Cecile was the first lesbian I met. She was a tall and beautiful Lebanese woman who spoke only French as many Christian people did owing to the fact that Lebanon was colonized by France for many years, and it had become a classy feature to associate with the colonizer’s language and disassociate from one’s mother tongue. Cecile was my manager at the newly established FM department of the Lebanese Broadcasting Station. One afternoon, as we were working, she suddenly got weepy and told me how men had always taken advantage of her, cheated on her and how her marriage of some years ago had failed because of a scoundrel of a husband. She had, as a result of all her heartaches, made a rational choice to love women only. The fascinating revelation for me – I was twenty-one years old and quite naïve – was that I had come to know a lesbian for the first time, a woman I happened to admire and like, and that her sexual nature did not affect our relationship in any way; did not affect her job; did not cause the Lebanese Broadcasting Station to explode or Lebanon to go up in flames!! And no one, though many in that building knew, treated Cecile in any way that was different. Later on in my life, I came to know a few women of my generation who were also lesbians. Now that does not mean that every member of society condoned this behavior. Most, though, considered it a benign infraction, or a subject for gossip mongering.
Next door to our office was the Classical Music Division of which Paul was the manager. Paul had taken it upon himself to look out for me from the many wolves roaming around in the building. One day, he called me into his office and very gently told me that I should watch out for our programmer and avoid being alone with him in the studio. It turned out that the programmer had let it be known that he was quite interested in getting me into his bed! That was Paul: soft, intelligent and caring. Paul was homosexual. I learnt that from Cecile. He was born that way. Again, most knew. No one treated him any different. The sky didn’t fall!
And, yes, we all heard in those days of Afif who was found shot to death at his seaside villa. His male lover had done that in a fit of jealousy. You see the Sixties had brought out of the closets many societal issues that were hidden but that had been going on for thousands of years. It happened in the US, in Europe and – Surprise! – in Lebanon, too! I remember Tucker Carlson* getting all excited as he was reporting from Beirut during some upheaval or another, and literally shouting into the camera that Lebanon should be protected because it had a gay nightclub for God’s sakes! I mean, imagine! An Arab country with an openly gay establishment!! However, if one just reads the social scene described by poets and the intelligentsia of the region throughout time one wouldn’t really find that to be such a surprising revelation! Though gay liaisons weren’t explicitly overt, they were, historically, throughout the Arab and Middle Eastern Worlds a fact of life. Some gay individuals were royalty, others were just ordinary folk; they might be likeable or obnoxious; highly successful and educated or not at all. They were, and are, no different from heterosexual people worldwide. Believe it or not, Aleppo and Istanbul were once the gay hubs of the Middle East.
Since meeting and knowing Cecile, who had made a choice, and Paul, who was born that way, and so many others in Lebanon and the US, I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone should twist their knickers because of Anyone’s sexual expressions. Not the Ayatollahs in Iran and not US Conservatives! (And pray, are they that different on some of these issues, after all?) This planet of ours has many more dire and pressing matters than people’s sexual expressions! Or is it that our politicians are good at riling us up about these private issues as they weave their mischief away in the afterhours and far from the public eye and pass Bills and Laws that profoundly affect each and every one of us in much more weighty ways than our sexuality ever will; Rules and Regulations that we’ll never even realize the dangerous extent of until it is much too late? Grow up everybody! Chill!
*Tucker Carlson is a well known political news correspondent.