Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

LGBTQ+ in Kuwait: Time to Change the Narrative

kuwait people sunbathing
People sunbathe and swim at the Marina Crescent beach resort in the Salmiya district, Kuwait, on August 19, 2016. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP

Nejoud Al-Yagout

What makes people so afraid of the LGBTQ+ community? A narrative. That’s it. When the narrative dissolves, our mind, if noble enough, will scurry to fill the vacuum with another narrative that serves the world better, a world in which climate change, genocide, discrimination, prejudice, nationalism, the mistreatment of minorities, the suspicion of immigrants, gender disparity, war, and human trafficking are the true threats, not the sexual inclination. Instead, people’s minds are filled with should-be narratives when it comes to love and attraction which are influenced by tradition, fear of the community, collective belief systems, and/or scriptural interpretation.

The latest inclination-narrative tells a tale about agendas: Why is there a gay character in every cartoon? Why is there a gay character in every movie today? Why are they teaching kids about gay people at school? Oh, the mind loves to latch on to conspiracy theories and fear. But, regardless of conclusions borne of suspicion, the appearance of LGBTQ+ characters is not because the director or the teacher wants to make your child gay. You can’t make someone gay (even having to state that is embarrassing and redundant). Even many gay people wish they were not gay because of all the bullying they have endured. So, what, then, is the reason for the prevalence of LGBTQ+ characters in television, cinema, literature, essays, books, cartoons, and magazines as of late?
Firstly, it is a sign that artists are evolving, and a new narrative is permeating the collective: one that speaks of embracing diversity and waltzing with nonresistance. This new narrative reminds people that being gay is as natural as being “straight.” And secondly: The presence of LGBTQ+ characters means that we are representing reality. The rainbow is our reality. Look around. You who reads this most definitely know someone who is gay, or you are gay yourself. Are you part of an agenda? And if you are, then hats off to you for being part of an agenda to teach people about acceptance, to teach people that love is unconditional.

For too long, the gay community has been ostracized and made to feel dirty, unwelcome, a life source worthy of punishment. The gay lifestyle is criticized for being hedonistic. Does one really need to spell out that hedonism and/or promiscuity has nothing to do with one’s inclination? Promiscuity has to do with a person’s tendencies and can even be attributed to biological properties. Many reality shows and movies depict heterosexuals as promiscuous and hedonistic. Does that mean we should ban heterosexual couples?
This may sound extreme, but that is exactly how the LGBTQ+ are treated: in an extreme, nonsensical manner. The oddity of our reasoning would only be apparent if the world were different. Yes, if the world were different, and a heterosexual person was born into a realm where being gay was the norm, only then would they [the world] understand the implications of discrimination based on sexual inclination, only then would they [the world] understand the illogicality of imposing a set of rules on people based on their inclinations.

And now, let’s address the “T” of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In our community, transgenders are taunted for “impersonating the other sex.” This was criminalized in Kuwait as recently as 2007 in a clause that was added to Article 198 of Kuwait’s Penal Code. Not that it should matter one bit whether a transgender person is gay or not, but there is a misconception here that all transgender people are gay. This is false. Being transgender may or may not have something to do with one’s inclination. Yet not necessarily. Whatever the case, the question is: When did clothing become an indication of one’s inclination in the first place?

International women’s fashion magazines regularly present female models in men’s shoes and androgynous clothing. And lately, it is becoming fashionable for men to dress as women. Harry Styles wore a dress on the cover of Vogue magazine (December 2020 issue). At the 2019 Oscars, gender fluidity was reflected on the red carpet with Billy Porter wearing a hybrid tuxedo jacket/ball gown outfit. He explained why he did so in an interview with Vogue: “My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up. To challenge expectations. What is masculinity? What does that mean? Women show up every day in pants, but the minute a man wears a dress, the seas part.” (Allaire, Christian; Vogue; February 2019). The dishdasha (a long white traditional robe worn by Arab men) looks like a long dress. And a Scottish kilt might as well be called a Scottish skirt. So where is the issue?

Here in Kuwait, women wear trousers, some women cut their hair short. Men in Arabia used to wear eyeliner which is depicted in art and revealed in photographs. There are even conservative men who have long hair. Are they arrested here? Of course not. Because the truth of the matter is that the clause in Article 198 of Kuwait’s penal code has nothing to do with impersonating the opposite sex, but more to do with homophobia, more to do with the fears of patriarchy in which men and women must adhere to patriarchal notions of gender. Last year, Maha Al-Mutairi, a transgender woman (male to female: MTF) was sexually harassed by officers. She released a video in which she said policemen threw her into a male prison and sexually assaulted her while she was in prison. Her crime: Impersonating a woman, although Maha identifies as a woman. Such crimes against humanity not only remind humanity of the dangers of discrimination but the dangers of a legal system and a societal mindset that backs discrimination.

Today, in some parts of the world, the narrative is changing because supporting the gay community has become trendy or brings votes to politicians. These are not reasons, however, to support the LGBTQ+ community; but at least they are a clear indication that common sense is becoming popular, and those with a platform and those in power are being forced to shed antiquated ideological matrices to remain in the public eye. In addition, if it’s now trendy, to support the LGBTQ+, then that’s a good sign. It means that human beings know, on a deep level, that bigotry is uncool, passé, no longer du jour. In time, the shallow intentions of the masses will be replaced with a genuine acceptance of everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum without any ulterior motive on our part. And, in time, we will add the letter H to the spectrum for heterosexuals to show that it’s just another way of expressing an inclination and there is no separation—and that we are all colors of the rainbow.
Finally, people will leave behind all these letters and not have any spectrum at all, because we will grasp that labels do not matter. People will grasp that there was nothing frightening about anyone’s inclinations in the first place. And people will grasp that all this came about because of a narrative, a divisive narrative that teaches us who to hate. A narrative in which people have been silenced and shamed because of who they love. 

There are a lot of issues in Kuwait that warrant our attention: corruption, the environment, the treatment of expatriates, the growing intolerance toward those of other faiths, the rights of domestic workers and women, and so much more. Solving these issues is what makes a society move forward. Instead, we are bombarded by one divisive idea after another that only serves to create more emotional and physical trauma for all involved.

It’s high time we change the narrative—to change any narrative in which a person is killed, thrown off a balcony, arrested, imprisoned, taunted, interrogated, threatened, tortured, abused, or kicked out of the family home because of who they love.

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The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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