Between Helem and Meem: A Personal Experience

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NB: This article tells a personal experience, not referring to the two mentioned organizations politics only. It tells the experience of sexual identity, not the activism involvement which is, according to me, a totally different experience.

I was raised in a family that you could consider open-minded when it comes to “manners”. I never had a bedtime or a “back home” time that normally got imposed on my friends “just because they were girls”. I never was taught girls’ manners, never forced to wear a dress. Every family member supported me when I claimed that I hated pink or “too girly” things. When I was 3 years old, my mother used to dress me up and show me off. My outfit a white dress one day, and the next day it would be a blue boyish suit. Until I turned 12 years old, my hair was always cut “à la garçonne”, with my parents respecting my style. I only grew it long because, seemingly out of the blue, I wanted for once to look like my classmates. When I was taught about sexuality, I was told that when a man and woman have sex, it’s called heterosexuality, and when two people of the same gender have sex, it’s called homosexuality. I grew up in a family that never taught me what a taboo really is. I am only telling you this to make it clear that I never lived in a heteronormative ambiance, at least, within my small family.

I grew up being “straight” as I used to call it back then. Not because this was the “normal” thing to do, nor was it because I was not allowed to be something else. I was straight because of the heartbeat a man’s hug could cause me, and because of the friendly, and only friendly warmth a woman’s hug could make me feel.

I first went to Helem (the only organization working on LGBT cause I knew back then) as a “straight” person, a human rights activist, willing to work on the LGBT cause, part of the human rights I believe in. The first sarcastic joke I heard there (which made me actually laugh and never offended me) was: “Oh, you’re one of them?”. I was always working with gay people for their own cause and not mine, fighting with them to make them win their own battles. I always felt I was this stranger who knows a lot, helps a lot but never getting past the doorstep. My identity didn’t fit in their room.

A couple of months later at Helem’s center, I decided to date this girl I used to like. For a long time, I was afraid that I might be considering the relationship as a passport that could let me in to this room that I was always watching from outside, never knowing what was really going on in there. I doubted my own feelings and kept saying to myself “why now?” Women never attracted me and this was not out of denial. I was sure of it. When our relationship became public things didn’t turn well for me. I thought people would accept it. I am part of them now!! They had to welcome me to the community, I thought. No sooner had I finally stepped into this mysterious room than I started to hear all these voices asking me: “so are you lesbian now?”, “do you think you are bisexual?”, “how do you identify yourself?” Some of them took the initiative to decide for me and say: “we think you are just a straight person having fun!” In one single second, I saw the door slamming shut in my face.

For once in my life, I decided to go on with the “go with the flow” political theory, though it was never one of my principles. They wanted me to have a title so they can refer to me with it. So many boxes in front of me, I had to choose one. I chose the box that seemed to me as a “half pink / half blue” box. I never liked sharp divisions. I chose to be referred to as “bisexual” in front of people who would never understand me if I said “I don’t know”.

Back then, bisexuality was my savior. Yes, it saved me from all these stares within the community telling me “you can never understand”. I did understand, but never dared to admit it because nobody would believe me. I never thought that savior bisexuality, wrapped in a beautiful paper wrapping would stop working anytime soon. Unfortunately, it did. When I used to say “bisexual”, I was usually confronted with: “Oh, you’re not pure breed”. In the best case scenario, people claimed that it was a short phase prepping me for pure homosexuality. I could never understand. I chose a box, made myself fit in it though I always refused box politics, and carried an identity that doesn’t represent me. Still, I was unable to please them.

Though, in theory, I agree with Helem politics most of the time, the activist in me wasn’t fulfilled. I don’t believe it was intentional on their part, but it was clear to me that they had dismantled one stereotype called by heteronormativity, and moved on to adopt a million other stereotypes. Every day, I wished I could be “the straight” again–it was simple as this.

I was also member at Meem, but was never a real activist there. The community struggle seemed to me to be a Helem v.s Meem struggle. I sometimes avoided Meem so I could avoid those familiar stares, telling me, once again: “Oh, you’re one of them?”. I felt the boxes and gender division were all over the place. As far as I can remember, Helem for me was the “boys” place and Meem was the “girls” place.

Later, a serious misunderstanding pushed me away from Helem’s center.  The full time activist in me was jobless all of a sudden, at least within the “gay” community. I was not a part of Helem’s “people” anymore, but I didn’t want to disrespect my history as a Helem member. I didn’t want to trade ethics for a new beginning and go to Meem, the competitor entity, and flush all my work down the toilet because of a moment of anger. Besides, I always felt that Meem people looked at me as a Helem activist, who would never understand how Meem works, how they think, how they get things done. I avoided Meem  so I could avoid those stares telling me all over again: “Oh, you’re one of them!” I took my distance for a while, and became a silent activist — I lived the activism of trying to make a difference in everyday life, without screaming about it publicaly.

A few months later, a year almost, my best friend dragged me out of my warm and comfortable bed and back to the unfair streets to scream out my activism again. It was like I woke up one day, carried the cause on my shoulders again, and went to Meem. Meem was the “lesbians” community (even the term freaked me out, and still does!!). Though I am not lesbian, not “pure breed” at least, they have to welcome me, I thought. Somebody has to! I was hoping no one would recognize me, but at the same time, I was scared no one would remember me. I was the one who worked “for them, for their cause, to make them win their own battles.” The feeling of being a stranger was the last thing I wanted to have.

Driving my car, on the way there, I was trying to come up with answers to their expected question: “What are you?”

I felt the road was a hundred miles length, but finally I got there. As I stepped into the door, everybody said “Hi.” Nobody noticed a stranger was among them. Nobody asked a single question, even those who didn’t know my name. They didn’t bother to ask. I was invited to make my coffee, as if it was a daily gesture I do. Nobody noticed I came from a different planet, nobody saw I was the only one in high heels and wearing make up. Hello! I wasn’t here yesterday, I hadn’t been here for the last year, in fact. Nobody looked familiar to me. All these images I had in mind flew away in a second.

I assumed I was not allowed to ask about sexual orientation. For me, it was a relief. I didn’t hear the expected question. But on the other hand, I wanted to be asked “What are you?” and answer “I don’t know”.. I wanted them to know that I might be lost between all these acronyms I could easily define but couldn’t fit into. I started asking indirect questions so I could clarify the image I had in my mind of this weird group. I asked a lot. Few of the answers were the answers I wanted, till the statement came out of a member’s mouth: “This is why we are queers”. So they are the Queers, the forbidden “Q” I heard about at Helem.

As far as I know, Q was a taboo, or, in the best case scenario, a phase in discovering the sexual orientation. You are Queer when you don’t know who you are, who to like, when you want to fight for everything just for the sake of fighting, when you don’t have a certain goal and have ideas mixed up in your head. I didn’t want to be queer, even more, I didn’t want to stay among queers.

I held on to this feeling till I found out about the real lifestyle of the Q people, when I stayed around for a while. They don’t ask whom you like because they believe in the breadth of gender identity. They don’t have ideas mixed up in their head. It was a shocking phase of my life. Where did all the “L”, “B”, “G” fly away to? It took me too long to understand them and fit into one of them, and now I can’t hear about them anymore. Queer people are messing with the cycle of nature, the identity of things!! They are getting rid of everything I worked for. I was working “for them, fighting their battles”, and suddenly they decided to change their cause and fight someone else’s battle?

In theory, it was too hard for me to understand. But I was never rushed to know what I am, nobody cared to know. With time, I lost interest to know as well. I lost interest when all looks around me were saying: “Oh! You’re one of us!”. It is clear now! A Queer space is a space that groups all the acronyms together in one entity, but has something more. It always reserves a place for people who don’t want to tell and don’t want to know. I became this “everything special” and “nothing important” at the same time.Conclusion (in my opinion): None of the theories are wrong. In fact, they are both indispensable for our struggle. There are people who want to say out loud “I am Lesbian” or “I am gay.” They have this freedom in both spaces. But there are also people who want to scream “I am a woman” or “I am abused.” These people also have the right to find activists willing to hear their voices and to help them scream. Helem and Meem are the two voices of one community, the two sides of one coin, the two spaces I belong to. Each of them has its way of thinking, its way of acting and both are ready to do pretty much everything to win the struggle.
Contributed by Myrrha

Guest Contributor

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