“Let me be a guide to you as a gay man of Arab descent,” Kamal Al-Solaylee said last Wednesday night at his lecture, “Is a Gay Rights Movement Possible in the Arab World?”
Al-Solaylee is an associate professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism. He’s written for the Toronto Star and the National Post, among others, and holds a PhD in English literature. In 2012 he published his first book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, about an Arab family trapped in the chaos of Middle Eastern politics.
“I knew I was different from my brother and my friends from school,” Al-Solaylee said, sharing a passage from his book.
“I grew up knowing that I was sexually attracted to men,” he said. “I had to renounce all carnal thoughts.”
His book tells the story of a gay man who feels alienated by his family. Al-Solaylee says family is the single most important thing that determines gender roles and expectations.
Al-Solaylee says the Arab world thinks of homosexuality as behavior over identity or orientation, and believes that certain behaviours should be punished.
He asked the audience: “Do you try to force change, importing the gay rights model, or do you try to work with organizations in the Middle East?”
He says he will never know the correct answer, however ignoring gay rights does not help the issue.
“It seemed possible that the Arab World would open a new chapter in democracy,” Al-Solaylee said in regards to the Arab Spring.
However, “Things didn’t work out,” he said.
Al-Solaylee doesn’t believe that the possibility of a gay rights movement in the Arab world is likely today.
“Reorientation therapy in the Arab world is still practiced in the Middle East,” he said.
He said growing up gay in the Middle East in the ‘70s felt “desolate.”
By Sierra Nadia Traikos