Seeing people getting left out – emotionally, socially, mentally, physically – you name it! – has always made me mad for as long as I can remember. I grew up like one of those girls who other kids think is weird but can’t quite put a finger on it. Still I was taller than everyone else in my age group so I was used to sticking up for myself and other people. I am a pretty polite person but I got into lots of trouble for saying what I thought at school especially when I was pointing out something I considered an injustice. I would go and shout at the big boys beating up a little kid for his lunch money and tell the teacher off when they made an assumption about a usual suspect. It didn’t make me popular but I usually didn’t care as long as I wasn’t lonely.
When I was 16, a guy came to our school and came out to me after a week. He was oozing so much self-confidence you would have never guessed we were pupils in an almost all white, back of beyond, co-ed, mixed ability school of one and half thousand pupils. I thought he was telling me he was gay because he wanted my help to cover it up. That’s how stupid I am. Instead he told me everything like for instance about pink triangle day. So I came along suitably dressed in homemade bangles and necklaces adorned with the said triangle whilst he had a minimalist small pink tie pin, I think. And so it went that gender rights became another topic along with my other faves like rights for kids, refugees, rights for the elderly – I was nursing my granny at home at that time too, rights for women and and and. Like I said, it doesn’t make you popular but I began to see how it might be a kindness to let people know you are there in a moment when you might be needed.
At university I went along to LGBT society and told them I’m not but that is cool and they agreed and put me on a list of friendly people. Sometimes someone came a knocking and we had a cup of tea and a natter. I went to demos. It is hard to imagine now that in the early nineties in the UK the age of consent for adult males with other adult males was 21 whilst for the rest of us it was already 16. And no politician would say that she or he had any sexual interest in anything let alone anybody! I know this is worlds apart but believe me things have improved a lot since then and still there is so much work to do.
Later on I lived in Russia and some of my students as well as just friends, who would otherwise be very afraid to speak out about any kinds of issues, used to come round and consume vast amounts of marmite and chatter and smoke cigarettes until all hours. Don’t get me wrong! This was not and has never been a one way street. For years it seemed to me that only gay men had the courage to chat me up in discos. Heh I had had some errrm let’s call them unpleasant sexual experiences as a young girl so this was probably about what I could handle then too. In any case through all kinds of initiatives I have some exceptionally good, smart, fascinating, generous, shameless and downright hilarious friends all over the world and my boyfriend is the best of them.
Now moving on a bit. When the so called Arab Spring began I was so excited to read about what was happening. While it was still ostensibly peaceful it felt like something important was finally happening in the world and right where it should. I raced to find out about women’s groups and what was happening with kids. What was happening with people with disabilities was also being covered. It was really tantalising and thrilling to read about. After years of feeling like I was the only person I knew who was interested in demonstrating for changes in human rights policy, here were masses of people at it. But I was wondering where that rainbow was. Why wasn’t that being covered? I was hearing stuff about the aftermath of Iraq and how gay men were being lined up against the wall and shot. Why weren’t others moving in and offering them asylum?
One day after doing some research about the history of the Syrian constitution – no I can’t remember why – I somehow stumbled across A Syrian Gay Guy’s blog. Ahhh what an erudite and entertaining read that was and how my eyes were opened by what I read there. I set about writing to him but at first to no avail. Then a second time. Perhaps even a third and then finally I was rewarded. And THAT was just before Mawaleh was published the first time last August. So I was dying to be able to read that publication too and my Arabic is up to much much much less than much. After a lot of begging from me and no doubt others too Mahmoud wrote me one night to say I should check Mawaleh’s wall. Hooray for the first English publication! So I read about the other people contributing to the magazine and I don’t want to get soppy but I cannot help but be full of admiration for the courage, the humility and the solidarity I could read there. I am possibly not part of the target group but I am a human being and I can appreciate the sheer graft to get that stuff to press each month despite the logistical death trap that Syria seems to me to be these days.
Well I work for a filmmaker and suddenly our wall started to get followers from the Lebanon and Turkey and Egypt and Tunisia and Syria and UEA. How exciting and I knew why too. Then I got to know the sensitive and creative Nour online too. He has had an emotionally traumatising winter, but he is still such a lovely online companion. Especially during those darks hours of night when one or other of us was struggling against the terrible thoughts that hold back sleep. I felt we found so many things in common. Mainly through our desire to find them I expect. I think this is what Mawaleh can do so well.
In the meantime I recently attended the civil partnership ceremony of my school friend – now requalifying in the field of Gender Studies – to his partner a bestseller author. At the event in the Barbican I sat amongst some of Britain’s most successful people from all fields you can think of. The proportion of them who are gay was far and above the ten per cent statistic of course. In such an environment I am struck by what butterflies appear when the stigma cocoons are removed. Even if you don’t feel you are an L, a G, a B, a T, a Q or an I, you know that Mawaleh is profiling some serious talent and positive intention and ambition. These are people who could be influential in a stable and peaceful post conflict Syria. They are the doctors and journalists and lawyers and teachers and composers and designers and so on. But only if they make it. This issue illustrates just some of the very real risks that they are living through. And, to put it bluntly, they need money.
Getting a preview of the latest articles in English – checking over near perfect English is not chore is it? – I was so touched to read that Syrian slang has adopted the expression “I am Mawaleh”. Perhaps strictly speaking I suppose I am not Mawaleh, but I’ll take a Q:
I wanna be Mawaleh, don’t you wanna be Mawaleh too?
By Mawaleh’s Friend, Sanna
You can also read it here