Friday, February 12, 2010

"Forbidden Love"... and Other Unpleasant Euphemisms for Gay

Ok, forget for a minute the unintentional Danny Gokey reference with the heart hands.

This is the front page of a tabloid-y newspaper that appears on our doorstep every weekend.

It bummed me out. With all due respect.

Here are a few excerpts from the accompanying article:

"A shocking trend is sweeping across educational institutions in the UAE. It's called same-sex relationships and it's worrying officials and parents to no end."

"[An] Emirati woman . . . had to deal with the demon on a personal level . . . when her 16-year-old daughter fell for an Indian girl . . . . 'I feared that my kids would become homosexual so I gave them in the custody of their father,' she recalls."

"[A young woman] shocked television audiences across the nation when she openly spoke of her relationship with another girl . . . and expressed the desire to marry her and have children with her through artificial insemination. 'I love my girlfriend and I want to have children with her.'"

"Homosexuality is prohibited in the UAE and violators face stiff punishment. Authorities are trying to curb deviant behavior, to better reflect traditional conservative laws of the UAE. Last year the Ministry of Social Affairs launched an awareness campaign called Excuse Me, I Am A Girl . . . . Meant to tackle lesbian-related issues, the campaign included a series of workshops, TV programs and lectures at universities and schools . . . . "

"Dr. X said there were several factors responsible for the upswing in same-sex relationships. 'Some theories suggest that gender identity disorder, often overlooked by parents and sometimes promoted by discriminating between genders within the family, is a key factor.' Other possible contributing factors, she said, could include being the only girl among male siblings, absence of a father figure and sexual assault."

The article went on to blurb some "case studies," all of which concluded with something like, "X is receiving treatment" or "X refused treatment":

"X, 23, . . . married after having several relationships with girls at the university. X could not prevent her marriage from collapsing as she continued lusting after women. She still visits her girlfriends at the university and is not seeking treatment."

"X, 16, started lesbian relations at age 14, lost her virginity with her girlfriend at age 16. She wants to receive treatment, but is afraid her family and other people will find out about her. She described how they used instruments and watched pornographic films bought from Chinese vendors."

"X [male, no age given] sexually harassed by his housemaid turns to other boys to satisfy his desire that was turned on at a very young age."

"X suffers hormone disorder due to neglect by family, which leads her towards same-sex activities."

There was virtually no mention of sexual orientation as being something that a person is perhaps born with, apart from this one sideways reference:

"[A psychiatrist] contended that some girls need a specialist therapist and that the issue falls under the purview of medical science and therefore does not need interference from religious scholars."

And I'd be remiss if I didn't detail the main graphic of the article, which depicts the 3 supposed "types" of lesbians (brace yourself, it's a little SNL-skit-y):

(1) "The Boya": the "sexual delinquent" who takes on "the boy's role";

(2) "The Tomboy": the boyish female who does not act on her impulses; and

(3) "The Weaker Girl": "the weaker, beautiful girl who gets lured by the first type."

(It really says that. She may be weak and susceptible to deviant sexual advances, but at least she's pretty. In every instance. Otherwise, why would a sexual deviant bother making a move on her?)

The article then ends with the editor's note: "Tell us what you think. How can parents protect their daughters from falling prey to this trend?"

So. Hmmm. Where do I go with this.

Well let me say at the outset that I respect the UAE, I am immensely grateful to be allowed to reside here for however long we do, and I am absolutely not suggesting that the Western outlook is universally the superior way of viewing the world. I do not believe in a normative morality and I am not trying to condemn a group of people who are just trying, in earnest, to honor their religious beliefs.

But. I also happen to believe that being gay is not a choice.

Therefore, to see homosexuality described in the year 2010 as "a demon," or as "deviant behavior" that requires "treatment," makes me cringe. And the amount of sheer misinformation makes me sad. Because an article like this only gives new life to the ancient notion that gays should be burned at the stake, lest their malignant condition spread to other, healthy people. NOT that these attitudes are without a voice in my own country; I would never be so ignorant as to suggest that the USA is all that more evolved in its acceptance of gay relationships (see, i.e., Prop 8). Having spent most of my life in the neighborhoods of New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, however, it still surprises me to see gay people being publicly disparaged in such express and unapologetic terms.

One silver lining is that, while technically homosexuality is illegal, I have heard from numerous sources that there is a lively underground gay scene in Dubai. Which encourages me, because it means that the government has not completely silenced the community here. I am further comforted whenever I am out and about and have observed a male (non-Arab) couple who are obviously in a romantic relationship with each other: it suggests that perhaps the UAE's bark is worse than its bite... ?

You gotta hand it to those guys, and the lesbians in the article above who "refuse treatment," and any gay people who voluntarily spend time in the UAE. I mean, I may be a Jew in a Muslim country (yes, I think I'm using the word now, throwing caution to the wind!, thank you for your concern), but at least I can and do keep my religious identity a secret from people on the street.

To the effeminate tourist who is boldly sashaying through the Mall of the Emirates, however: I tip my hat to you, sir. May you go in peace. And impeccable style.

* * * *

Post Script. PopPop got hit on at the mall today by a guy in full Muslim dress. So there you are. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Flat Stanley Comes to Dubai!

Hi there.

First, let's just pretend you're not mad at me, and allow me get this little piece of business out of the way:

We have had a Flat Stanley come visit us here in Dubai! If you're unfamiliar with the concept: Flat Stanley is a popular elementary school project in which a "flattened" little boy gets mailed around the world taking pictures of his adventures. This Stanley comes to us courtesy of the child of my own best friend from when I was seven years old, which amuses me to no end. It's been a hoot showing him around (please note, however, I am not hereby issuing an open invitation for all other Flat Stanleys in the world to come visit me; it requires a lot of driving around to entertain him properly and I'm not sure that my enthusiasm could be sustained for a second or third tour of duty). Above are a few of my favorite pics so far:

(1) Stanley in front of the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa, formerly known as Burj Dubai) (a month ago I wanted to blog about the travesty of that name change, but was and still am afraid that doing so might get me kicked out of the country);

(2) Stanley posing with some Dubai residents who expressed interest in his escapades;

(3) Stanley pretending he's a part of Sheikh Mohammed's portrait (and probably risking jail time for the prank);

(4) Stanley and a snowman at Ski Dubai; and

(5) Stanely with some oversize Middle Eastern cartoon characters at the toy store. You won't see those guys at Disney. Fun!

Ok... now for the less fun part...

I'm really sorry that I have allowed this blog to fall into disrepair. To tell you that I feel guilty about it, every day, is an understatement. It's like I invited you to a party and then left halfway through.

I can only make these arguments in my defense. One: Three times in the past month I have tried to upload homemade videos only to find that the files were too large or something like that. After a few attempts I got frustrated and logged off. Two: I have been experimenting with channeling my creative energies into making an account of my mothering experience, so any free time I've had has been going there. Three: I bought the first season of Nurse Jackie on DVD. It's good tv, people. And lastly, four: There's just not all that much to talk about right now.

Maybe I made the scope of this blog too narrow, too expat-in-Dubai-specific. Or maybe I've just finally gotten acclimated, so that few things strike me as particularly blog-worthy these days. Or, maybe I'm just afraid of boring you.

The truth of it is this: We are doing well here in Dubai. On all levels, really: On a material level, I've got my minivan of choice, the kids finally have the outdoor trampoline they've been drooling over, and heck-- we've even got our USA Tivo working here (thank you, brilliant Slingbox invention, for routing it through our internet connection!!). On a logistical level, all 3 girls are happy in their schools (knock wood), Daddy remains busy and challenged by his job (as I write this, he's somewhere in Russia), and PopPop and I have figured out how to take shifts with the car so that neither of us gets stranded anywhere (him: the gym or the beach, me: the mall or the supermarket). And on an emotional level, I think all six of us have come to feel like this is, albeit temporarily, our home. Which is saying a lot, considering the depths and nature of my preconceptions about this place.

I suppose another compelling reason for my silence is that, much to my own surprise, it has become entirely possible to close my eyes and pretend that I'm back in the United States. If I want TGI Fridays, or Borders books, or heaven knows, Starbucks, I now know where each of them is. If I want to see a movie, the major ones come to our theaters. If Sushi misses her nursery school boyfriend, we Skype him (although Skype is supposedly illegal here, yikes). Furthermore, I can no longer deny how truly segregated the population really is here, as between the locals and the expats. More so than I even *wanted* it to be: I had certainly hoped that, after a year here, I would have made at least one Emirati friend-- someone who could provide me with the honest scoop about Muslim culture, and its treatment of women, and whether I actually have anything to be afraid of as a you-know-what. But no. The closest thing I have to a Muslim friend is Baby's teacher, who wears a headscarf along with her ripped jeans, and she's hardly an Emirati. The reality is that the expats are strongly encouraged to stay in our little expat universe of Brits and Americans and Germans and Italians and Australians... where we eat at our familiar chain restaurants and shop at our familiar chain stores... whilst the local Arab population does its own familiar things. Which makes for ease of relocation but not so much for good blogging.

So if you were worrying about us, please don't. I mean, I know I kicked and screamed about coming here, and I thought I would be counting down the days until our return to the USA... but I was wrong about a lot of things. I am enjoying our adventure here much, much more than I'd planned (I promise by that I am not referring ONLY to the joys of a nanny/housekeeper living with us, though having Alice around truly is a ridiculous luxury and I am grateful for every single minute of her time), and I have been genuinely inspired by our current membership in an authentic international community (in Sushi's pre-K class of 20 students, there are 14 different countries represented). Also, for all the noise I constantly make about being kicked out of the country or feeling like we are living in hiding, the fact remains that, to date, not one of us has ever felt legitimately threatened here, either by the authorities *or* the locals (knock wood, again) (and make that a big knock, wouldja?).

And so, provided that the region continues to enjoy relative peace (PLEASE don't do anything stupid, Iran!!!), I think we will just keep on living our quiet little existence. Our quiet little existence in a mansion. In the Middle East. As Jews. On Muslim turf. That's right: Home. :)

I leave you with a YouTube video of the Burj Khalifa's opening ceremony. We were there; it was rad. Skip to minute 9 if you're the instant gratification type.