Gay Arab-Americans Find Room of Their Own in NYC
With a loud hiccup and a hand over her mouth in coy embarrassment, Madame Tayoush mimics Lebanese diva Sabah in her performance of the sultry classic "Atshana" - or "I’m Thirsty" - as Arab-Americans hoot and cheer. The burst of a trumpet vibrato sends her into a dramatic swoon, basking under applause and the warmth of stage lights.
The low neckline of her halter gown exposes a hairy chest.
Madame Tayoush is a man in drag, performing at a Tarab NYC event, at which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arab-Americans can celebrate without judgment both their sexual orientation and Arab culture - a slice of society with customs that seldom allow for discussion of sex and gender.
"I was craving community because there was this idea that I could only be one identity at a time," said Tarab creator Bashar Makhay, who is Chaldean-Iraqi, American, Catholic and gay. He said he created Tarab - a series of parties, beach gatherings and other events for LGBT Arabs and Middle Easterners in New York City - because the community needed to be organized. The program will celebrate its second anniversary with an event Saturday.
Until Tarab came along, one of the few outlets for LGBT Middle Easterners in New York City was a monthly, more than 10-year-old party called Habibi. A handful of parties are also held in Arab-dense cities such as Los Angeles and Detroit, but Tarab is doing more than throwing a party - it is run by New York City’s LGBT Arab community and seeks to build a community outside of the nightclub scene.
It’s not clear how many LGBT Arab-Americans there are. But among an estimated 3.5 million Arab-Americans, they can find themselves isolated. Attendance at Tarab averages about 100 per event, Makhay said.
Adam Radwan, of Brooklyn, said people from Tarab helped him show his Egyptian father that a healthy gay Muslim community does exist.
"It piqued his interest," Radwan said, that people could be gay and live a full life - that "there were others like me."
His father, Abraham Radwan, originally from Port Said, Egypt, said that he believes sexuality is a private matter but that he is thankful for being in a country where people have the conversation.