The recent controversy surrounding the Gay Girl in Damascus (who turned out to be anything but) has this blogger scratching his head.
Why are we all so focused on how MacMaster misled us, and not on the real issue?
In our anger, we've forgotten why we were so enamoured of GGID in the first place: because Amina's story is not fiction.
For every blogger masquerading as a victim there are literally thousands of real people suffering without a voice, or who are too afraid to use it.
Let's not forget, in many countries, it is illegal to be gay.
This is the case in Lebanon, where the internet is the only place where LGBTI people can feel safe expressing themselves and reaching out to each other. Sites like Behksoos.com offer an important space to share their stories and organise for effective advocacy. As the EroTICs research shows, their innovative use of ICTs has allowed them to "create, build, and empower their liberation movement."
Last year Bekhsoos.com celebrated the decade-long history of LGBT activism in Lebanon. “It’s actually been over a decade,” says the magazine’s Arabic editor, Aphrodite. “We consider the registration of GayLebanon.com in 1998 as a marker of the start of an organized movement...”
As documented by the EroTICs Lebanon report, internet chat sites contributed to the rapid formation of gay self-identities, with a growing number of people actively seeking out others like them to date, befriend, and talk to:
“The first word I ever searched for on Yahoo! was “homosexual.” It was the first day my dad got me a dial-up internet connection for my birthday. It was October 1998 and internet back then cost a fortune. I remember it was something like $6 an hour, so I had to be very quick and I got right down to the point. I had to find some lesbians!”
Another user, Bloody Mary, recounts:
“It will sound pathetic now, but back in 2004-2005, every time I would get a private message from a girl on gaydar, I would wonder to myself: is she the one? Am I going to fall in love with her? (...) Friendship was an option, of course, but it came after love. What I really wanted was love, even if its possibility was in the form of weird online strangers.”
The importance of an unfiltered internet to the emergence and growth of the queer movement cannot be overstated. However, Lebanon's volatile politics mean that this free space is constantly at risk. As conservative groups within the country become more aware of the existence of this thriving online community, there are growing calls for internet censorship. It is critical that LGBTI people not take this connection for granted, but rather that they take steps to protect it.
Moreover as states the report “Access to the internet in Lebanon is limited to economically able groups because of high prices of connections and mobile data plans. An estimated 35% of the Lebanese population is online and, therefore, queers of lower classes have little access to content, information, and networks online”.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that there are actual gay girls in Damascus.