finding our ways home: queer swana artists as mapmakers


My name is Mary Salome and I am one of the co-founders of the Mujadarra Grrls, producers of the website Bint el Nas. Welcome to our first ever live event. Ahlan wa sahlan and khosh amadit (that is my attempt at Farsi). Map of a Virtual World: Voices and Visions of Queer Southwest Asian and North African People, is our best attempt to create an artistic space when we, as individuals, and our community can come together, express ourselves and have a little fun. The event runs from 5:00 to 9:00, contrary to what is on our postcard, if you got one. It is four hours and it is in three parts. The first part is the panel, then there is an art opening in the room behind you with food and performance. I do not want to take up too much time. As with the website, our goal is to create a forum where people can express themselves and so I would like to turn it over to the panel as quickly as possible. I hope you enjoy it and Sima? Take the stage!

SPEAKERS: MOD: Sima, moderator | HH: Happy Hyder | JS: jim saliba | MS: Maher Sabry


Thank you, Mary. Good evening. I am Sima Shakhsari. I will be the moderator of this panel today. As you know by now, the panel is called "Finding Our Ways Home: Queer SWANA Artists as Mapmakers." When Laura asked me to act as the moderator of this panel, I did not think twice. I accepted immediately because... not just because of my admiration for Laura's work and, you know, how I really adore Bint el Nas and Mujadarra Grrls, but also because I think that sexuality, which has been to some extent talked about and developed in queer diasporic politics, often stays out of homeland politics. I am hoping that through this panel, we can initiate a dialogue on how sexuality, or rather seemingly private practices of sexuality are implicated in cultural productions, in order to make visible the workings of gender, class and race, and global inequality.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Laura Farha, Mary Salome and all the other people who have made this event possible. Please join me in applauding for them to do such a wonderful event.

Before introducing the panelists, I would like to explain the format of the panel. After this introduction, each panelist will speak for 8 to 10 minutes and at the end, I will wrap up with some thoughts and possibly some questions. Then we will have time for question and answer. I am going to ask you guys to write down your questions and this is because we want to make sure that everyone or as many people as possible get the chance to ask their questions. Niloufar will have index cards - can you stand up? Thanks. - index cards and pencils, so if you have a question, raise your hands and Niloufar will give you a card and a pencil.

So, I am really honored to be among wonderful panelists. Let me go ahead and introduce them to you. The first panelist is Happy L.A. Hyder. Happy is the founder and executive director of LVA - Lesbian Visual Artists. She was nominated and chosen to receive KQED's Community Heroes Award in June 2002. When asked to define herself, she will always include the Lebanese and the Lesbian along with Radical.

The second panelist is jim. A descendant of turn-of-the-century Lebanese immigrant and rural southern farmers, jim saliba grew up in Tennessee and Georgia. He studied drama at Stanford University and studied and taught poetry with June Jordan and her "Poetry for the People" program at the University of California at Berkeley. Jim has also studied with many different teachers and he currently serves as the artistic director of h e l p: human elemental laboratory of performance - a newly formed organization dedicated to producing innovative performance work and building connections among performers, spectators and the larger community. h e l p will be presenting its first performance in August in San Francisco.

The last speaker is Maher Sabry. Maher is an Egyptian theater director, trained in dramatic arts at the University of Cairo. In 1999, with a small self-assembled troupe, he presented a piece called "The Harem," which he both wrote and directed. The work addressed themes of male and female homosexuality openly and was the first publicly presented play in Egypt to do so. It was widely praised and presented at an international theater festival held in Cairo but Maher found himself shunned by the Egyptian theater world in the wake of its presentation. When the arrest took place at the Queen Boat Discotheque on the night of May 10 and 11 of 2001, Maher was the first person to disseminate news to other human rights organizations and to the world. Maher was awarded the Philippa 2002 Award by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Please join me in applauding the panelists.

"We find home here where our lovers and friends dive into our foods, and dance with us to music becoming less foreign to their ears and feet and hips."

Thank you for being here. Thanks to all the women who put this together. I am really thrilled with what the program is and it just seems like it has been a long time coming. It is nice to be here.

I kind of wrote some things to the topic and I also decided that what I wanted to do was show my artwork. So, some of the things I am speaking about will pertain to the images and some will not, and I have some at the end in case I do not fill out my eight minutes - hah!

Today's topic is most immediate, the concept of home and finding our home. It comes to me from my personal journey. Right now, I am considering and leaning towards moving to New York, which I have wanted to do always and never done, so that could be very close. And also, knowing that home and the politics of place is very much in the forefront of Arab peoples' thinking these days as well as anyone that has any kind of bit of consciousness within them. It seems like all my life, people have been dying daily all over the world. It sometimes makes me wonder the validity of what I want to do with my artwork or what I do with my artwork. If I tend to take pictures that are, you know, they are first glanced at and thought of as pretty. I think of them as taking you to another place and thinking about possibility. And also of being in awe of what is around us - the manmade as well as the natural - because we need to have some awe in our lives, so that we do not take anything for granted. I also would like to say that there is, of course, always the side of ourselves that is able to direct action even as we make our pretty pictures but the pretty pictures are food for the soul.

So, these first pictures are from Viejo San Juan. I was in Puerto Rico for the first time as few months ago and this is a sampling of my very newest work. [shows pictures] I photographed in black and white for 20 years and then switched to color. You will notice there are a lot of lesbian elements in my work even though it is not lesbian-specific.

Coming together as SWANA in the Bay Area, finding home with each other, giving two or three kisses on our cheeks, depending on our country of origin, no matter our birthplace, finding in familiar cultures, where a few pulse points mark us as family. We find home here where our lovers and friends dive into our foods, and dance with us to music becoming less foreign to their ears and feet and hips. Being born and bred in central Massachusetts, I sometimes described myself as American-Arab. Worcester is an overgrown milltown with a fairly large Arab population, namely from Syria and Lebanon at that time. Of course, that implies we Arabs growing in America are similar, yet growing up in Detroit or Los Angeles or with immigrant parents or in a less hospitable place or without other Arabs and family is as foreign to me as growing up in Beirut or Cairo or Amman. A few places. These are from the Acama Pueblo in New Mexico.

And this is my trip to Paris when I turned 50. I had wanted to go to Paris since I was very young - my first French class, probably - and TV - and I wanted to find out... I spent the time there thinking about what it meant to me to be an artist and was I really an artist, and did it make any difference? And all that other stuff, and since I am doing it more often these days, I guess I came to the conclusion it does.

Well, in 1981, I moved to the Mission and I came out. I had been in San Francisco since '69. I joined the VITA Gallery Collective at the Women's Building and brought along my deeply felt anger at how the world is run, and I learned about insidious racism that led me to choose other forums when asked about ethnicity and race.

"I was born in 1947. Arabs were considered "white" by this government. We were not taught otherwise. Although we really did not think of ourselves as "white"; I did not think anyone who was in the Arab community did. We thought of ourselves as Arab."

Just a little background and context. I was born in 1947. Arabs were considered "white" by this government. We were not taught otherwise. Although we really did not think of ourselves as "white"; I did not think anyone who was in the Arab community did. We thought of ourselves as Arab - we were Syrian, we were Lebanese, we were Arabs. We had connections via the Eastern Orthodox religion, with Greek, Russian, Albanian and Armenian, and every year we had this multilingual service in Worcester's Municipal Auditorium with all these different voices and all the choirs filling up the large space with this marvelous music and all of the priests filling it up with incense. It was quite moving! I love ritual! One of the neatest things about church.

This photograph is called "New Country Daughter, Lebanese-American" and it came about... I had just moved to the Mission and it came about when I was questioned about my identity and did I consider myself a woman of color. And I had not but it certainly made a lot of sense to me. And many of my Arab sisters have expressed all their different kinds of reactions and feelings but always really with a lot of heartfelt happiness to see this image, which was on a postcard and was all over the place. And now it is in the new edition of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, which is a book that is used in college classrooms internationally and was first produced in the early '80s when I was first coming out. I do not need these lights; can we lower these lights? How did we end up with bright lights?

This piece is called "Tadamun (solidarity): for my Lebanese and Palestinian Sisters" It is a small box construction and it was made in specifically for the Day of Dead at Mission Cultural Center a number of years ago. It is basically called tadamun in solidarity for our Arab, our Lebanese and Palestinian sisters and it was in the late '80s. This piece was considered for the cover of a lesbian and gay political magazine in the '80s and decided against because I went and found out what it said - I had no idea what it said - but it was about pushing back the Zionists back across the southern Lebanese border, so we really talked about it and they understood that there was a certain sense of censorship going on here when they decided not to use the photograph.

This is from an installation I did with Pearl Saad called "Arab Women: Bigger than Boundaries" and I am just going to basically use it and take you through it. And there is a poem that I wrote that was kind of used in here. I will read when I come to the piece. It was the Day of the Dead. They had the rooms for the dead, so you got this space and you got to do whatever you wanted and I keep thinking about using veils and I could never quite get into veils but this kind of worked. Ah, thank you! Oh, you cannot really tell. There is that piece on the right that looks like a lot of lines. It was actually a photograph of a building that was being demolished, so I am just going to stop and read this.

"I have often photographed building being demolished.
It was the repetition of design,
The abstract quality I was after.
I spent many minutes setting each shot,
Seeing what fell into the frame
And adjusting to encompass just the right amount
Of wires, of windows and broken glass,
Of light bulbs hanging bare.
Then, Tina returned to live in Beirut.
My sense changed.
These buildings were no longer abstract in the same way.
Now, they could have been bombed to look that way.
In all my horror at the demolition of peoples around the world,
This was a heady sense of direct contact.
I no longer photograph buildings being demolished,
No longer seeing in the abstract.
I know the connection to inconsistencies
And power
And pain.
I question who does the demolishing,
Who is displaced in the process,
And who gets to choose."

That was in 1989. There it is.

I made a wall of women out of photographs. This is a piece - I have one minute.

Okay, we will do this real quick! This is a piece called "Accepting Their Fears as Valid." It is a double closet and it was done for a show called "I Can't Put My Finger On It: Masturbation, Aesthetics and Semiotics." And it is basically - you can actually go into the two sides of the glass closet and it came out of feeling that we all have someone in our family who does not want us to tell someone else something and they think that we are all clean but everybody ends up in these closets and they are kind of glass because you can talk, you can hear each other but everything is kind of muffled and mumbled. This last piece, this is called "Lesbian Touch Is Ancient," it is also my only erotic writing handpainted on silk and photographs digitally imprinted on silk. So the two on the end are like pillars in the Egyptian friezes so they hold our work and lesbian that sees that across a room knows it is a lesbian piece of art. And you walk around and in it and read it. So what I want to do with this is turn it into a three minute film, specifically because as fine art never gets out into the world and we do not get seen, and I think in this day of queer politics, I feel like a lesbian in LGBT keeps falling off the shelf and so part of what I do as a lesbian out there in the world, whether my photographs are specifically lesbian-identified or easily lesbian-identified to the greater public, I think a lot of them are to dykes and fags and all of us in the community. So, I am just really happy to be here. I have four more; I think there are only four more. These are just some pictures I love! It's my New York. There's our Lebanese Katherine Acey on the left. And I think that is it. Thank you!

I just want to say something else about place and how we "be." I think there are a lot of things that we can do things and if anyone wants to talk to me about being an artist in the world and ways that we can have a little political power, like sitting on funding panels and things, I would love to talk with you about it. I also find I would like to encourage everybody to go to Sister Rise Up, the second Wednesday of every month now because that like this is a very important thing that is happening. I feel like I have jumped into this role as Elder. Anyway, I think part of what I do in the world and what I want to do is to encourage everybody who is here to take whatever they get here that fills them and fills their heart and brings us somewhere else and that we take the time to understand that just meeting like this is very powerful and the energy we put out just by being here, even if we are not doing it consciously, is very powerful in changing what is happening in the world. Astrologically, we have come through nine months that have been really major with planets doing this and now they are starting to not do that and it is going to be like this for a while, so just try to stay grounded and when you get a little nuts, think about how you can be in one of my photographs! And to take yourself there and keep doing it - thanks!


Thank you, Happy. Our next speaker is jim saliba.

"...when I look back on my life so far, I have been most satisfied with those times in my life where I have chosen to take up residence in that danger of revelation."

Thank you, Sima, and thank you all for being here and I would also like to thank the - in my ancestral dialect - the Mjudrra Grrls for providing this home for us as queer Southwest Asian, North African artists to talk about home.

So, I have been thinking about home in preparation for today and also I got the privilege and pleasure of talking about home with Laura and Sima and Melinda the other day, and it led me to think a lot about safety and danger. Safety for me being a minimum requirement of home and danger being home's absolute absence. I should note here, if that is not already obvious, that to me home is the place where it is safe to be who I am and that it is not necessarily equivalent to or related to where I grew up, where my family lives or where my ancestral roots might be.

Thinking about safety and danger led me to think about my life, my particular life as a queer Arab with light skin from a Christian background with a - to non-Arabs - ethnically ambiguous last name. In these particularly two potentially dangerous aspects of who I am - both queer and Arab - I have generally had, and pretty much still have, the power to choose at any particular moment whether and when and to whom I am going to risk their revelation and in hindsight up to now, when I look back on my life so far, I have been most satisfied with those times in my life where I have chosen to take up residence in that danger of revelation.

Saying it that way kind of sounds like a big idea but basically what I am talking about is simple things like talking openly about a guy I am interested in around people who might not, you know, whose opinion of that I might not know or speaking openly as an Arab in public, which as you probably all know in the past year has gotten even more challenging in this country. So, now that also is somewhat of a Lebanese thing, in particular, I think as far as for me because when I was growing up, we would refer to ourselves as Arabs at home among ourselves behind closed doors but when we walked out on the street or when we were in public or talking to other people, and questions of ethnicity came up, we always referred to ourselves as Lebanese, not Arab. And there is a lot we could talk about, about that split but that certainly stayed with me for a long time. I kept this public-private split of being an Arab at home with my family and being Lebanese in public, which has a lot of different associations with it that seemed at the time desirable. So I lived pretty much in this kind of psychological split up until when I was studying poetry with June Jordan at "Poetry for the People." And when we were studying the first semester I was there, we studied poetry from three different traditions, one of which was Arab and Arab-American, and whenever I was describing the course content to other people who were not in the course, I would list off the Arab/Arab-American section as if it really did not have anything to do with me at all until we started that section and then on that very first day, I was really from then on I was extraordinarily overwhelmed with the materials and the presentations because I realized that this was my family and that this was part of who I am.

So, this first poem that I want to share with you as part of this panel is about that first day of the Arab/Arab-American section, and for me, it is about this moment that I began to come out as an Arab and thus, began to take up some sort of residence in that dangerous place that it is to be Arab in these current United States. This poem is called "Memory" and it is dedicated to my friend and mentor, June Jordan.

the young man
his head covered and beard close cropped
recites the koran in resonant arabic
water pours from my left eye

at thirteen
i perform in a play
for the first time
the reviewer leaves the final a off my last name
leaves it arab sounding
not just arab
january nineteen eighty
we joke that
we hope that
no one will bomb the theater thinking that
an iranian
acts here
i laugh

my grandmother tells
of when my greatgrandfather
a young man
blows up
he does not touch her or her mother
smashes all the furniture in the house
to pieces

after the oklahoma city bombing
british officials detain
an arab american
in heathrow airport
who matches a federal profile of bombers
a single man flying alone to the middle east

the bathroom doors where i grow up
bear the scars
of my father
a young man
chases his brother through the house
breaks through the door with his fist

after the oklahoma city bombing
police arrest
three arab men
raid their dallas apartment
seize boxes of belongings
calendars clothes phone numbers

my father
home from college
fights with my grandmother
storms from the house
she follows him
grabs the car keys from his hand
not with that temper you dont
she says
he glares at her
walks ten miles to the river without stopping

after the oklahoma city bombing
f b i agents search for
two arab men
in blue jogging suits

when i see an arab man
i see my fathers anger
the pieces of my greatgrandfathers furniture

the water pours from my eyes
across my face
soaks my clothes
fills the confines of the room
bursts over the hillside
floods the meadows and the mountains of the country
erodes my fear of my anger / erodes
my fear of being seen as the terrorist who would not care
about killing one hundred sixty eight people / or even
a childcare center full of children / washes
across the oceans
all the way to lebanon
all the way to palestine
to reveal / the
i would
one day
to become

"...I am still referring to just these simple things of speaking openly as a queer person, speaking openly as an Arab person, speaking openly as somebody who supports Palestinian rights..."

Thank you. So, why Palestine? It was interesting to me when I was reading this poem again that I wrote back in '98, that in the last stanza, that it is "All the way to Lebanon" - which is where my family is from - "All the way to Palestine." So I was thinking about this and I was realizing in the context of this topic today and of what I want to say about this topic today, that Palestine is, I believe, today the most dangerous place as an Arab to be an Arab. And that is not to say that there are not other dangerous places for Arabs to be as human beings but Palestine is where it seems to be more dangerous than anywhere else for anyone to be as an Arab. In this sense, then, Palestine not only represents one of the largest collective losses, literally, of people of their homes, so of their physical homes, but also one of the unfortunately many examples but a very big one, of the loss of safety to be oneself and live one's life as oneself. In other words, an example of loss of home as I am defining home today. So, I just lost my place! So, to come back to what is the point, then, of making this choice to take up residence in a dangerous place. Are you just seeking out danger as a thrill-seeker or something. So, and that taking up danger, taking up residence in that dangerous place, when I am talking about that, I am still referring to just these simple things of speaking openly as a queer person, speaking openly as an Arab person, speaking openly as somebody who supports Palestinian rights, all of which can be dangerous depending on what environment you are in. And the point of that to me is to expand the realm of safety and to come back to the theme of this panel, as far as of queer SWANA artists as mapmakers - did I get that right? - to come back to that part of the theme, to create a map that can provide a home for us all and this is part of what I am attempting to do and to address in this poem that I would like to close with and this poem is called "Could We Make A Bed?"

could we strip off the old sheets
full of microscopic particles of dead
skin stray hairs from nights we lie waiting
for the latest state sanctioned murder
in san quentin with minute
by minute reports of the last meal
the walk to the chamber the last
words the result of the last appeal nights
of israel bombing lebanese firemen
the u.s. bombing refugees in kosovo nights
paying homage to free trade free
movement of t shirts radios calculators free
movement of money in electronic blips
big time capital whirling free
around the globe but never
never never any free movement
of people of living bodies across

could we lay down a fresh bottom sheet
make it reach all four corners
with pockets deep enough
not to pop off
evicting the unemployed
into rows of sarcophagi
laid out on the sidewalk at market and hyde
on the streets of calcutta
rwanda the tenderloin
allowing rapes of children in the wrong
place with the wrong
person they trust
and permitting murders of filipino
postmen orthodox jews black
basketball coaches doll
collecting southern queers and women
who just dont dress right

could we unfurl a fresh top sheet
tuck it tight around the feet and even
the sides like a pocket where its safe
for a queer couple to kiss on an isolated
bench looking out over the city safe
for a woman to walk alone at night
look up into the sky
without worrying about dead bodies dumped
in neighborhood pools safe
for a child to ride her bike home
from a store at dusk without ending
up dead in a ditch safe
to speak serbian in kosovo speak
albanian in serbia and say
tomato in a palestinian dialect


vast enough for us all
to lie down together
and rest

Thank you.


Thank you, jim, for your moving words. The next speaker is Maher.

"The book is an open and civilized piece of writing from the 11th century Islamic evolution that communicates to us how ordinary and acceptable the bisexual man was thought to be. "

Hi, everybody. When they asked me to speak about myself as an artist, as a mapmaker, I started thinking about speaking about my play, "The Harem," which most people think this is my first piece of art, my first coming out publicly in Cairo, but I also had written - published - a collection of poems in 1997 and some of my friends think that this collection of poems is my really coming out. Both the collection of poems and the play was faced by the same accusation of being Western. Why? Because it includes homosexuality, which in the Middle East, they have like this theory about homosexuality as a Western concept. Yeah, this is funny, really. So after that, to answer back this accusation, I had to read in the history of the Middle East and I wrote a paper about feminists and homosexuality, which I will start reading now. This is not the paper; this is like a short theme of it.

Literature in the Islamic period made it clear that sexual relations between men, especially mature men, and subordinate youth, were common and never suppressed. Mirror for Princes, a book written by Kakows and Iscandar in the year 1082, for guiding his son, says, "As between women and youth, young man, do not confine your inclinations to either sex. Find enjoyment from both kinds." The book is an open and civilized piece of writing from the 11th century Islamic evolution that communicates to us how ordinary and acceptable the bisexual man was thought to be. Ahmed ibn Youssef Daifashi, who worked as a judge in Tunisia and in Cairo, gathered together in a book called Nur Sitel al Baab, which means "The Light of the Heart," a collection of observations, points and stories on the subject of sexuality. In chapter six, he outlines the characteristics of homosexuality and same-sex intimacy. In "The Arabian Nights," also, many stories celebrate homosexual seductions including many about Abu Nu'as, the eighth century poet who praised both boys and wine. So many authors made no pretense of being anything but bisexual. As an example, B'hai ideen Zuhair, a Cairo poet of the 13th century, he was disdained by his woman, so he went "to find a young and obeying boy, beautiful as the moon and the stars." Moreover, the Arabic medicine, which was flourishing, advanced and admired at the time, approved and praised homosexuality. Samuel ibn Yahyia, who died in the year 1180, wrote that many well-known men had turned to youth because their physicians had warned them that intercourse with women would cause gout, hemorrhoids and premature aging.

This distinction could occur in the writings of individuals who lived a life and were forced to believe in another. For example, al Ghazali, the spiritualist theologian who died in the year 1111, wrote poems to the boys he loved but also expressed strong disapproval of homosexuality. During the Fatimid period, when the Khalifa al Hakim b'umru became the sultan of Egypt, he started his life as a ruler by oppressing minorities, including women and non-Muslims. He fired all the Christians and Jews from the diwan - diwan is like the governmental jobs - and prevented women from working or even going out of their houses. It is kind of like Taliban way of regime. He also prevented the manufacture of women's shoes, as they would not go out in the streets without shoes. So, the women who revolted against that were drowned in the Nile. No one could stand against this tyrant except his sister, Sitt el Moulk. She was his older sister and she never got married. History tells us that she owned a harem with more slave girls than her own brothers! In a historical incident, she confronted her brother and she asked him to stop his unfair commands. He answered her by calling her a whore, implying her relationship with other women and this was his mistake. This night marked one of the famous political assassinations in history. So Sitt el moulk put her nephew, who was a seven year old child, on the throne and ruled Egypt under his name. She canceled all the policies against women and returned all the non-Muslims back to their jobs. So, also in modern Egypt, in the beginning of the 19th century, there is this story about Ibrahim Basha, who was the son of Muhammed Ali, the modernizer of Egypt. He sent to ask for his wife to come and accompany him in his battles. There was a war between Egypt and Turkey at that time, the Ottoman Empire, because Egypt was trying to get its own independence. So he asked for his wife, as he was suffering from lonely nights. His father, Muhammed Ali Basha, sent him instead of his wife two smooth youth with a note telling him that "a woman in a war can be the cause of defeat and retreat" and that he has "to warm [his] nights with these two boys as a substitute."

The Egyptian word khawal now used as an offensive slang word for "homosexual," originally meant a male dancer who was also a female impersonator. These khawalat, the plural of khawal, were invited to rich and poor families to celebrate weddings, circumcision, parties, births, salutation and banquets. So this is a quote from books by C.B. Klusinger, who reported from Egypt and he said, "The performance of the 'khawal' or male dancer is not much of an improvement on that of the female dancer. Clothed and decked out like a dancing girl, he goes through the same kind of motions on another evening to the delight of the spectators. Sometimes, he also plays on some instruments and sings as well. This class of hermaphrodites, the produce of the luxurious East, also resembles the dancing girls in their abandoned morals." The khawal was not an alternate to the female belly dancer. Both the ghazayeh (the female dancer) and the khawal used to dance in such festivals for both men and women.

Strangely, women's liberation and homosexual suppression have a joint history in our part of the world. During the 19th century period, Egypt and the Middle East countries were criticized by the West for being uncivilized nations. The term "different culture" had not been established yet. Likewise, the Western travelers and orientalists magnified two strange unacceptable phenomena from the 19th century Western point of view, which are keeping women in the harem and tolerating homosexuality. The new generation of the Egyptian upper and middle classes, who were European-educated, tried to defend Egypt, Islam and Arabs, waged war against both harems and homosexuality. In their war, they crossed out a trend immersed in the society, which is tolerating homosexuality. They materialized a new trend, which is the appearance of women in public life.

[End Tape Side A, Begin Side B, begin mid-sentence]

...Immersed in our Middle Eastern societies and is very rare in the West by that time, he wrote, "Such segregation between men and women encourages homosexuality among youth, as boys and girls grow up without knowing any person from the other sex. So they start to develop emotions towards members of the same sex."

Okay, so, anyway this was like a summary of the paper which shows that in our society, which when we were civilized, more civilized than the West, we tolerated homosexuality and we were accused by the West of tolerating homosexuality and nowadays, the first they accuse anybody who speaks about homosexuality as being "Western" or "westernized" because homosexuality is only tolerated in the West. So that's it.

"No one could stand against this tyrant except his sister, Sitt el Moulk. She was his older sister and she never got married. History tells us that she owned a harem with more slave girls than her own brothers!"

Thank you, Happy, Jim and Maher for your wonderful work. There were so many points that the three of you brought up and I think each point demands a lot of discussion, which hopefully will continue in sites such as Bint el Nas and other emerging sites, and also in conferences and events such as this one. So what I am going to do now is to try and wrap up some of the points that the panelist brought up, raise some questions, and give you my thoughts about these points.

The notion of family and multiple belongings in Happy's talk, and safety and lack thereof in jim's talk, in relation to home deserve deliberation. Happy's art, I think, points to the uncertainty of home and identity. For many SWANA queers in diaspora, home is not always the origin where one returns to, but an ambivalent place of belonging. Jim's poetry and work also interrogate the taken-for-granted notions of home as the place of birth. Home as a safe place is not always where one is "rooted," but where one forms belongings and many times, multiple belongings, depending on how safe one feels in these places. However It is also important, I think, to pay attention to the point that many domestic violence shelters- such as Asian Women's Shelter- that work with immigrant communities have brought up. And that is the fact that home is not always the place of safety. For example, many immigrant communities who have left their "homelands" because of the violence of war, forced displacement, and loss of home in Jim's words, also face violence in their place of residence abroad. So, "home" and "safety" are not necessarily synonymous. No matter how many homes you change, you may not feel safe in those places. Another example would be the violence that is geared towards Middle Easterners, South Asians or West Asian and North African people after September 11; or jim's example of Oklahoma City bombing, where many SWANA people who have made the United States their "home" do not feel safe at their places of residence.

Maher's historical investigation points to the taken-for-granted assumptions of homosexuality as a "Western disease," if you will. What this investigative work does, is to question the split of tradition and modernity in international representations of sexuality. As many postcolonial writers have reminded us, this split is a product of national biases and geopolitics, where the U.S. and Europe are situated as modern sites of freedom, "progress," and choice, and other parts of the world are constructed as "traditional," "backward" and oppressive. These international representations of sexuality as Karen Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal remind us, often overlook economic formations, consumer cultures, and transnational forms of governmentality, and ignore that these factors work together to produce subjectivities and communities such as queer communities in exile.

To be sure, SWANA cultural productions as sites where queer subjectivities are produced are not just resistant, but are also complicit- and that is what I want us to think about more. In other words, what is being resisted and how, are questions that remain to be answered. For example, the hegemonic imaginations of Arab-ness or Iranian-ness in diaspora in their queer or heteronormative forms could hinge upon gendered and raced re-territorializations. The narratives of "uprooted-ness" from a place of belonging- one's nation- and the naturalization of an essential relation between bodies and souls, or what Liisa Malkki eloquently calls "the national order of things," even in their queer forms, often mystify the sovereignty of the nation states and naturalize homogenous, yet sexed, gendered and class-based formations of culture, identity, and citizenship. These narratives can also rely on modern binaries of First World/Third World, exile/home, progress/tradition, and freedom/repression. It is within such naturalized binaries that attacks such as "If it is so bad here, why don't you go back home?" become possible as legitimate questions to ask queer diasporic subjects from Southwest Asia and North Africa. This is especially true for those who refuse to subscribe to neo-colonial or neo-orientalist divisions of the West and the East.

Another point that I would like to bring up is that unlike the assumptions about the anti-national impulses of diaspora, diasporic territorializations can rely on nationalism in their terrains of belonging and identity- and I think some SWANA queer cultural productions can also do this. This is not to undermine the challenges that migration and diaspora bring to naturalized notions of culture, home and citizenship, but to point to complicities as well as to resistances. This is something that Jasbir Puar has brilliantly argued in criticizing South Asian queer cultural productions - certain ones, not all of them. She argues that in order to claim that homosexuality is not a Western import, queer recovery work often consolidates certain imaginations of South Asian as Indian, and Indian as Hindu, thus becoming complicit with particular religious nationalisms. So how is this "we" of SWANA imagined and who is excluded and included, are some questions to think about.

On the other side of the nationalist gay and lesbian cultural productions, are forms of representation in international gay and lesbian movements or organizations. These organizations and movements search for a common ground of shared gay and lesbian-ness and seek to establish a global belonging. Needless to say, that the production of the universal gay and lesbian identities can also be complicit with totalizing narratives of First World/Third World binaries, and can subsume trajectories of race, class and nation under the overarching narrative of gay and lesbian sexuality. While producing queers in diaspora as subjects who cannot go home, this international approach locates the map of the place of departure as the origin or home to which diasporic queers belong. Thus, by constructing both a local and a global belonging, and by figuring new homes as gay and lesbian "subcultures," an internationalist approach reconsolidates the binaries of the home left behind, and a safe home where diasporic queers "come out." These narratives of queer homecoming to gay and lesbian subcultures, as Anne-Marie Fortier has argued, constitute a different diaspora where home is not an origin but a destination: a site of diversity, where queer diasporics find new belongings and new homes. However, as queer and diaspora are often valorized for their transgression of the nation, the narratives of cultural homecoming, as I argued before, consolidate the hegemonic notions of home and the nation state. Moving away from home-as the site of traumatic backward culture- to come to gay and lesbian subcultures-as a safe queer-friendly home, repeats the immigration narratives that perceive immigrants to move from one culture to another, as if cultures are distinctively separate. I think it is far from the materiality of our lives to find such purity of cultures.

Furthermore, the material conditions of many SWANA queers who do not have the class, race and gender privileges that facilitate one's movement to gay and lesbian cultural homelands raises questions about such representational practices. Undoubtedly, logging onto queer SWANA websites has been an important way of imagining a queer SWANA community. However, for many SWANA queers in the Middle East, North Africa, West Asia or in diaspora, who do not have access to computers or cannot afford to travel to seek asylum (as some queers, such as myself, have done), inclusion in queer global networks is unlikely. Thus, it is important to question the pure resistance of cosmopolitan queer social movements, and to recognize that they can be new sites of power where certain subjectivities are produced. It is also imperative to acknowledge that the states also participate in the production of queer subjectivities in international spaces, through laws and regulation.

So, is it okay, Laura, if we take 20 minutes for questions at this point? Yes? Okay, so we will have 20 minutes for questions, and as I said before, if you have questions, raise your hand. I think for the first question, we will just take it orally and after that, just write down your questions. Niloufar has index cards and pencils. So, questions? Okay, I'll start the questions then; nobody asked a question.

Well, let's see, looking at my notes. I think the question I have is for all three of you guys. I think the work that you do is really amazing and important, and I want to make connections between how art for you is - or is it? - a place to find home? You know what I am saying? Does art provide the safety that you seek in home? Does it speak to the concerns that you have? And, Happy, is photography a place that you find home?

"I do not think art and safety can be together....When we used to work in Egypt, [we] used to say that if we get praise from people after a play, that means we did not do a good job!"

Well, at times. The thing that you said about safety, I do not think that safety and art go hand-in-hand at all. Yes, I find art, I find home in my photography when I am in the process of it because when I am in the process of it and it is really big, I can feel it. I know that this photograph is going to be something I love. It is when I am standing there and I am looking through the camera - and I use a 2.25 camera, so I look down and the camera is this way, so my head is always down - so I think it helps but when it is just me and what is through the camera, through the lens, and what I am looking at and setting up, then I would say it is ecstatic, home.


I would agree with Happy about - that I think my own experience of working in art, both in poetry and in performance, that the art that I like the most and actually what I see of other people's is not art that actually is about safety but is actually - like I was trying to say earlier, in a sense, that it is actually taking up residence in dangerous places, hopefully with the goal of expanding those places that are safe. So that there is that aspect to it. At the same time, obviously for me, studying with Professor Jordan and "Poetry for the People" and that experience of that community - that very much was a home and it was an incredible place where it was safe to - for any number of different people to be who they were in one place and so I would say that where I find safety in art is not in the production of art but rather then in the community around it, the people that I have had the opportunity to work with, both in performance and in poetry, that that is where I found safety that enabled us, hopefully, to take up residence in places that were dangerous.


I do not think art and safety can be together. Well, I think that art raises questions and makes people think about things. It does not give answers. It raises questions and this makes people feel unsafe because people would like to take things as is it. They do not want to ask what is behind it. When we used to work in Egypt, me and my colleagues in the troupe who used to say that if we get praise from people after a play, that means we did not do a good job! We want people to be angry because they can only be angry when something touches, something in the art makes them think, touches something in their deep mind that they do not want to think about. So when they are angry, it does not become safe. But this is what we want.


Thank you. Okay, do we have any questions?


Sima, you know, when I look at my photographs and I say, "Well, you know, they are pretty safe," I think what they do is they - what I like to think they do is bring people a calm place or visual where they can get lost so that they can leap off and do whatever they need to do. So, inspiration, I guess. Not quite the same as safety.


I think this question is for all three of you, so I will pass it to jim so he can read it and then the rest of you can answer.


"Do you think you have a responsibility to queer SWANA communities as artists or is your first commitment to the art itself?" What a great question!


Well, I think art is the means that we use, so our commitment to art is - I mean, we use art for other commitments like to our people, to ourselves, to our hopes. So we are not committed to art itself, or that is what I think, what I believe.


Well, I think of this two ways. I mean, I have a commitment to myself to make art because it just brings me everything that feeds me. And then I use art as the vehicle with Lesbians in the Visual Arts to have a place for artists to speak and to say things, and some of the things that we do is we have always had 50% people of color, a policy of at least 50% women of color, on any leadership position or any panels we produce, things like that. So we always talk about people of color. We often have, I don't know my commitment personally. See, I kind of bring them in two different places and I feel like my installations are where I do my political work as an artist and that my photographs are not necessarily in that specifically but I use them in the installations so they crossover. I feel like in the installations I can say more and since I often do things that I do not do - like I will paint on walls - it is like "Whoa! I can paint on walls!" and I do not get very - it lets me be real free and I get to say pretty much anything I want. That is one of the good things about art. I always wanted to be an artist because you could be different. I learned that from a young age. You could whatever you wanted. It is not always true.


I think this is a great question and I think you all both said a similar thing, in that, I do not feel a commitment to art itself. I mean, art itself seems to me not very flesh and blood. It seems to me like an idea and my commitment is to the flesh and blood, to whatever extent I might have some commitment, and so that would be to the communities that I am part of and to the people I care about and to the people who I want to care about. And it would also be to the people I work with and so, I think a commitment to the making of the community around the art and also a commitment to whatever the impact of that art is going to be in the world, which hopefully will be a good thing for all of us people of flesh and blood in the world. Thanks.

"You know what? I'm sorry, I'm going to stop this! The term "queer" to me, I really love it, I hate it. I do not use it."

Thank you. There is a question and I am going to read it as I understand it and maybe I need clarification on this, a very particular definition of "queer". The question says, "Gays and lesbians in San Francisco, being a large minority, I wonder if they are still considered queers or if they are just as 'normal' as straight people? The queer people would be (1) a lesbian who decides to fuck a man - ...


You know what? I'm sorry, I'm going to stop this! The term "queer" to me, I really love it, I hate it. I do not use it. I use lesbian as often as possible because we are so hidden. I use homosexual, I use heterosexual because I think heterosexual people need to hear more and more often that their way of being is as rooted in their sexuality as we are, even though I really think that we need to talk more and more about how there is more to our choices and that for some us, we consider it a choice to be lesbian or gay or bi or trans. I am not a proponent of the "we are born this way" theory because I do not think we are, and if we are, we are all born to be bisexual, and it is a choice. That is the way I think but that is my own little thing. You know, I do not understand where the term "queer" is coming from. "Queer" is being different. "Queer" is being, you know, not available to the norm but there is no norm and I do not think there is a heterosexual person in the world who is normal because I do not think there is such a thing. So, I think that every lesbian in this community, even in San Francisco, I run a lesbian organization, so every time I go somewhere and every time I do something, I hand out a card that says, "Lesbian" on it and even though I am as blatant as I am, it is still not always the easiest thing in the world to hand out a card, even in San Francisco, because we do not live in a free society here any more than anywhere else.


Thank you for your input, Happy. I am going to continue with the question because I think there is definitely some tension about the term "queer" and I have to say that "normal" is put in quotation marks in the question, so I do not think the person who asked the question meant to say that straights are normal and queers or gays and lesbians are not. The queer people would be (according to the person who wrote this question) a lesbian who decides who decides to fuck a man, (2) a faggot who falls in love with a female, to female transgender, (3) a person who identifies as a genderless. How much SWANA people in general (artists in particular) care to include the real queers. Let me open this to you guys, to -


To include what? I missed that.


Real queers. I think a very particular definition of "queer" was represented here: 1, 2, 3 and . You know, I think it is also debatable how one defines "queer" and who is a "real queer" and who is not really "queer"? Those questions repeat the allegations of who is authentic - who is included and who is not? And who becomes authentic based on the narrow definitions that one presents for queerness. I think "queer" has very different usages in queer theory or in queer movements and some people interrogate queerness based on its gendered and raced deployments. But some people find it useful in terms of its anti-essential possibilities, where definitions of lesbian and gay could be also very gendered and very raced and queer can destabilize those categories. I do not know if you guys want to comment on this question as artists.


Oh, sure! I really appreciated Happy's response in the middle of it, and the question, and I just - I have to say something because I was - when I first moved to San Francisco, it was when Queer Nation was here. Do you all remember Queer Nation? I mean, it was about 10 years ago, so time kind of translates a lot and there was a huge uproar I remember at the time over this term and the terminology, and I really appreciate all the problems and issues with the word, but for myself, what "queer" always allowed for me was that it left it open once again because, you know, I was not somebody who wore flannel shirts and I don't know, Dockers or whatever, and shopped at Pottery Barn or whatever I associated at the time with what gay people were. So, to some extent, being gay became this just as big of a chain as being straight might have been, and for me queer was a wonderful way to open that up. And there are straight people in the world who I - I mean, there are people in the world who some people would consider straight, who I consider queer, so, some good friends of mine so that is why - and so I feel like for me when I use the word "queer" then I include all the people that you were mentioning very much and I think that that - that is what my intention is whenever I use that word, is that it should be as inclusive as possible. Thanks.


Well, I have a problem of understanding some terms. Well, here I found that some people consider queer politically incorrect, some people think that this is the politically correct word. And some people insist on saying GLBT and some people think that homosexuality is a bad word that we do not have to use. So, I am a newcomer to your country. I have difficulty in understanding all these problems but what I think is back home, we use the word "gay" for everything, like my lesbian friends, they say, "We are gay." So, transgender people say, "We are gay." So, maybe they use the word "gay" as a term to include who is different, someone who is different. So, it is not a problem of using this word or a different word. I do not think words matter. I mean, like, we all are different - even straight people, they are different. So we are all "queer."


Oh, see, but I think words matter a lot and I think that it is really different if someone - that I get to say "lesbian" in the world because of many things. One is how I look, because most people seeing me on the street would never consider me, would never even imagine, that I am a lesbian, unless I was with a very butch woman. Or unless I am telling them. Or I am wearing something that says it, so I like to say it as much as possible because people need to know we exist - and we ain't going back!

"I get to say "lesbian" in the world because of many things.... because people need to know we exist - and we ain't going back!"

Definitely people have very different ideas on terminology and, for sure, terms are often co-opted and lose their political usefulness and there is always a desire for novelty in modernity that one cannot escape, so one could define queerness or lesbian-ness as they wish and queerness at some point has been used by Queer Nation for a particular purpose and by others for different purposes, same with lesbian or gay and so on and so forth.

The next question is "How have changes in national and international politics impacted your perspective on your work?" I do not know if any of you want to answer it. It is a very good question.


I just want to say I think it is a very hard question, for me personally, at least, to respond to because it is very open and general and so, I just have to say, well, it does impact my work. Things that happen in the world and in this country impact what I write about and the performances that I do.


I am kind of lost here. I just get infuriated so I do not work - for a minute! I think it brings me to doing other kinds of work, to think about whenever I do performance pieces that are lesbian, that I always say somewhere that I am Lebanese or that I am Arab in there, I always put age in there. I try to include all these things all the time. So, but I think in my photography, it does not necessarily affect that except with how I look - I guess how I look at things but I do not think - I think I would installations for that kind of thing, for something that would state things like that but I am not sure what I would do right now. Except that I was at the College Art Association Conference a year ago, actually just February, and I got really infuriated after a wonderful panel about activist art when this woman said that we no longer felt safe and unfortunately it was too late. I threw my hand in the air and I wanted to know how many people in the room felt safe before September 11? And my sense is that most of the people in this room at some time or another have not felt safe and maybe on quite a length of time. So, I have been thinking about that as a project, actually, putting an exhibit together about who feels safe anywhere.


The politics affects all kinds of art. It affects one's life, so indirectly one finds himself or herself pushed to include a lot of the political situations - national and international - in his or her work without knowing. Sometimes people come and talk to me about, you know, like the Palestine situation that I included in my play, which I did not need to, but for them, it was very obvious I am speaking about this. And I think that it is just like influences one who is working and finds it in his or her art without just like trying to put it in - it has to do something.


All right, we have to wrap it up now. I am sorry. There are a few questions left and I think the artists will be available afterwards and if you guys have specific questions for them, you can come and talk to them. Just one point in terms of the international and national politics. My take on this is that as a queer Diasporic person, I am a subject of multiple knowledges - of international and national regimes of knowledge - and I am also subjected to them so I cannot escape those and inevitably that changes the work I do and definitely the work that I have done in the past. I have cooperated with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission whereas [now] I would not consider doing that because of the changes in my subjectivity and because of the international politics of such organizations. I just wanted to thank the panelists one more time and say that your work is really important. Thank you for doing it!


haadis: discuss this issue with other bintelnas readers on the message board

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