Queer Arab women stage reading of ‘real stories from real people’

ActivismIsrael/PalestineMiddle East
on 5 Comments
Bareed mista3jil
Bareed Mista3jil (Image: Meem)

A group of Arab/Arab American women are transforming the book Bareed Mista3jil, a collection of “41 true (and personal) stories from lesbians, bisexuals, queer and questioning women, and transgender persons from all over Lebanon”, into a stage performance. The actors are fundraising for an April conference in Istanbul. The performers will read narratives from some of the 150 anonymous authors who contributed to the book.

The book was compiled by the Lebanese organization Meem, which works with other queer Arab groups to counter Israel’s “pinkwashing” tactics. Activists may remember Meem from voices speaking out against the Stand With Us LGBTQ workshop at the U.S. Social Forum.

Take a look at excerpts from the book below.

Excerpt from the story “How It All Started”:

And so it went for a long time. Nightlife was the only place ‘fortinfees’. The general attitude wasn’t really about activism; it was about meeting up. And of course, problems arose inside the so-called “community” at the time. The more people we met, the more we found friends and rivals. Fights broke out between people all the time. Some were benign, but some got really serious. People would report each other to the police or out each other to their families. A lot of people were severely depressed and got lost in their double lives that they became hooked on alcohol or drugs. There were no daytime conversations; everything happened at night. We came to Acid every week with our most basic instincts on our sleeves to let out all the tensions from our daytime closets.

Excerpt from the story “God’s Will”:

My mother is a devout Muslim woman. Her belief in God is so powerful that she surrenders everything to His will. Anything that happens is because God wills it. And so she didn’t question or challenge my homosexuality ‘Allah heik ketiblik,’ she said. She told me it made no sense for her to try to change God’s will. Shortly after, I told my father, and he had the same reaction: ‘We cannot change what is God’s will. If it is meant for you to change, you will change on your own.’ This is an odd reaction for Muslim parents, who usually get scared of their children’s actions being sinful. Not my parents. When they thought about it and discussed the matter between themselves, they deduced that my living a lie was a bigger sin than my sexuality. They told me that it was better for me to be honest with myself and my parents than to be a hypocrite.

For more on the stage performance of Bareed Mista3jil, check our their kickstarter.

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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5 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    March 7, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Sounds like a good project.

    Way, way off point: can anyone explain the (new?) method of transcribing Arabic which involves use of odd letters, as the “3” in “Mista3jil”? what are ALL the odd letters and what sounds do they represent?

    • Exiled At Home
      March 7, 2012, 6:16 pm


      In Arabic there are several accents/sounds that cannot be expressed in a single Latin letter. Therefore when writing Arabic phonetically in English, numbers are substituted to represent these sounds.

      They are:

      2 = أ (hamza) – glottal stop

      3 = ع (‘ain) – a “choked” letter sounding like an “a” you can’t represent with the English alphabet

      7 = ح (haa) – sounds like an aspirated “h” like the “y” when whispering “yes”.

      5 – خ – German and Scottish “ch” – sometimes transliterated as “x” or “kh.”

      6 – ط – hard “t” sound – otherwise transliterated simply as “t.”

      8 – ق (a guttural k sound – most commonly transliterated as “q.” [cf. Iraq and Qatar]).

  2. Kate
    March 7, 2012, 1:23 pm

    Pabelmont, it isn’t new, really. It’s been used in chatrooms for a long time, by people without Arabic keyboards, or in Latin alphabet-only chats. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_chat_alphabet
    Arabic has a lot of consonants that aren’t found in the Latin alphabet – so in English some letters are used for two different sounds in Arabic, like the two h’s (the one in Muhammad and the one in hijra). The first one is often written with a 7 in chat alphabets – the letter in Arabic script looks a bit like a 7: ح‎
    A very common sound in Arabic is ‘ayn, as in Ma‘an, Shu‘fat refugee camp, Ni‘lin, Bil‘in, even ‘Abbas, ‘Arafat, ‘Iraq, ‘Anata (village). It usually isn’t written in English when it’s initial, as in the names just mentioned, though sometimes E is used (‘Urayqat rendered as Erekat). In other positions in a word it’s usually written in English with an apostrophe (Ma’an, Ni’lin), but this is problematic because there is another sound in Arabic, hamza (the glottal stop, like the catch in the middle of uh-uh in English), which is also usually written with an apostrophe in English: Qu’ran. One well-known name with both of these sounds, ‘ayn at the beginning and hamza after the first vowel: ‘A’isha.
    I am not going to try to describe the sound ‘ayn, I will just say that it’s made using muscles not used for speech in English, and is hard for speakers of other languages to learn. In chat alphabets it is often written 3, because one form of the Arabic letter looks like a backward 3: ع

  3. RoHa
    March 7, 2012, 8:13 pm

    It’s something Young People do, pablemont, so it is, of course, wrong.

    There is a simple and straightforward system (used in lots of Arabic textbooks) that requires no diacritical marks and can be written by a typewriter.

    ‘ b th j H kh d dh r z s sh S D T DH 9 gh f q k l m n h w y
    Vowels: a, aa, i, ii, u, uu
    Hyphen to disambiguate (e.g.) dh (dhaal) and d-h (daal haa’).

    But as you see, this one requires capital letters, and Young People Today have no comprehension of such things.

  4. Allison Deger
    March 7, 2012, 11:44 pm

    It’s called “arabeezy.” It is useful for communicating in Arabic between people who speak the language, but do not write it.

    It’s also compatible with most phones (texting).

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