“Let’s plot sexy revolution, plan perverse adventures and talk about pornographic ideas.”
Acid. It was the meeting place of every single outcast in Beirut. Men, women, and everything in between could go there, for one night, and have the time of their lives. Or they could end up in jail. And even when they did, they were right back there the next week. It was a place where you didn’t know what was going on most of the time, a place where you didn’t know who was a boy and who was a girl. It was a place where bouncers would walk around separating two men dancing too closely together, and a place where everyone made out with everyone the instant the lights went off. We knew the cops were watching us, but we didn’t care. This was a place where we could be who we want to be, wear what we wanted to wear, act the way we wanted to act. And try as they might, the bouncers, the owners, and the police could not stop us from being who we wanted to be.
And then it closed.
And the new places opened up. With sponsors. And international DJs. And sub-cultures. And Facebook groups. And media coverage.
But they’re not Acid. They’re not Acid in its blatant defiance of authority, of the homophobic society we live in. They’re not Acid. They are subdued copies of Acid, more toned down, more appropriate, more heteronormative.
Before we had Acid, with its insane intensity, daring statements, undercover kisses, security guards, and hardcore sunrises. Now we have PC, Ghost, and Posh: flamboyant for the sake of flamboyance, Gaga-ish for the sake of international expectations, heteronormative for the sake of the heteros.
Things have changed. If you’re gay living in Beirut, life has changed drastically for you over the past decade or so. Today, we celebrate this change, we list our achievements, we take pride in the way we’ve changed things. We become part of the community, members of our society, one to one with our heterosexual others.
But as we blend in, as we integrate, we lose what made us different. In the process of fighting for our rights, we forgot what we were fighting for. We are quick to celebrate, without realizing that we have lost our edge, we have lost our individuality. We have lost ourselves in a sea of heterosexual behavior.
We have given up our flamboyance, our machismo, our difference, and traded it in for suits, ties, and tolerance. That’s not a good thing. Things have evolved only because we have turned into them. They have welcomed us because we turned into them. They have waived their flags of tolerance and open-mindedness in exchange for our identity.
That’s not acceptance. That’s subversion.
It has never been about who we fuck.
It has always been about our rejection of the status quo. To be an openly gay person has always been about taking a stand against the heteronormative society we live in. To be gay is to have the balls, forgive the expression, to be who you want to be, not who everyone around you wants you to be.
We have lost our flair, our feathers, our divas. We have hidden them deep into some closets. It is not our fault. It is the fault of our society that couldn’t stop whispering, insulting, mocking, rejecting our gayness.
For the sake of tolerance, we have settled. We have settled for getting a job as long as we keep our feathers to ourselves. We have settled with the fact that there is a certain way to act in public. We have settled with accepting homophobic comments from older people. We’ve settled (and laughed with) comedians making gay people the butt of all jokes. We’ve settled with TV personalities airing offensive, dangerous, and cruel stories about us, all the while accepting their claim that they are not homophobic bigots.
This is not what we wanted. This is not what we want.
We have become institutionalized. We have accepted the argument that the only reason you cannot discriminate against us is because we were born this way, and not because we are simply human beings. We now glorify long-term relationships and marriage, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is destructive. We have integrated into the army, acting like real men, joining the heterosexuals in cold-blooded heterosexuality. We’ve given up on sexual liberation, accepting instead the standard of monogamy.
We’ve gone even further than that. We have accepted that religious people be allowed to spew their hate and homophobia. We have accepted that the Pope should be homophobic. We have accepted as a good thing that our government tends to turn a blind eye to our “unnatural” intercourse. We have accepted as standard the fact that most people around us are against us adopting kids. We’ve accepted the idea that our sexuality is offensive to the masses, and should therefore be kept quiet. We have accepted a myriad of excuses as valid explanations for homophobia. We have accepted that our number of partners is too high and therefore never admit to how many people we fucked last weekend.
We have lost our luster, our shine, ourselves. We now blend in.
None of this is OK. None of it. We will not settle for tolerance. We do not want to fit their idea of what is acceptable and what is not.
I don’t care what the pope thinks of me. I don’t care what Joe Maalouf thinks of me. I don’t care what conservatives think of me. I don’t care what Geagea, Hariri, Aoun, Nasrallah, Jumblatt, or Mikati think of me. I certainly don’t care what the mufti and the cardinal think of me. I am not going to change who I am to please them, to make sure that they are not made “uncomfortable”, or to thank them for not chasing me down the street for being who I am: a gay man.
They have turned our gayness into their straightness. That is not OK. That is not OK. A world where the straights allow us to be part of their world as long as we behave is a far cry from what we once wanted.
Camp is good. Flamboyance is good. High heels and mustaches are good. The uber macho is good. Butch is good. The fabulous is good. The contradictions are good. Being who you want to be is good.
We used to form bonds. Bonds that were stronger than society, than hate, than oppression. Bonds that allowed us to be stronger, to be who we want to be, to stand up against the system. We used to separate fucking from loving, and could do both at the same time, with as many people as we wanted. We used to evolve. We were never a group that was easy to target, to market, to define. We used to create our own identity, not define ourselves within accepted subgroups like Bears, Twinks, Daddies, and so on. We used to veer away from the heterosexual definition of the perfect man, hairless, chiseled, perfectly muscled. We used to appreciate ugliness, quirkiness, uniqueness.
I understand why we do it. We are tired. I am tired. This is easier, more comforting. It lets us rest. It hurts less. It gives us a sense of accomplishment. I am as guilty as the next guy of settling, of faking happiness because the people around me have supposedly accepted me. I have toned down my flamboyance in exchange for more tolerance. I have settled.
When I was growing up, I felt odd, out of place, and alone.
For a long time, I was scared someone would find out I’m gay by the way I talk, act, walk, eat, think sleep. My behavior was controlled and studied.
Then I started meeting other gay people. I felt more confident, more comfortable. I stopped worrying about what others thought of the way I acted. I owned my sexuality and became an activist, defying what society expected of a young man in Lebanon.
And I felt free, loved, and powerful.
And we fought. And took risks. And formed secret societies. And defied our parents, our teachers, the police, and our guts. We made statements just by being who we were. And for years, we were scared and that fear made us stronger, gave us a reason to keep on fighting. With time, small changes came and we grabbed on to them. They gave us hope. Miniscule rays of hope. And the hope grew, and things got better. Or at least so we thought. Suddenly it was much easier to be openly gay. More and more people came out. Straight allies joined in, and before we knew it, we had access to major media outlets. It all happened so quickly, relatively, that we never took a moment to stop and see what was going on. We never noticed that it is not their attitudes towards us that changed, but rather our attitudes towards ourselves that changed. We’re more reserved, more traditional, more “proper.”
Today, in this new environment, I find myself back where I was when I was growing up: odd, out of place, and alone.