. A lot of people will tell you it’s not true at all, well there has been some very slight potential of improvement but the situation remains: women are not individuals.
As a result, some LBTQ women try to imitate men in the way they behave or act because they want to be accepted. Others have all sorts of sex but keep their hymen intact because eventually they will have to marry & in order to do that they must be “virgins”. Some try to look for a gay husband to cover up. Bottom line is a lot of LBTQ women choose to keep their sexual identity as a secret or they choose not to adopt it. So they resort to marriage, religion, immigration, or suicide.

Some women believe that by marrying a gay man, they are away from the lesbian spotlight. In a moment of desperation, this seems like the best solution but what comes after that is forgotten. First comes the pressure of getting married, then the pressure of “why does your wife/husband dress or act like that”, then “when are we going to see some grandchildren?” The pressure never goes away. & it does not get easier with time. That plan of “we’ll get married & each one will live his or her own sexual life as freely as they want” is a myth.

Choosing religion as a cover up is a fucked up solution on a whole different level, (this does not mean that there aren’t any religious LBTQ people) but when a girl chooses to oppress her own sexuality, mental health is at stake. When she chooses to deny it, she tends to become homophobic & that is the state of a lot of closeted LBTQ women.
Immigration should not be an option or solution either. If you want to move to a different country because you like it that’s one issue, but to have to move to another country, away from your loved-ones, away from what you love just because you are afraid for your life, is just cruel.
And suicide? I don’t think any person should go through it, no matter what the reasons are.

Just yesterday, I was walking with a friend & I started thinking that if we were in Lebanon, I’d never be able to just spontaneously grab & kiss her. I’d have to secretly look for a private place where I could do that. The moment would be gone by then. & even if I do find the place, I’ll always have the fear of being caught. It’s in the back of our minds.
Surely some women choose to face the world, to face discrimination, to face their parents, and as a result either end up on the streets, disinherited, locked-in, or killed (sometimes forced to marry). There are LBTQ women who are very out, who are not afraid to come out of the closet, who are not afraid of fighting for their rights, who provoke… but they do face danger, they are the easy targets because people who actually look for “perversion” to “correct” will easily find them.

To fight for LBTQ women rights & to demand the abolishment of article 534 - the law that criminalises “unnatural sexual acts” - when as women, we are not free, is just stupid. Because if the law changes, society will not change its attitude towards me as a lesbian. So we have to work on the people & we thought that it’s very important to change this mentality.
And we knew that having gay-straight alliances is very important for this step - I mean otherwise we’d be preaching to the choir. If I were speaking to a homophobic public that is ready to use me as a punching bag at any time now, but I were able to get through to at least one person, then it’s enough for me. From this idea, we came up with Feminist Collective - a feminist organisation that started with the lesbians & whose members are from different sexual orientations & genders.
Through the Feminist Collective we speak to the public about getting rid of the power dynamics that harm us. As I said before, changing a law will not change mentality. Of course, it’s a huge step to hypothetically getting protection. I say “hypothetically” because if the perception of a woman or LBTQ or any minorities does not change, then the law will not really do its job. By fighting those social norms, we are carrying our survival kit.
We support each other as women to start our own businesses, demand that promotion, & in the fight for our rights to passing on nationality to our partners & children, & so on we are at the intersection of having LGBTQ identities, being women, & Trans people, from working class, rich, middle class, ethnicity… this is our feminism, & our feminism is our survival kit.

I’ll tell you a story about my own survival kit, when I knew I was coming to Copenhagen I decided to buy some sex toys because they’re not allowed in Lebanon & actually they are criminalised. I thought, “how am I going to get them through the borders? If they decide to search my bag, that would be a huge problem for me.” So I started coming up with all sorts of ideas as to how I could get them to Lebanon. First I thought about melting a candle & putting the dildo inside it, wait till it cools, then put it in my bag. Once I get to Lebanon I could melt the wax again to get my dildo back.
Then I came up with another idea. I thought that maybe I could tear open a Teddy Bear, put the dildo in it, sew it back on, & get it with me.
Eventually I started thinking “why do I have to do that?” “Why do I have to be afraid of enjoying my sex life?” “Why do I have to be afraid of enjoying anything I want to do” “Why do I have to be afraid of enjoying me?”
Then I thought “I’ll just buy my dildos, my sex toys… try to hide them properly in my bag, & just hope that they will actually get through with me.”

In conclusion, the mutilated Teddy Bear is my survival kit.

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