From Lebanon, in a Hurry

The brave new book Bareed Mista3Jil (a Lebanese Arabic phrase that means "Express Mail") documents queer women's stories for the Arab world.

BY Amita Parashar

July 07 2009 11:00 PM ET

Bareed Mista3Jil COVER XLRG | ADVOCATE.COM

The brave stories, written as letters, were culled from over 100 interviews through Meem, a 300-member national underground network supporting LBTQ women in Lebanon. The editors wanted the stories to represent Lebanon as they see it -- diverse and fragmented. The book reflects a variety of classes, religions, and coming-out stories, including one woman's very funny foray into a chat room -- "I found 'sexylesbian4u.' Oh, my God! I thought, a sexy lesbian for me! "

The book also speaks to a society that speaks three languages -- Arabic, English, and French. The book is available in Arabic and English, and is peppered with Lebanese phrases that are translated as footnotes.

Lebanon is "quite tolerant" of the LGBT community in certain well-traveled and educated circles, Moawad says. But she estimates those circles only represent 20% of the population, and gay and lesbian issues are still taboo in the rest of the country.

The Meem network was careful to remain invisible until it was able to proactively share its stories. "Now [Lebanon] has something we've produced that they can challenge, debate, and talk about," Moawad says. And the country is talking. Reviews in Arab newspapers have been largely positive, including one that called the book "groundbreaking."

Deliberately, the book contains no first or last names or writers or editors, partly to protect the identities of those involved. Moawad says the editors wanted the book to appear as if it had emerged from nowhere "because nobody knows about lesbian organizing that goes on in Lebanon."

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