LGBT people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have attacked a YouTube video ‘tutorial’ which shows how gays can be ‘cured’ or ‘scrubbed clean’ of their sexuality.
The six-minute ‘tutorial’ entitled ‘Be Yourself’ has shocked the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of the UAE when it was posted a little more than a week ago on YouTube.
The video depicts five young men as the starring characters: Rashid Al-Muaini, Majid Al-Muaini, Ali Al-Ghaithi, Jamel Al-Ghaithi and Mohammad Eissa. The scene is set in a typical suburban neighbourhood of one of the UAE cities (most likely Ajman), where the five meet.
Two are in a traditional Emirati dress of Kandura and Kiffayeh greeted by a visibly shy effeminate guy with long hair, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, who says ‘Hi guys’ in a high-pitched voice, proceeding to shake their hands in a camp manner and playing with his hair.
He is contrasted with two other guys dressed in western style who pass-by and greet in a ‘brotherly’ macho-like manner.
The effeminate guy acts all shy and blushes when he’s invited, with a ‘wink’ to come inside the villa next door.
Once in the villa’s living room, the effeminate man is told that he needs to change his personality. One of the traditional-dressed men asks: ‘will you change it or not?’ He replies ‘yes but now?’ And is told ‘leave it to us’.
They proceed to show the effeminate guy how to mimic masculine gestures. Later he is given a ‘make-over’ where his hands and face are almost violently scrubbed with scouring cloths, and then his nails and hair are cut.
After the make-over the still effeminate guy gets a slap when he is about leave for saying ‘bye guys’ in his high pitch voice, and given a tip: ‘Thicken your voice!’
In the concluding scene all five characters meet up again. The effeminate guy seems less distinguished by his looks. His friends seem happy and proud of what they did and finish by thanking Allah, who helped bring about the ‘change’.
While the title and video may look paradoxical even laughably ludicrous it nevertheless touches upon some profound issues relevant to LGBT people from the UAE. I discuss these with three LGBT rights activists from a group called “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transexual Rights UAE”.
Abdullah, 24 from Abu-Dhabi, founder of the group commented: “The video signifies the level of challenge, we, the UAE LGBT community, have ahead of us. We don’t merely have to change the views of the government but also society itself. It angers me no end, but it also saddens me, this video would have been devastating if my 16-year-old self had watched it.”
“As a sixteen year old, I can still hear echoes in my mind of mom yelling at me no to flail my hand too much when I speak, which only lead to me being robotic and stiff, feeling I must keep both hands down when I speak, something that took a long time to get over.
“My mom would also shout at me for using English terms like ‘guys’ in her presence because it emulated the westerners and was a direct ‘attack’ to the Arabic language and my [masculine] mannerisms.”
Abdullah speaks how his parents would force him to get a to “a crew cut” so his hair won’t look like a “a western propaganda” fag, something that deeply humiliated and angered him. He recounts how his parents refused to buy him Jeans and T shirts because it made him “act girly,” telling him instead he must wear the “traditional Emirati dress.”
The video “brought flashbacks to me how on endless hot Friday afternoons I was forced to observe how men interact, or how they drink coffee by my father, so that I should emulate to make him proud.”
Abdullah sadly recalls: “I was banned from hanging out with my sisters too much because my parents alleged they were turning me into a woman,” finally his father rejected and gave up on him, choosing one of Abdullah’s brothers to “make him proud.”
“No wonder I tend to be angry and passionate with LGBT rights and equalityin general,” he reflects, but that is objectively, he insists, much of the social reality in his country. In the UAE, men are required to act in a away that reflects the Bedouin tribe which we are descended from.”
In contrast, “many view homosexuality as a western invention and not a very good one”.
This Abdullah says is exemplified by the representation in the movie of the “effeminate guy” who is lured into the villa for a “straight makeover”, having his gayness being scrubbed away and the issue “fixed” with giving him “a ‘positive’ role model (having mentioned in the first part of the video how he has no brothers to properly emulate). They proceed to demonstrate to him how to properly sit and not to flail with his hands.”
Fatima, a 31 year old secretary from Abu-Dhabi points out more issues with the representation of the ‘effeminate gay charchter’: “the director, having chosen this particular young man and his looks to play the deviant, gender-confused homosexual is openly insulting every gay man on earth.
“Well of course it’s typical to have young, macho-wannabe boys chasing a ball in the street, god forbid the director shoots the film in a library or a study room that could really harm the image of what a real Arabic man is supposed to be doing in his free time.
“Well of course it’s typical to have a femme-fetal gay man to represent the entire population of homosexual men in the region, assume that gay people are not being themselves, they just spend their lives pretending to be someone else for, I don’t know, attention? And yes, it is very typical to have a homosexual “cured” with a firm rub and a neat haircut, oh and if he shows signs of relapse, just slap him back to his senses.”
“The message of this video is ugly, hurtful and very dangerous.”
Fatima finally states “I hope whoever came up with this sick idea gets a visit from a gay cupid. Ha!”
Ali, 25 year old law student from Dubai was outraged by the video: “I found ‘Be yourself’ extremely offensive. When I read the title, I was thinking ‘Wow, finally some of these people have actually learnt something! Perhaps we can have a go at acceptance!’, only to discover a video filled with prejudice.”
“I was gutted at the confidence in the faces of the actors on the fact that they CAN treat homosexuality just like that.”
I want to address this “to all of those who think they can treat homosexuality by grooming, abusing and hurting:
“Are you proud to be homophobic people? Leading people into an illusion that being gay is all about flapping your hands and having a girly voice?”
The challenge ahead:
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates who each have different harsh laws regarding homosexuality, from up to 10 years in prison in Dubai to 14 in Abu-Dhabi, while Article 354 of the Federal Penal Code may even prescribe a death sentence for ‘consensual sodomy’. So punishment for homosexuality can include prison, fines, deportation, flogging and death.
Meanwhile psychologists and psychiatrists in the UAE regard ‘gender atypical behaviour’ as a psychological disturbance, while being gay as an illness that, in some cases, is to be ‘cured’ with hormonal ‘treatments’, despite global clinical guidance to the contrary.
Abdullah told us: ‘Homosexuality has always been a part of the Arabian world, it existed in poetry and writings that are found in Islam and even predate it. Not to mention it’s a natural part of humanity.’
But stereotyping of LGBT people and the idea that non-conforming sexuality is westernized or can be changed are rampant.
“We want to change that, so that another 16 year old or the impressionable LGBT youth, wouldn’t have to go through what others, including myself, before them did.”
“Perhaps the only good lesson of the video that the LGBT community could use to their advantage, is from the hadith quoted at the end,” he says. “We will challenge those beliefs and misconceptions one person at a time, and if we don’t change them we will reach to their hearts,” he optimistically concludes.