I understand you now ~ Jordanian Play heavily criticizes the Government
I went with my family to watch a play yesterday -my first Jordanian play, if you will. I wasn’t expecting much, because from my experience, the art scene in Jordan is disappointingly limited. cliche-full, and child-like, as it has not achieved any sort of maturity, let alone originality.
The name of this play was “I understand you now”. It was political satire that drew a contrast between the average Jordanian’s frustrations with the government (including lack of true democracy) and his abuse and dictatorship as the “man of the house”.
Frankly -and this is a big statement for me to make, as I am very difficult to impress- the play was one of the best written works I have ever come across. Every line was purposeful, and offered a unique -sometimes even poetic- social or political critique of our people and/or governments. Much of the criticism was daring, as it targeted ministers, prime ministers and even the king himself (who attended the play a couple of weeks ago). Knowing how fear-struck artists in Jordan are about critiquing the government (due to Jordan intelligence threats) I was taken by surprise.
As an artist and writer, I believe that play was a leap forward for Jordanian artists. I can imagine that the playwright, director and cast took a huge risk upon their decision to bring all this criticism to stage.
That daring trust in the truth of the average Jordanian’s life makes me question my own work and how comfortable it is to lay under the headlights exposed and honest.
The Lesbian Scene in Jordan: All You Need to Know
I will approach this subject through the lens of a new comer, who is not a part of the mainstream Queer female community in Amman. Kindly be advised that the views I express here are my personal views, based on professional people watching and limited contact with the community (please do not consider them blanket statements, or take them as unquestionable truths).
What is the Lesbian Scene like in Jordan?
Lesbians have conquered the Ammani landscape, since the advent of ROYGBIV. I have made it through a year and a half as a native Jordanian lesbian; this victory somehow qualifies me to write about the Kingdom’s lesbian scene.
Lesbians in Jordan bear a resemblance to the city’s skyline, with its house-mounted hills, dominating features, and dryness. Those who have come to constitute “Jordan’s lesbian community” often come off as unfriendly to the new lesbian tourist as the dented roads and broken speed bumps of Amman.
As an outsider looking in, the young mainstream lesbian scene in Amman seems hungry and carnivorous; it views every new queer female as fresh meat to be consumed and re-consumed by the entire group of friends, with a side of much expected lesbo drama. People like me, watch it happen over cosmopolitans and long island teas, and think to themselves;
no thanks, I’d rather be celibate and grow
cobwebs in Virginia (pun intended).”
Why is it so Difficult to Break Into Jordan’s Lesbian Community?
True, the LGBT community in Jordan is highly exclusive. Directly approaching a group of lesbian-heads poking a cloud of cigarette smoke and viscous gossip at books @ cafe is ill-advised, unless there’s a common friend stringing you together. However we must all admit that it is offensive for a stranger to self-declare you as gay, while simultaneously attempting to trigger a “get to know you” conversation using your gayness as a foundation. Such an approach can be intimidating to the lesbian comrade chilling at a cafe, given how taboo the subject is. Your direct approach may come off as judgmental, since you’ve simplified this girl’s entire being into who she shares her bed with.
I have been a victim to that kind of approach in Jordan, must I say by straight people, and in all honesty, I did not enjoy being outted (to myself).
As a new lesbian, it is crucial to keep in mind that the community’s exclusivity is more of a defense mechanism against homophobia, rather than an arrogance and simple lack of trust. I find the lesbian scene in Jordan to be very reactionary.
Naturally, years of discrimination, exile and name-calling can elicit a bitterness towards new faces. Human beings, at large, tend to abuse those they categorize as “weak” by using the same methods implemented against them by those they categorize as more powerful. It is a means of self-validation and revenge. For example, domestic abuse against women is more prevalent in lower-income households, because modest men are often “emasculated” by the affluent landlord, the wealthy client, and the government official who shames him into subservience for a petty work permit. Consequently, these men from find the need to replicate the abuse they experience onto groups of people they perceive as weaker; in this case, their wives.
Believe it or not, the same scenario applies to lesbians; intolerance by parents, bullying by schoolmates and unflattering comments by emo-looking hunks on rainbow street is replicated in the interactions between old-timer lesbians and “weaker” new lesbians trying to break into the community. A new lesbian has to “pay her dues” so to say.
Why So Hungry?
Blame it on the unavailability of queer women in Jordan, or the risks a lesbian exposes herself to whenever she outs herself to a new love-interest. One of the most frustrating aspects of being a single lesbian in Jordan is the self-consciousness that your gay-dar should never be trusted, since culture and religion draw a sharp line between a girl’s tendencies (what she likes) and her actions (what she’s willing to admit and act upon).
I’ve come across quite the number of raging homosexuals in denial, banking on their self-control in respect for tradition and God.
As a single lesbian, I admit it’s extremely difficult to identify queer women in Amman, and even more difficult to approach them unless you have a common friend. Naturally, this limits your pool of candidates, and so don’t be surprised why groups of Jordanian lesbians tend to be extremely incestuous.
The Jordanian Online Lesbian Community
When I first got to Amman, I was disgruntled by how difficult it was to meet fellow queer females. There was no “correct” way of doing it. I resorted to facebook groups and other websites, such as afterellen.com, in search of Jordanian lesbians who would have mercy on the new lesbo in town. I found posts by foreign lesbians, who were in Amman for a visit, or a temporary stay. I found a couple of posts by Jordanian lesbians, who offered help. Given the how closed off the rest of the community was, I was suspicious of the Jordanians who were open to meet with new lesbians.
My hesitance was later justified, when I heard stories from acquaintances who did fall victim to the welcoming posts, only to find themselves in a car with two lesbians, and one bottle of vodka to be chugged.
I am not saying you should not reach out to the online community; I am simply encouraging caution.
Online Resources For Lesbian Women in Jordan
MyKali is an invaluable source to the LGBT community in Jordan. If you have ever googled Jordan LGBT, then you have probably found yourself surfing through this online magazine. Although the magazine –and all other Jordanian online resources for that matter- cater mostly to gay male audiences, I am of MyKali’s columnists (my articles go under - “Lesbo and The City”. No I didn’t pick the name), and I’ve been trying my best to focus on lesbian topics. MyKali is putting in much needed effort into involving queer female writers nonetheless, the deficiency of lesbian-specific information and resources can be frustrating. The limited information is what compelled me to start my own blog; Queer Girl’s Ink - Jordan(www.queerink.tumblr.com).
One thing I realized as a consequence of my experiences as a lesbian in Amman, is that you should be proactive, if something does not exist in Amman (and many things don’t exist in Amman) then you must be the one to create it. Call it proactive.
The lesbian scene in Amman is hard to crack. However, I realize now that being a gay woman in Amman is not as terrifying as I first thought it would be. You may have to rely on coincidence, common friends, or the internet to meet your first lesbian in Jordan, but once you do, you’ll witness a small community germinate around you.
Believe it or not, this society is making strides. To say “I have a gay friend” is not as suicidal as it used to be.
I have noticed that straight friends, near strangers and family members, who have been suspicious of my sexuality, try their best to signal their suspicions, while letting me know that “it’s okay”. The way they their sentiments are expressed is extremely politically incorrect, but that’s beside the point. I find their sincere effort to be a step forward. Straight people are confronting my sexuality, instead of blocking it out. Straight people are learning how to co-exist with my gayness. Perhaps, they are even beginning to like it.
So to the new lesbian in Jordan, I will say; Amman is a harsh city, but don’t be disappointed. It takes a little bit of patience.
Alyah Al Aswad
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Now that the 30/30 challenge is over….
Now that the 30/30 challenge is over, I am seeking more of a balance between articles and poetry this coming month. I am working on recording new poems, needless to mention I am pretty excited about that.
As a single lesbian in the Middle East, I’ve been experiencing some pretty outrageous ish that I need to write about. This ish ranges from getting to know how the Jordanian lesbian scene is like to having a hopeless major crush on a straight girl. You wont have to wait any longer. New article about the lesbian scene in Amman is on its way!
Day 30: Not the Last Poem ~ Alyah Al Aswad
We used to be hand held mugs of hot cocoa in a basement the morning after a highschool slumber party. We used to be clutched kite strings in green spaces where dogs poop and kids ride bikes with 3 wheels. That one afternoon, a family looked beyond the elasticity of gender bends in my suspenders and smiled intently, as if it should make up for a marriage contract. Your face was a ripe tangerine in the sunlight. You sat on my knee as we watched a wedding ensuing 10 feet away. You asked if I think we could have a two-dress wedding in a few years.
I said; Yes, I want kids who enjoy the occasional smackdowns with sugar commas. In reality, I wanted your kids and hoped they would enjoy an occasional smackdown with a sugar comma. 4 months later I proposed to you on one knee and a $180 solitaire ring - I was a student and it was all I could afford. You said yes, but once I arrived home the summer after graduation, you said the entire engagement was a silly idea. because we were still kids. It broke my heart.
You moved to a third world country to be with me. I became distant and swallowed a wandering eyeball. One time on my way out of the door you said; baby, come back home tonight. Come back sleep next to you tonight. Come back, slip into a hoodie knitted of my feelings for you tonight. Come back home tonight. Make home in you again, and I wished I had it in me.
This is not the last poem I write about what happened, because this is not even a poem. It is a document. It’s exactly what happened.
Day 29 Poem: Rainy Jazz ~ Alyah Al Aswad
Mornings under a roof are just a proclamation that you got your ass off the streets for 10 hours. For 10 fingers of ours aren’t enough to keep our nudity warm.
How do you rewind an eviction notice into a welcome note addressing us as the next tenants.
I have a dented barrel in my living room, oozing gray in the aftermath of a flame quarreling with my own manuscripts. The little I own peals my lips into orange pulp feeding on canned fear of hunger. I love what I write, but my darling got cold last night. Her toes pet the oak of my studio floors at 6:47 am, after one alarm snoozed itself into a 10 minute death. I touched her back with jumper cable arms to electrify the daily rise. I sit in an unmade bed, dipped in mattress warmth. She used to say good-morning, but stopped. The foaming of scratched brush and tooth is supposed to say something to me to replace the words I lost in the barrel, but silence isn’t something I can beat onto a typewriter.
From her spot in the kitchen, she manages to recreate the rain hitting my bedroom window glass with whole grains ticking against the ceramic of a bowl. My stomach feels as thick as hollow milk-box compressed. I stand inside my tied shoes, jeans buttoned on, but topless as her unbuttered toast. I slip into my cup of coffee, eyeing her through the steam. She scrambles for office keys, when I’d much rather she’d be a squatter frying scramble eggs in a pan with me. Nine to five jobs are proof of an abusive relationship with bills in the mail. She shouldn’t have gone for the doorknob. My lap was still spare and my day unplanned as a pregnancy scare. At the edge of by hallway, she said goodbye.
Who would want to wake up to a goodbye.
Day 29 Writing Prompt
Day 28 Poem ~ Alyah Al Aswad
Re-crumple the geometry on the college block of an exhale,
into a shadow show of flames
that dance in the pit of your diaphragm.
Her eyes have learned how to fork yellow sun ray missing the flat of a wooden blind,
so her joy can splatter like egg yolk.
She talks at me,
with the consideration that my depth is shallow fried
because I barely unribbon the instruction in her voice,
just sink my pocket watch in her voice,
as it pumps through the valves of my
tonight, wine bottle, and alone,
I sweep her hum under my memory rug as she talks weight and iron
I need its acoustics in my bones in winter.
She doesnt speak enough.
She communicates in knee caps slashing their way through
the thick of people.
Her best temperament visits on Wednesdays.
She sits on the ground,
knees bent backwards
Her hair is a throne.
Her neck is pivotal.
She does not walk,
she orchestrates with hips.
She is an orchid growing in the wood of a farm swing.
The son of same sex parents speaks in Ottawa speaks against marriage discrimination. Absolutely worth your time.
End LGBTQ marriage discrimination everywhere. In Muslim and Arab countries too. In Jordan even.