Hazem Saghiyeh

“Virginity and homosexuality tests”

One tries not to use the word “shame” because of its tribal connotations, but there is no better word to describe the “virginity and homosexuality tests” performed a week ago on 36 young men and women in Lebanon.

This is how many reacted on Facebook and elsewhere to the introduction of the LBC news bulletin, which used the word “shame” almost as an acclamation. It was also how these same people reacted with displeasure fraught with disgust to the counterattack represented by the MTV news bulletin. The defamatory rhetoric that prevailed in the latter did not only remind us of “shame”, but also asked us to embrace and sponsor it.

In fact, the introduction to the LBC news bulletin deserved the celebrations it enlisted as it is the first time in Lebanon that a major TV channel is involved in a societal showdown over the freedom and sexual choice of any man or woman. LBC went as far as almost using a language of struggle with no concealment or prevarication as is usually the case in Lebanon.

The issue required decisive and courageous rhetoric as it is extremely sensitive and degrading (see Rayane Majed’s reporting on this issue for NOW Lebanon). Indeed, any talk about “freedom” remains mere chatter if men and women are not free in their own bodies and in what they choose for it. Anyone who is deprived of freedom over his/her body and his/her decision-making in this respect is but deprived of his/her freedom elsewhere as well. In the end, no one whose body is degraded – and more still in the most intimate of places – can be free.

In this sense, performing “virginity and homosexuality tests” is an aggression of one’s freedom, which is tantamount to an aggression on human dignity. This does not only hold true for the direct victims of this aggression, but also for the community in which the victims live and which accepts to see them subjected to such an aggression.

The Lebanese people are living in a noticeable – and even blatant – contrast, the existence of which is being denied by those performing the “virginity and homosexuality tests” and those instigating or justifying their actions. Sectarianism is expanding at an astounding rate on the levels of awareness and relations. Meanwhile, other islands centered on individuals as such are also expanding, and care for societal rights and for having them ruled by the law as the unique means to determine freedom.

This latter environment has relatively expanded over the past three decades given contacts with the outside world and non-local patterns of behavior and expression, which are not part of “our authenticity.” Let us not forget that historical circumstances called for a certain concomitance between the rise of globalization and the fact that many Lebanese young men and women have lived in the West. This was due mainly – if not entirely – to well-known war and security-related reasons.

Hence, it is possible to say that sectarian fighting caused immigration and contacts with the world, whereas immigration – as such – contributed to creating the free Lebanese “individual” and expanding his/her perceptions.

Nowadays, it will be very difficult for confessions and the state they have formed to stifle what they have unwittingly created and to humiliate this new individual up to the point of violating his/her body.

This article is a translation of the original, which first appeared on the NOW Arabic site on Monday August 6, 2012