On Being A Good Lebanese Girl

Or a good Greek girl. Or a good Indian girl. Or a good Mexican girl. Or a good any-ethnicity-that-has-ever-been-shoved-down-your-throat-ever girl.

I want you to meet Charlie. Charlie and I met each other just a little over a year ago—but I can’t believe it’s only been that short. He was holding an appletini and talking about fashion. I was drinking a Brooklyn Lager and talking about politics.

“I mostly write about the Middle East—it’s a little bit personal because my family is from there”

“Oh my god, me too. Where from?”

“Lebanon”

“Me too!”

That night, we talked about everything. We talked about fashion in Beirut. We talked about drag queen names—he said he would be, “Anya Knees.” We talked about Lebanon. I made him tell me stories about living there. We talked about our music. We talked about our culture. We talked about our families. We talked about our mothers. We talked about our traditions. We talked about that we were both Greek Orthodox. We talked about our recipes and our food—we talked a lot about food.

Our first date, just the two of us was a Middle Eastern restaurant in the East Village called Moustache. We only fell more in love.

Charlie is a self-proclaimed “Good Lebanese Girl.” He was born in Beirut—and came to the United States in 2006, when the country was rocked with instability as the Israeli Defense Force bombed the southern part of the country. His family went to California, where they opened a Lebanese restaurant that he worked at—later, he moved to New York City to study fashion design.

Once a month, Charlie drags me out to “Habibi Night”—a night of music and dancing for gay Arabs—or as he calls them, “gayrabs”—living in New York City. We dance. We celebrate. We get in conversations about our backgrounds with strangers and exchange stories.

On other nights, we’ve stayed in—cooking food and talking about our opinions on religion, traditionalism and how it’s affected our families and everyone else around us. We’ve talked about the differences of being Lebanese-American and being American, and how when we meet another one of our bretheren we feel more at home. Some of these conversations have taken place in his tiny studio apartment, underneath his gigantic Lebanese flag. Other times they have happened at other friends’ apartments, typically while wearing blonde wigs.

Recently, Charlie decided to move back to Lebanon—his parents had moved back there, and Charlie was both looking for a change and responding to a longing that he had felt since he left. I was nervous about him—he isn’t out to his family, and he was moving home to a country where homosexuality is illegal. Last time he was in Lebanon, he was younger and hadn’t come out yet—and despite the fact that it is painted as the progressive country of the Middle East because women can wear mini skirts, there are still many arcane laws and customs.

For our last dinner before his departure, we met at Moustache for old times sake. He looked stylish and fabulous as always—reading the Arabic written on the walls out loud to me. Equal parts gay and Lebanese, embracing and never compromising all elements of his identity. I couldn’t help worrying about him—as the country of our origins once again flirts with instability, all I wanted to do was hold him close.

But the time came to say goodbye. As I walked home, missing him since the moment we parted ways, I thought about our friendship, our heritage and our identities. Neither of us are exactly the ideal good Lebanese girl. I moved far away from my family, am twenty-one years old and don’t have a child with another one on the way and no intention of making this happen for a while. I am outspoken on a variety of topics, curse like a sailor and am most likely inadvertently offensive. I have no embroidery skills. Charlie is gay, a connoisseur of fine drag queens and fashion, is not and will never date a woman. However, when we are together, we talk about our heritage. We talk about our families, we talk about how politics shaped our lives—and brought us together to New York City, only to discuss the layers of history of another place that we identify with. We talk about how our identity has changed how we articulate our passions—fashion and politics. We dance. We celebrate our culture. We imagine meeting again in Lebanon.

We call our families everyday. We discuss and obsess over our heritage. We piece together our stories. We are proud. Our heritage and culture matters to us.

We are the perfect good Lebanese girls.

7 comments for “On Being A Good Lebanese Girl

  1. khadley
    July 6, 2012 at 5:50 am

    Really great post!

    Thank you for this. As an aforementioned “ethnic” girl, I’ve hit my head against a good ‘x’ girl does this, not that conversation with my parents enough times to bleed…

  2. July 6, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Awesome post about the nature of displacement and how it creates new sub-cultures within cultures. As an “imperfect” daughter of Pakistani parents I often felt lost in translation growing up in the UK. It took me years to reconcile the different aspects of my heritage and define what my origins meant to me – meeting women with similar backgrounds certainly helped.

  3. July 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks, I really appreciated reading this.

  4. Anna Vasiliou
    July 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks so much for this piece, it captured feelings that I’ve had for a long, LONG time. My cousins and I get together and bitch often about how misunderstood we are by our parents and ethnic community for being strong, outspoken women, for not being interested in getting married to a “nice Greek boy” and/or having/staying home with kids unless on our own schedule, for having put lots of emphasis on our career and intellectual development and being proud of it, etc. It never seems enough that we make our families proud in our own way, these other markers of being a “good [insert ethnicity here] girl” always seem to take inordinate precedence. As Epreneur points out above, it really helps us to talk to each other, if for nothing else than to vent that this is the way things are!

    And from one Greek Orthodox Anna to another, hi! :)

  5. Anna Lekas Miller
    July 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Hi Greek Orthodox Anna! :)

  6. July 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for this article.

    I am writing an article on a similar theme and I am looking for interviewees if anyone is interested in sharing their story with me.

    I am working on an article which discusses the unique trials and tribulations of British Muslim women in their search for a suitable life partner.

    This is a significant part of a Muslim woman’s life regardless of her socio-economic or cultural background but it is not openly discussed, and it is an issue loaded with gender, socio-economic and religious commentary. It is also an increasingly profitable business.

    My aim is to simply share anonymous stories/anecdotes/rants and ravings to expose this significant yet hidden part of women’s lives. I am looking to interview women of all backgrounds and relationship status. All conversations would be totally confidential and non-judgemental, and nothing will be published without the interviewee’s consent.

    Please get in touch if you are interested.

  7. Selected-Letters
    July 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    I just found your blog, am not a regular reader, but wanted to mention that some things have changed in Beirut since 2006. Does your friend know Helem? If not, they should.

    I met the group through a project a couple years ago, and they do some great work in and around Beirut. Charlie sounds like the sort that will find many kindred souls there, and they’re working for better LGBT rights and representation in Lebanon.

    Helem.

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