A few weeks ago, I woke up to a message from my best friend Samer canceling our lunch plans: “Mom passed away last night. Going to the village.”
Samer had been living in Beirut for about eight years. When he was accepted to the American University of Beirut, he moved into the campus dorms from the tiny village in the north of the country where he was born.
For the first time in his life, Samer was living in Beirut, a place he had only occasionally visited as a child.
As luck would have it, all the horrible things that villagers say about the city happened to Samer: he discovered drinking, smoking, dancing, and, worst of all, a gay scene.
He met boys. Lots of them. He met them in bars, on the street, through websites and on mobile apps, and even in his university’s on-campus dormitories. He found lovers, boyfriends, and casual sex partners. Samer was a little boy in a proverbial candy shop, except this little boy had never even seen a candy shop before.
This was not the world Samer grew up in, dominated by Sunday mass, village gossip, and the sanctity of virginity.
In Beirut, Samer discovered activism, becoming an outspoken gay rights activist, or at least, as outspoken as a closeted—he has not told his family back in the village—man can be in Lebanon. He felt safe in the city, knowing that what he did in Beirut, stayed in Beirut, and was unlikely to ever reach his parents.
Once he graduated from university, he found a job in Hamra and an apartment in Gemmayzeh, two of the city’s most hip neighborhoods and centers of nightlife. This independence allowed Samer to be more vocal about LGBTIQ issues, and within a couple of years, he was completely out to everyone in Beirut.
By the time I met Samer, he was a typical gay city boy. We bonded and became close friends quickly. But over the years, I have never been to his village, never met anyone in his family, or gotten to know any of his school friends from childhood.
That is, until his mother died.
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