Sarmad and Working with Mawaleh

I first met Sami/Mahmoud through his blog which talks about local Syrian matters from a gay man’s point of view. I asked if there was a way for me to do my part and help promote gay rights in Syria, and imagine my thrill when his response was the suggestion of starting this magazine. I knew then that the mission ahead was not an easy one, and that we would face much opposition from within our ranks as well as from the others, not to mention the prohibition of such activity in Syria by the ruling regime.

Nonetheless, this opposition cannot be compared to the main difficulty of maintaining a magazine, which I didn’t take into much consideration at first. I did not know until the work began, that mustering one’s ideas and producing them into an article wasn’t an easy job.

candle-lightHowever, after a few issues, I came across another problem, a more uneasily surpassed one. I had to exceed my own imagination and consider issues that didn’t face me in my own life. I had to see what others saw, feel what they felt, express it, and then form an opinion about it and shape that opinion in a strong yet attractive way to create a friendly environment for the reader to grasp it easily without any difficulties.

I often had to ask the readers about their daily problems, and in some cases put myself in certain situations to test the credibility of facts first-hand. All of that enriched my vision and inspired me both personally and professionally. One of the most enlightening of all was the Lesbian series I edited. The world of lesbians was to me, unfortunately, just as obscure as the world of homosexuality was to a heterosexual. Before this friend told me she was a lesbian, I was as ignorant as a chair. I hadn’t had many gay friends before, but I was much more familiar with the atmosphere of gay guys than I was with that of gay girls. However, when she introduced me to her lesbian friends, and through them, to the lesbian world, I became aware of the similarities as well as the differences between us, which sharpened my vision and strengthened my confidence when discussing matters concerning homosexual issues of any kind.

Although the magazine hasn’t spread across the spectrum yet, I still feel the grave responsibility I have to the community as a whole, and to every individual in it. This feeling sometimes burdens my thoughts and eats up my energy. It usually takes me a week, if not more, to find an appropriate topic to discuss and when I do, I spend another week trying the find the right angle to view the matter in hand and the right approach to analyzing it.

Compared to the energy spent on preparing the article, the movie review could seem a rather easy job. Only picking the right movie can be as challenging as picking the right topic to discuss in the article, for the idea of the movie has to have a deeper projection on the homosexual reality of the Syrian society without it being too dull for the audience to watch. Most of the movies I choose are usually considered gay-aligned but sometimes I see a gay idea in a non-gay-interest film, only this makes the job much harder since I have to extract the moral of the story without spoiling the movie for the audience.

Not forgetting the difficulty of finding time for the magazine when there is work and study to be done, the future to worry about, a social life to  be maintained, and a partner to be there for at all times while doing simple duties of daily life in Damascus where the traffic jam is your only companion on the road.

However, when the drums of war overwhelmed the country, the task of producing a magazine seemed pretty impossible. We never know when the Internet, our main route of communication, may be disconnected, or the electricity is out and we have to write our articles on paper in  dim candle light, or an explosion happens and we need to recover from the shock of the incident or what may result from it in loss of lives and property.

One time I had to write all my work in the bathroom because the only light left was that of the candle fixed on the toilet, and trying to remove it from that spot jeopardized putting it out I didn’t mind my shadow dancing to the whistling wind, but my problem was the cold floor that made me sick for a week afterwards.

The war is not only affecting our material life but also our psyche and mental abilities. Worrying about our families back home, considering every road we take for fear of a mortar that missed its target, or a bomb that didn’t, and dealing with the ever-rising cost of living take a tremendous toll on your psychological well-being.

However, when I see the link of the magazine flashing blue my heart skips a beat, and I forget all that I went through for the result is a real living creature.

I read the issue once, then twice, then a few more times, and start the new month with the enthusiasm of a new born entering this life, and I write…

Sarmad al-Assi

You can also read it here

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