I am in Lebanon for the first time in my life, and being here is a step toward living wholly in my body and spirit. These are some of the things that divide my self: body hatred and fat-phobia, internalized sexism and homophobia, having white skin privilege in a white supremacist world, and, not least of all, assimilation into the white-Americanness of my upbringing.
I met my extended family six weeks ago and spent time in the village where the majority of my mother’s family comes from and are still living. I am out to all my close family in the U.S. and the majority of them are supportive, including my parents. As for my extended family back home, it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. I don’t know if its indifference or distain, but both feel the same to me.
I am not out to my family in Lebanon. I am 29 and unmarried, although not single, and I expected questions from them about my personal life, but none ever came. Even a brief bout of joking regarding a male cousin who was my age and also single didn’t produce any curiosity. I am relieved, but also puzzled. Two of my cousins are older unmarried women, so I wonder if they don’t ask the questions that they’ve likely been subjected to themselves. I desperately want to ask them about their personal lives, not in a judgmental way – it’s more inquisitive – and also because I want to hear about their experiences and senses of selves growing up and remaining unmarried women. Admittedly, it is also because they remind me of some of my first generation Lebanese-American great aunts, who remained single as well. Does being an unruly woman run in the family? Could one of them be queer? Not that I would expect to get any juicy information—we have only just met—but my little heart still hopes.
I am leaving Lebanon. After six weeks, it’s time to go home. Is there home here for me? In some ways, yes. But growing up in a mixed and very assimilated Lebanese-American family, I knew that sense of home would be faint. To prepare, I told myself, I will not romanticize this place. There is beauty here and ugliness, and all else in between, just as in any other place. Whatever connection I feel is real. Whatever dissonance I feel is real. And there have been both, although I admit, more of a sense of connection than I had expected, which makes me elated.
I am in love with this land. Anyone who knows me has heard me wax endlessly about all of the fruit trees, and how I love the rocks, and the mountains, and the deep red soil. I love standing in the grove of almond trees that has been in my family for generations and smelling the sweet scent of gardenias, eyes shut, everything else in the world shut out, away. I don’t know how long it will be before I can come back here, but when I do, there are people I want to experience it with me, and two in particular: my mother, who was born in the U.S. and has never been here, and my partner, my love. When I think of the latter being here with me, I am both excited and worried. I know that, what ability I have to move through these spaces is in part due to my gender presentation. As a femme, even though I don’t present in super-high-Lebanese-lady-femme, I do not attract attention (sexist street harassment notwithstanding). My genderqueer partner would though. I know that we could come together and pass things off as “friends” but then I think about when we have kids. How will I explain that to my cousins? We will be able to be in this place together as a family? Will I have to choose between continuing the relationships with my family here or being able to be here with those I love? Will there be no way to be here whole? My life is still largely one of privilege, but these are things that this experience has forced me to think about it. At any rate, I leave here knowing I am that much closer to whole and thankful for it.
- Contributed by Charlotte