Saturday, December 12, 2020

Helem trans study and Lebanese entrenched values

I shall begin this post by a parallel story. When men's fashion bible, GQ, set out to elect the decade's most stylish men, it came out with some incredibly stylish men: A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, LeBron James... But the winner was... Roger Federer. Yes, the boringly suited, with the occasional limited edition watch Federer. If I am relaying this story, it is because - for all GQ's gutsiness - the people who voted this represent its readers: A chunk of the male audience which remains quite conservative.

Which brings me to the Helem statistics about trans people in the Lebanese society. Lebanon has always been touted as some sort of progressive beacon in the Middle East. With our women's rights' laws still lagging, with issues of homosexuality still up in the air, with our pseudo-feudal system still deeply intrenched with religious authority figures (I really, really, wanted to know the reaction of the local clergy about Pope Francis declaration about him endorsing same-sex civil unions), with youth still quasi-indoctrinated by either their parents, their peers, or the religious upbringing (recently a meeting for "Thawra" factions ended in blows with the participants still not able to agree about civil unions in Lebanon). 

And to go back to the said statistics: Only 21% of the people who participated in the survey were able to complete their desired level of education (a misleading figure to be honest as it does not say if the transition happened before or after completing the said level of education - what if they finished their education prior to transitioning?). 

Apparently 50 trans people participated in the survey of whom 46 consider immigrating or requesting asylum, and 38 of whom corelated that to difficulty of finding employment. 25 out of the 33 employed trans people (in what sectors? with what salary brackets? can their employment rate equal the national level of unemployment?) say they encountered physical abuse (32%), verbal abuse (72%), bullying (68%), financial exploitation (44%). 

Again, without trivializing the numbers financial exploitation is rampant - specifically these days with the advent of the notion of "fresh Dollar" where international companies are recruiting people at ridiculous salaries. Bullying is the bread and butter of the advertising industry, trust me I know and I paid dearly for standing up and basically not having it (once more this does not make it right, but again, how does this compare to national averages if there are any - LinkedIn is full of stories of bullying at work).

88% said that discrimination was the cause they did not find work. Ask any qualified actor, and they would tell you that their years of training at college has come to naught after being replaced by the beauty queen/model du jour. Once more, not trying to shade the numbers, but this is not some isolated case - it is known statistically that thin people make more money than people who are fatter for the same positions, same applies to women (who are estimated to earn 81% of men's salaries for the same positions).

Now here is my two cents: I am an extremely liberal person, I would not give a toss about your sexual identity (I clearly recall an incident which happened in class where one of my students was married and already had a child, at the end of the course she approached me and said: "ever since I got married, I became "wife of", when I had a child I became "mother of", in your class this is the the first instance where I felt I was simply a human being), how you present yourself socially (though to be honest, I voted for Federer in the GQ survey), and all that.

But I also realize that in a society like Lebanon to be trans is to threaten people in their masculinity or femininity (Helem is mainly composed of queer men and women, and even such people can feel under attack - I am not inventing this: Antonella, who at one point was Lebanon's most visible trans (who is currently residing in Canada) said so on television long ago on NTV with presenter Rania Baroud). But let us be honest, is Lebanon really the forward-thinking country that people like to think of? Can you see a trans person in the customer care department of a bank? Would a Lebanese feel emotionally safe if the marketing director or welcome desk attendant of a hotel was trans? And the list continues.

As I said, I am too liberal to give a toss. But again, perhaps our country is not as progressive as we think it might be. And not just our country, the US elections gave us a very clear idea that more than 70 million voters still thought Donald Trump deserved a second mandate of four more years - and the idea of having Harry Styles in a dress on the cover of Vogue sent conservatives into a frenzy (as if David Bowie or Marc Bolan never happened before, or the video for "I want to break free" by Queen was never broadcasted).

People still revert to classical and stereotypical gender assignments. It makes them safe you know.

Oh here are two shocking facts before I go:

High heels were invented for men to better be able to position their foot on the stirrup of their horse.

Up until the 50s any respectable man had a pink shirt in his closet - that pink became color coded came later.