Growing up gay/queer in an Arab Bedouin town (Kuseife) in Southern Israel has been central in almost every aspect of my life. In a community where queerness is not only unacceptable and nonexistent, but could also potentially lead to deadly violence, my queer experiences at a rather young age made it clear to me that my career will center Palestinian and generally Arab sexual minorities like myself.
As expected, this career path was filled with challenges. During my last year of undergraduate studies at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, Israel, I worked as a high school English teacher. I went into education with the intention to create a conversation on gender and sexuality in the Arab Bedouin schools where I taught. That year, however, I remained closeted and did not truly challenge the absence of gender and sexual diversity in the education system.
The following year I came to the U.S. for the first time on a Fulbright scholarship to teach Arabic for one year at Brown University in 2011. During this year, I was able to openly share in my classroom and network what is is like to be a queer Bedouin Palestinian of Israel living multiple minority identities. My openness was met much curiosity and appreciation. It is then that I realized that I could become a bridge between the regions and an ambassador on LGBTQ issues.
When I returned to Israel in 2012, I received my teaching license and certificate. For two years I worked at another school where, inspired by the year in the U.S., I managed to enhance diversity and inclusion at the school, and indirectly promoted LGBTQ-friendly values through various topics and discussions. This time, I managed to come out to half the staff at the school, which was a remarkable progress.
In 2014, I returned to the U.S. for a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. As a graduate student, when I could not find LGBTQ Palestinian and Arab teachers willing to share their stories for a comparative study, I was only able to study the LGBTQ teacher identity of Israeli Jewish high school teachers.
In 2016, I joined the Sociology of Education PhD program at NYU. My dissertation, “Beyond Intersectionality: Centering the Sociocultural within the Political Using LGBTQ Lived Experiences in Palestine”, is an interdisciplinary study examining LGBTQ life in Palestine using a sociocultural lens. Building on yet complementing the anticolonial and homonationalist discourses that often dominate activism and research on LGBTQ liberation in Palestine, I argue that the sociocultural approach helps create new possibilities for approaching Palestinian LGBTQ change. To do so, I use interviewees’ life stories and opinions in three areas: the Palestinian Queer Movement (PQM), education and schooling, and family life as frames to present the flaws of relying solely on the anticolonial/homonationalist analyses, while showing the value of the sociocultural alternative.
I also see my personal experience and those of LGBTQ Palestinians in parallel to LGBTQ life across the Middle East and North Africa. Due to the cultural similarities, I have also been observing the rise of political and social LGBTQ changes in the MENA since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011. My article “The Queer Concert: LGBTQ Resistance-Music in the Egyptian Social and Political Uprising”, for instance, considers the death of queer Egyptian activist Sarah Hegazy by suicide in Canada, where she exiled after her release from prison in Egypt for raising a rainbow flag during a concert of the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila in 2017. Considering a noticeably larger surge in the popular culture scene and the appearance of political revolutionary music in Egypt, this article joins literature on music’s role in resistance, as well as the biopolitics of the nation-state in Egypt as they manifest in relation to LGBTQ life there.
Through academic research, teaching, and a public conversation, it is my goal to help understand the recent increased visibility and changes in LGBTQ life in the MENA being a troubled and constantly changing region.