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LGBT Middle East

 

by Yasha Wallin


There’s a powerful scene in the film “Oriented,” where the protagonist, Khader Abu Seir rides his bike through the small Arab port town of Jaffa, smiling, sailing past the open air cafes into the night.

Watching his fluid movement through the streets, freedom is the first word that comes to mind. Yet the message of freedom is not typically what the West associates with being gay and Arab. But “Oriented,” released on iTunes to coincide with this summer’s Pride celebrations, is not your typical take on the Arab world.The brainchild of Jewish director Jake Witzenfeld, Oriented offers a candid view of LGBT life in the Middle East.

As the Israeli-Gaza conflict escalates in 2014, viewers follow Khader and his friends Fadi Daeem and Naeem Jiryes, all Palestinian, through the daily complexities in their world; waiting out incessant air raids, navigating family dynamics, and the moral implications of dating Jewish men.

And while Khader and his friends are free in many ways, they are also bound: bound by living as a Palestinian in Israel; being gay within sometimes conservative Arab communities; and bound by being labeled something they are not simply because of their religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. After screening “Oriented in more than 100 theaters internationally, we spoke to Khader over Skype from Tel Aviv.

What would surprise Western viewers about what it’s like to be gay and Arab?

Regardless of the fact that we’re gay, [the film is] an opportunity for the world to see that you cannot rely on some small terror unit and call them Islam, call all of them Arabs or think that we’re eating the same, drinking the same, and praying the same. [Oriented] is the first time you can watch a movie that three gay Arabs are the heroes and not the victims. Usually it’s their family trying to kill them, they’re running away, etc. This is the first time you can see open-minded, really educated people that speak at least three languages, Arab gay guys who are actually not so far from the Western [way of] life and can talk at the same eye level as Western people.

As an Arab living in Israel, how much do you identify with the larger Arab world, especially the gay community?

I identify with almost 80 percent of the Arab world because there is at least 20 percent that I cannot even relate to. I’m talking about fanatic Islam and I’m talking about Muslims that are homophobic. But 80 percent of the Arab world today are fighting the same fight that Europe and America are fighting, the common people who just want to live in peace. I can relate to that totally.

The film shows the dynamic of co-existing with your boyfriend who is Jewish. What were the difficulties you went through as a Jewish/Palestinian couple?

I think you will be affected by politics and things that are happening around you. But does that mean it should ruin your relationship or have a huge argument about it? I don’t need politics when I’m having sex. Love is love.

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Source: https://www.good.is/features/lgbt-life-middle-east

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