A frequent subject of blogging is censorship: from Tunisia to Malaysia bloggers are being victimised and sentenced for expressing political and religious views contrary to that of their country’s regime.
Indubitably, their cause is a noble one and admirably undertaken in spite of state adversary, but what if the cause was not political or religious per se, but rather one of sexual orientation?
Vocalising one’s stance on homosexuality in the Middle East is fraught – as it can be also the world over – with quandaries and obstacles.
With homosexuality rendered illegal in many states of the region, conducting one’s life freely can be a complex, emotionally wrenching, and possibly frightening experience.
The utilization of a blog has been but one bold means through which to express one’s views – until now, that is.
The launch last month of the first edition of the quarterly LBTQ magazine, Bekhsoos, took a pioneering step towards clarifying the issues, blasting the myths, and providing an arena in which LBTQ individuals can express and learn about the community in the region.
The brainchild of the LBTQ group in Lebanon, MEEM (majmouaat mou’azara lil-mar’a al-mithliya) was established last year and provides support to women of all nationalities and ethnicities residing in Lebanon, or Lebanese women residing anywhere around the world.
Based in Lebanon, where homosexuality is allegedly somewhat more accepted than in most Arab countries, although is still illegal, the magazine is divided into six sections, dealing with subjects such as health, rights, the media, and homophobia.
With an editorial team of 13, including graphic designers, translators, columnists, and writers, for privacy and security reasons, the majority of Bekhsoos staff and contributors publish anonymously, using pseudonyms or only a first name.
According to “Jen”, the editor of Bekhsoos,
We are fortunate to have outside contributors who write for each issue, and we welcome writers from all over the Arab world to submit content to us. We have one writer, for example, who talks about the situation in Kuwait. [However] only one or perhaps two writers who actually use their full names. [Source]
If the magazine’s blurb is anything to go by, the team are a determined bunch, filling a chasmal gap in the media market:
We decided to create a magazine to show ourselves, to show we exist as more than pornographic creatures, to show that we are beings who lead lives just like those of any of the purportedly ‘normal’ others within our societies and communities, but most of all, to spread awareness, to reach out to members of our own community, to create networks of support, to make it known that every LBTQ individual out there is NOT alone. [Source]
Our objective is to fill the gap of lesbian-produced writing in the Arab world through documentation and reports, opinion pieces, and creative work. We believe in the incredible wealth of LBTQ women’s stories and experiences out there that have not yet been put forth enough online or in print.
There is much mystery that surrounds the Arab lesbian identity. We’re here to show that we’re normal, creative, intelligent beings – just like you. And we’re here to speak our minds and tell our stories. [Source]
Already a contentious subject, the act of advancing the issue from the blogosphere into the magazine market is a brave and groundbreaking one.
Nevertheless, questions of a societal nature remain.
How ready the region for the publication? Is it much-needed progress, or a major moral quandary? What implications does it bear for future publications, and for the LBTQ community?
These are questions only time can answer, although for now, a voice and support network has just blossomed for the LBTQ community of the Middle East.