Report from Jordan: ’It Gets Better’ for LGBT Arabs, Too
Many only know the Middle East by what is portrayed through various news media outlets. The same can be said the other way around. Middle Easterners only know us through their own (often hardly reliable) media. As far as gay issues go, the region (outside of Israel, a geographical anomaly in most ways) is painted as a hotbed of violent, government-sanctioned intolerance.
With revolution spreading rapidly across the region, I recently decided to travel to Jordan to see for myself what the Middle East was really like. I’m please to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the openness and friendliness all around. Over 2 million people live in the capital, Amman. It’s spread out over seven hills, with most of the social scene happening in West Amman, itself. separated into circled sections.
As in the rest of the cities of the region, in Amman, people don’t stay cooped up inside the way we Americans do. There is an active and constant street life. People roam the streets, hang out at town squares and art galleries, or just mingle over coffee at a local dive or at one of several trendy cafes that have recently sprung up.
Look beyond the obvious historical aspects of the region, and you will find an eclectic mix of trendy, hip, and creative types quietly creating change in their own ways. The Darat-al-Funn is a good example of the societal changes taking place in Jordan.
This complex of traditional 1920s buildings is located alongside the archaeological remains of a sixth century Byzantine church built over a Roman Temple. It has been converted into a roving gallery for artists to display varied works that include multimedia, photography and live performances.
Most of this influx of creativity is coming from the younger generation Jordanians, men and women who have travelled abroad for education and returned with a different perspective. "Our views used to be very narrow and distorted, but after the revolutions that are being embraced in the Arab world, things have changed for us," a young man named Khalid explained to me. "We are more about embracing values, a mix of decency and luxury."
Coming Out in Public
Khalid became a poster boy for the local LGBT community when a local newspaper publicly announced his queerness in writing and photographs. "It was quite stressful at first, as my family wasn’t aware of my sexuality and there I was with my face on the front page at every newsstand," he recalled. "Soon word was out and friends were calling asking if I knew, and if my parents had seen the paper."
Fortunately things went well for him. His family and friends proved to be supportive. Today, he is working in fashion design and as an aspiring model. He’s also the founder of My Kali, an online lifestyle publication with a strong queer component. He tends to focus on individuality rather than just sexuality, including politics, profiles, and the thriving Arab art scene.