Dossier 19: The Story of the Forgotten

Publication Author: 
By Mansiya (Translated by Gila Svirsky)
February 1998
Word Document120.4 KB
number of pages: 
Mansiya, a pseudonym that means ‘the forgotten’, is a university student aged 22. She was born in the north of Israel and lives today in the center of the country. She writes about what it’s like to be an Arab lesbian.

Many claim that there’s no difference between a Jewish and an Arab lesbian, because for both it demands courage and lots of openness. In my opinion, there’s a difference between the two experiences because Israeli society is composed of a majority and a minority. As an Arab, I belong by nationality and religion to the Arab minority as well as to the homosexual-lesbian minority. Although I grew up in a very open and liberal home that saw no difference between Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, man and woman, the fact that Israeli society discriminates between Arab and Jew, and that conservative Arab-Palestinian society discriminates between man and woman created many dilemmas for me.

Today I live far from my village, but I still feel that I belong to and respect my society and the home where I was born. Today I know that if I want to leave this closet, it’s not possible, certainly not at this time. In Arab society, we do not yet have awareness of or openness to the subject, and I cannot fight an entire society by myself. In Arab society, being a lesbian is like being a prostitute, and a prostitute is ostracized and, in the worst case, murdered. There is currently no organization that represents or supports Arab lesbians. The problem stems from dependence upon one’s parents and fear of society. Therefore I prefer to live far away and not involve my parents in it.

If we return to the matter of being a lesbian, that’s a problem in and of itself. Why? We were raised in a heterosexual society and a world that is still fighting for its rights. And don’t forget that most religions forbid homosexuality, i.e., society in general does not accept us, many consider it unnatural or abnormal, and many are born with that opinion and grow up with the attitude of the majority. I am one of those born and brought up in this tradition, and therefore it was very hard for me to even accept myself or the idea that I am a lesbian. I forgot my internal truth for a long time and lived ‘like everyone’. I suffered and cried, and it hurt a great deal. Several years ago, I moved to the center of the country. Although aware of the fact that I was a lesbian, I did not find myself there, and thus went around as if I were heterosexual until I made contact with homosexual society, and then I came out of the closet, but only to them. At first it was very hard to live a double life, but by now I’m used to it. But I always try to be in homosexual company so that it won’t hurt me that I am living a painful double life.

Over the past few years, I found myself alone. An Arab woman alone. I really miss speaking Arabic, thinking in Arabic, being myself among Arabs, and it’s very hard. And then I find myself burning up my thoughts in cigarettes and crying on paper and screaming in the words of poems from all cultures. Today I write poems in three languages, and still I have not found my own language. In Arabic—I write, but not about my identity as a lesbian. In Hebrew—I do write as a lesbian, but as a non-Jew, I miss the sense of belonging to the language. And in English—I express all the issues, but it’s not my mother tongue.

So where am I? Where am I—a lesbian Arab? Revealed to everyone and to every ear that listens and eye that reads, therefore I prefer to keep several secrets to myself; on the other hand, I try to liberate myself from a society that prohibits freedom, truth, and a life of independence.

Source: from Claf Hadash, the magazine of the Community of Lesbian Feminists in Israel, Issue 18-19, Spring-Summer 1997. We wish to acknowledge Gila Svirsky for sending us this article.