This Arab is Queer: Book launch celebrates 'unfiltered conversations' among LGBTQ+ Arabs

This Arab is Queer: Book launch celebrates 'unfiltered conversations' among LGBTQ+ Arabs
This Arab is Queer, which was launched on Thursday, is a 'nuanced, unique collection of essays, short memoirs, and various forms of creative non-fiction written by queer Arab writers around the world,' said its editor Elias Jahshan.
3 min read
17 June, 2022
This Arab is Queer is a collection that celebrates the diversity of queer Arab communities [Getty]

This Arab is Queer, a heartfelt anthology of essays from the LGBTQ+ Arab community worldwide, made its debut at the Bishopsgate Institute in London on Thursday.

Dozens of people gathered at the institute's library to celebrate the anthology - the "first collection of its kind", according to editor Elias Jahshan - which contains 18 rich and varied stories about queer experiences and identities. 

Thursday’s launch event, which featured a panel including Jahshan and three writers - Zeyn Joukhadar, Mona Eltahawy, and Anbara Salam - discussed how the book challenges trauma-driven narratives imposed on LGBTQ+ Arabs and instead offers a space for individuals to tell their stories on their own terms. 

"The book is about allowing the community to speak for itself," said Jahshan, a Palestinian-Lebanese journalist and writer who was born in Australia.

He worked on the 211-page labour of love for more than two years.  

"It challenges the notion that one size fits all" when it comes to the queer Arab community, "which is not the case," he added.  

This narrative is often apprioprated by the West, which calls out Middle Eastern states for their continued homophobia but often ignores the fact that systems of persecution against queer Arabs are typically inherited from European colonial laws, Jahshan said.

However, "change is in the air," he added.

The Sydney-born editor said he wished such a text existed when he was growing up and that he hoped this is not the "definitive collection". 

"I hope this book encourages more like it, and more people are inspired to write."

This Arab is Queer
The 'This Arab is Queer' book event took place in London on 16 June [The New Arab]

Salam, whose essay ‘Unheld Conversations’ touches upon the silence around sexualities in Arab families, told The New Arab: "The book is about unfiltered conversations that you may not be able to have in other places. 

"It’s about not having to explain yourself and not performing for people who don’t get it," she added. 

During the event, Salam discussed the hyphenation of identities, and what it is like to exist in the "entanglement" of this: to be Palestinian, Lebanese, Scottish, live in Britain and be part of a diaspora community all at once.

Joukhadar, a Syrian American novelist who joined via Zoom, built on the idea of this plurality of identities, and how his body and experiences are made possible by "gender intersections". 

Joukhadar’s piece, ‘Catching the Light: Reclaiming Opera as a Trans Arab,’ talks about how his journey as a trans person saw him fall in love with opera, a typically "white, masculine space," all over again. 

Zeyn Joukhadar is the author of the novels 'The Map of Salt and Stars' and 'The Thirty Names of Night'
Zeyn Joukhadar is the author of the novels 'The Map of Salt and Stars' and 'The Thirty Names of Night' [The New Arab]

Eltahawy, last of the speakers but first up in the anthology, said her essay was "the bravest thing I've ever written". 

The Egyptian feminist author, who read aloud from her work ‘The Decade of Saying All That I Could Not Say,’ spoke about her rebirth following Egypt’s 2011 protests, and finding fellowship in different communities across the world. 

"I speak for us both," she said - the old Mona and the new one. 

The book, created in collaboration with Saqi Books, is now available in bookstores across the UK.