The distressing, archaic treatment of Middle Eastern homosexuals is addressed in straightforward, documentary fashion.
The persecution of homosexuals, described in Lebanese as “shawaadh” (“perverts”), continues to thrive. Interviews with a variety of gay Arabs, Syrians and Egyptians finds many depressed and lonely, with support and understanding as rare as rainbow flags in Lebanon. Conflicted by an intense sense of family loyalty and an awareness of the devastating, family-wide consequences of exposure, gay and lesbian Arabs often find suicide to be their only salvation. Some manage to outsmart the system and emigrate while others become ingeniously resourceful in manufacturing an outward appearance (marriage to a gay partner of the opposite sex) that will appeal to conventional domestic expectations yet enable them to cultivate covert homosexual affiliations. Coming out to family is often fruitless and considered a “high-risk strategy,” though often, Whitaker asserts, it is parents who will question their children’s sexuality, suggesting that it has become “time for marriage” and children: an inevitable, obligatory stipulation in Arab households. But all is not lost as the author deftly underscores cultural changes at play in places like Beirut, where members of gay-rights organization Helem hand-stitched a multi-colored flag for a ten-person marching contingent against the war in Iraq; where the gay dance club Acid flourishes; and where Dunkin’ Donuts remains a well-known (albeit controversial) gay hangout. Though Saudi Arabia is thought to be the most militant against open sexuality, the author proffers quotes from Saudi gay youth to the contrary. Many declare stories of gay persecution as being greatly exaggerated and point to the Internet as the ultimate resource for same-sex liaisons (and entrapment). Most interestingly, Whitaker takes into account the varied contradictions and evolutionary growth of Arab media, literature, cinema, etc., juxtaposing harsh current-day restrictions with notions of emerging freedoms. While directing readers toward the pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel, Whitaker clearly demarcates tradition and family honor as two powerhouses eternally keeping Middle Eastern alternative lifestyles in the dark.
Strong, condensed, world-weary portrait infused with hope.