Out into the Bad World: Living Alone in Beirut

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It took me 29 years to finally move out of my parents’ home. For me, as a queer woman, it was not just that I craved independence; it was a matter of necessity. Without the requisite husband who would eventually house me under his own roof, I was doomed to spend the rest of my life under my parents’ thumb. I finally bit the bullet and left.

Out into the bad world I went, a single woman with a healthy sex drive and a bubble of privileges that allowed me to believe that the safety I had experienced in my parents’ home was a given, a constant that would travel with me wherever I went. It wasn’t. Safety is not a right. It is a privilege bestowed upon you only as long as you are deemed “respectable” and “honorable.” Once those two tyrannical qualifiers are in doubt, you are left open and vulnerable. You become fair prey. And so, we come up with various excuses for our landlords to uphold that much sought-after veneer of respectability: “Oh, my parents live in the south.  I am a student at the university.” Or, if your age betrays you: “My parents live in Dubai, I work in Beirut.” You will likely get a skeptical look or an ominous warning about male visitors.

I adored my first apartment. It was a tiny, airy studio with a massive terrace overlooking Sanayeh Park. I was ecstatic. A few months down the line, I came to the painful realization that people will take violent liberties with you based on the assumption that if you do not live with your parents, then your legs must swing open as easily as an electric doorway at a supermarket. The building’s natour, at least twice my size, the man who I see several times every day and say hello to, pushed me up against the elevator wall, grabbed me, forced his hand on my breast, tried to kiss me. I was never able to muster the courage to complain to the landlord. What if he retaliated? What if he made my life even worse for having ratted him out? I stayed silent and avoided him like the plague. Just walking through the entrance to my building was trauma-inducing. Two months later, when the friend I was subletting the apartment from found out, he complained to the landlord himself. The landlord called me in and assured me that he had given the natour a good talking to and that this wouldn’t happen again. He wasn’t fired of course. I was so grateful I was almost going to cry. It was as if he had done me a favor, and not his job, as if I was inconveniencing him by asking him to intervene. That is how powerful the culture of silence around sexual violence is, how we are taught to instinctively be ashamed for having our bodies violated. As I was walking out, he made sure to add with a laugh: “But you know, you should be flattered! Obviously he finds you very attractive.”

I was eventually forced to leave that apartment that I had grown so attached to for fear for my own physical safety. The thwarted natour later found out about my sexuality. He, and the construction workers littered inside the building, began looking at me with disdain, a violence tinged with lust. I was no longer safe there, my protective cover exposed.

These stories are painfully common. That was my first experience of violence because I was seen to be morally questionable, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I have heard my female friends, both straight and queer, recount countless times how they have been harassed, insulted, intimidated, and physically assaulted simply because they live alone. Most of the time, our solution is simply to move out, but this is neither a tenable nor fair solution. Our complaints should no longer be met with ridicule and collusion. This is not just something “that happens.” It is fucking unacceptable.

Join the ObjecDefy campaign, a proactive grassroots initiative that empowers women to combat harassment in the Arab World.

- Contributed by Shax

Guest Contributor

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