The six-minute ‘tutorial’ entitled ‘Be Yourself’ has shocked the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of the UAE.
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’.
A Hadith appears in the closing scene roughly translating as: ‘If you see something wrong being done, speak up. If nothing happens, do something. If nothing happens then, change things with your heart.’
While the title ‘Be Yourself’ and video may look paradoxical even laughably ludicrous it nevertheless touches upon some profound issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the UAE.
Gay Middle East spoke to three activists from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transexual Rights UAE about the video on behalf of Gay Star News.
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 16-year-old, I can still hear echoes in my mind of mom yelling at me not 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 told us his parents would force him to get a to ‘a crew cut’ so his hair won’t look like ‘a western propaganda’ gay person, something that deeply humiliated and angered him. He said they refused to buy him jeans and t-shirts because it made him ‘act girly’ telling him instead he must wear the ‘traditional Emirati dress’.
He said: ‘In the UAE, men are required to act in a away that reflects the Bedouin tribe which we are descended from. Many view homosexuality as a western invention and not a very good one.
‘[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.’
He adds: ‘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 gave up and rejected him, choosing one of Abdullah’s brothers to ‘make him proud’.
Fatima, a 31-year-old secretary from Abu-Dhabi points out more issues with the representation of the effeminate gay character: ‘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.
‘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.
‘They have a femme-fatale gay man to represent the entire population of homosexual men in the region, assuming that gay people are not being themselves, they just spend their lives pretending to be someone else for, I don't know, attention? And then to have a homosexual "cured" with a firm rub and a neat haircut and if he shows signs of relapse, just slap him back to his senses.
‘The massage of this video is ugly, hurtful and very dangerous. I hope whoever came up with this sick idea gets a visit from a gay cupid. Ha!’
Ali, a 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.
‘To all of those who think they can treat homosexuality by grooming, abusing and hurting I want to say “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 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 being gay as a psychological disturbance that is, in some cases, 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.
Abdullah said: ‘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. 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.’