Article by Yahyia Alzandaniy
Translations by Hiba Moustafa
Design by Lina A.
This article is part of the “Ya Leil Ya Eyein” issue
“You, be a strong man and show no emotions.”
“You, you are a woman. Look gorgeous and accentuate your beauty.”
Stereotypes are an obsession for most of us who seek acceptance and integration. Despite the various forms of diversity in our Arab-speaking societies, they are all pushed into the same mold of traditional stereotypical rules.
This is prompted, in part, by the obvious shortsightedness of LGBTQ+ celebrities who don’t accept differences and spread hatred through distorting the truth. They see everything that doesn’t resemble them as discord though they can act as catalysts to “erase misconceptions” in our Eastern societies. This forces us into constant conflict with them.
It is also caused by false ideas promoted in the name of the transgender comunity circulating through the public sphere, which is a main reason we struggle to get our society to accept us or for us to even accept ourselves. Also, the misuse of social media aimed at serving society in general and supporting persecuted groups in particular has become a main source for spreading hatred and misconceptions, and setting rules for social order. Even online, we are forced to feel like we are stuck because of those who are considered to be representatives of the LGBTQ+ community.
But since we are part of the same group and face similar forms of oppression, we should all appreciate the diversity within this group and let gender freedom and non-binary gender be a basis for measuring our self-confidence and respect for others. In this article, we will tackle the some of the most common patterns of harmful information propagated by social media celebs by and about LGBTQ+ community.
First Pattern: Tahrim (Prohibiting) gender reassignment
Katolina, one of the most famous transgender people on social media with almost a million and half followers on Snapchat alone, once said that she would not necessarily have gender reassessment surgery just because she preferred men. More specifically, she said would not do this “transformation” for fear of Allah’s punishment, as it would mean she is “altering His creation,” and because one could not be anything but the way they were born, no matter the surgeries s/he went through. She claimed that gender reassignment is incorrect because transgender people are “gay,” and called out Haifa Magic as a “faggot who turned his testicles!”
She also admitted that she had sex with men to earn a living and make enough money. At 01:07 (in the video), she explained that her sex work was to cover her needs, but now in the USA, she doesn’t have to do it anymore.
Though Katolina said this to win people’s sympathy, its effects are overwhelmingly negative for members of the LGBT community. She erased the suffering and desperate need of trans women and men for treatment and gender reassignment surgeries because, in her own words, this doesn’t comply with the Creator’s will. Worse still, she claimed that sexual orientation was a need for forced material gain or at times of need if circumstances called for it whereas sexual orientations are natural and not related to sex work.
“What is this war? All this hate? I lost my self-confidence and can longer leave the house and face people … I chose isolation because of them. May Allah take vengeance on wrong doers.”
Malak the Lebanese
Second Pattern: Homophobia and transphobia
Haifa Magic, with more than three million followers on Snapchat, is no different from Katolina. With a wider audience, she is fiercer in spreading hatred and misconceptions about LGBTQ+ community. Her record is actually full of instigations and homophobic bullying of members of the LGBT community.
Magic finds homosexuality haram and endorses full gender reassignment, thus cancelling gender non-binarism (a whole group within transgender community) and adding to the oppression the rest of the LGBTQ+ community faces. She even claims that non-normative appearances are grounds for social bullying, ostracism and hatred, which justifies the increasing persecution of much of the LGBTQ+ community. She also refused to ask Allah to have mercy on Sarah Hegazi, claiming that she was an atheist.
Third Pattern: Threatening, blackmailing and defaming LGBTQ+ community members
When I contacted Malak the Lebanese, she said, “I had a nervous breakdown because of them. They all agreed to destroy me out of jealousy and envy. Their war against me was fierce and merciless.” Malak was Katolina’s latest victim. The smear campaign against her (carried out by Katolina and her followers) prompted her to stand up for herself and tell the true story and try to protect her family.
Malak did not want to disclose how her drug addict brother abused her, but was caught between two fires. She loved her brother so much that she remained silent for a long time, but this became harder as his abuse turned into blackmail to buy drugs. Malak kicked him out and called the police once she saw the extent of her brother’s addiction — he threatened to kill her and cut her with a sharp object.
Taking advantage of his problems with Malak, her brother went to Katolina with fake evidence to defame his sister. And what Katolina did was totally ugly, unethical and inhumane; she did not even bother to verify the information from Malak and posted it right away. It was only after Malak posted a video about correcting the story on Snapchat that Katolina rescinded her previous statements.
Malak ended our conversation saying, “What is this war? All this hate? I lost my self-confidence and can longer leave the house and face people … I chose isolation because of them. May Allah take vengeance on wrong doers.” She is having a tough time and has to deal with increasing fear as she continues to be slandered, bullied, and the object of false information. People forget that information kills and that individual actions to expose people inflict real harm on people like Malak.
Sofia Taloni, from Morocco, also launches bullying campaigns and discloses the locations and identities of people from the LGBT community, putting them at risk of the government and society. Some of her victims have attempted suicide, and others were kicked out of their family homes. The strange thing is that she herself was persecuted when her father discovered that she wasn’t the man he expected her to be, and she has admitted that she wished she were such a man so that her father would be proud of her. And yet, this did not stop her from causing harm to others; she continues to expose and defame members of the LGBT community, call for their killing, and call on authorities to imprison them.
Design by Lina A.
Fourth Pattern: Taking advantage of lack of social awareness and confusion with intersexuality
“Allah Almighty created three sexes: male, female and intersex. Intersex is divided into a male intersex, which is male + male, female intersex, which is female + female and mixed intersex, which has male and female genitalia and hormonal imbalance. I’m a full female.”
This is what Yemeni transgender woman, Hanadi Al-Rudaini, repeats, thinking that such fallacies will make her more accepted. But misinformation like this, which is used by many influential transgender persons, is not only inaccurate but damaging to transgender community: biological sex is divided into male and female, and intersex is a term used where sex cannot be identified due to the presence of physically ambiguous genitalia or lack of them.
Such statements are highly objectionable even in our circles, especially at a time when there should be a circulation of credible news and information and an acceptance of all forms of difference.
Fifth Pattern: Generalization and erasing individual experiences through spreading fear of transness and claiming that gender reassignment surgeries are wrong
Joel Badr had male-to-female gender reassignment surgery, and later regretted her choice and warned people not to do the same. Rather than acknowledging that the sugery might not have been the best option for her and that it was natural for some transgender people not to need gender reassessment surgery, Joel generalized her own negative experience as a rule to reject all sugeries. She also did not acknowledge how the post-surgery complications she faced could be one reason for her dissatisfaction.
Seventh Pattern: Drawing attention and love of fame
Most LGBT celebs today actively try to draw attention to themselves on social media, even if this is at the expense of causing harm to others, fighting with each other, and claiming that they’re “different” or better in order to support their own project or be in the spotlight.
Such individual actions impact the broader community. In this case, their careless actions don’t affect them personally but cause harmful consequences for the majority. They increase the gap and create hostility between us, and cement the outside world’s hatred and negative perception of us; to outsiders, one person can represent the whole. Being a member of the LGBT community does not give you the authority to speak for us, nor does it make you immune of being homophobic.
Stereotypical patterns that these celebs spread through their self-serving talk becomes ingrained in society, and turns them into homophobes who further spread homophobia and to erase gender diversit and non-binary expression. These people are more dangerous than the general public because they appear as LGBTQ+ community members.
We need to respond seriously and firmly to these celebrities and their words, especially because they can afford the risks of posting openly on social media and claiming to represent us publicly in ways that many of us cannot.
Spreading real information and encouraging acceptance of all LGBTQ+ community members can help us tip the balance of equality in our favor, take a more unified stance, and make more informed decisions that represent us all and our diversity. It can help us gain more rights and use social platforms to deliver messages more effectively, ones that support accepting difference and anti-violence. And, it can facilitate powerful and effective campaigns and initiatives to ensure more voices are heard.
Making things better within the community is essential to spread accurate information, encourage understanding, and explain difference. Three initial points of clarification:
- Being transgender means a person expresses their gender identity in ways that differ from or contradict the gender that is assumed to corrolate to their biological sex. Other times, a person might identify him/herself between sexes or without a definite gender; they could be neither male or female. A person can also see themselves in both sexes at once.
- Sex and gender are irrelevant when talking about sexual orientation, and a person has no choice in the matter; they must be accepted even if it contradicts what is deemed as custom, norms, tradition, or divine rule.
- Transgender women and men have no mixed genitalia, and hormonal imbalances don’t pay a roll in transness. As for gender dysphoria, it is only diagnosed in psychiatric clinics that identify the brain identity or gender identity. Other laboratory and physical tests that are run are part of routine check-ups to confirm the case and to avoid confusion with other diagnosis. If a person chooses to have a surgery, they cannot have children in the future, but stem cell studies are developing and they may find a solution that enables us to have biological children following gender reassignment surgeries.
We tend to like proverbs like, “Relatives are worse like scorpions,” “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” and “we are our own worst enemies.” Here, I say: “The enemy is among us,” and their actions can break solidarity within our community. Is it accurate to say that the enemy is among us, or is the real enemy the misconceptions that we carry within us? Aren’t selfishness, irresponsibility, and narrow-mindedness the true reasons for the hate we face, for their only interest lies in chasing after their own fame to make a living while disregarding the lives of others, which could get worse because of them.
How can we make better use of social media and make it a main platform to spread acceptance and awareness as we stand fiercely against stereotypes? The solution lies in awareness and knowing to address the stereotypes that we learn very early in our upbringing and education. We have to be wary of all forms of sexual discrimination and enhance an understanding of different ideas as an enriching addition, not as a destructive thing. The universe can encompass us all and no need for this war that we will all lose. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action.”
Writer of this article is Yahyia Alzandaniy is a Yemeni transgender man, feminist medical student, human rights activist and LGBTQ+ advocate.