My.Kali Magazine: The LGBTQIA Voice In The Arab World

My.Kali MagazineI have written previously about the struggles we face as an Arab transgenders in our communities, then I wrote about the event that was held in Jordan during the 2015 IDAHOT, maybe if you read both articles, you’ll feel the contradiction between the two stories, one that says it’s impossible to live as a trans person in an Arab country, the other talks about a big event related to the Jordanian LGBT members and how they reached the society to fight the hate, an act that I have described as a big step. So, today, I am writing about who was behind this big step, a success story goes by the name “My.Kali Magazine”.

At the moment, I see My.Kali as the voice of the LGBTQIA community in Jordan and the MENA region, a voice of hope that is mixed with courage, a voice that knows what is required to make a difference, a voice that needs our support to reach as far as possible.

I had the chance to contact Khalid Abdel-Hadi, the founder of My.Kali Magazine, the one who took the first step, and he was very interested to talk to the readers of the planet about My.Kali and the transgender people as a part of it.

My.Kali Magazine

My.Kali’s January/February 2014 anniversary issue, Cover of Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Photographed by Hiba Judeh

Q: Give us a brief introduction about My.Kali, the beginning, how did you get the idea, and what was your motive?
A: My.Kali is a social and LGBTQIA-inclusive webzine in Jordan. The magazine started in 2007 by a group of passionate students with various interests (design, arts and politics). My.Kali strives to address homophobia and empower youth to break away from mainstream gender binaries in the Arab World. As the Magazine’s founder, my personal motive at the time was to create a safe space for me to express myself and capture time through my journals.

Q: And what about the Name “My.Kali”, what does this name stand for?
A: The title comes from a personal angel rather than a narcissistic or stiff one. Growing up, it was difficult for me to maintain my privacy or to own basically anything. Everything was torn, confiscated or thrown in the bin. I grew up feeling like I owned nothing, could hold on to nothing, including time and memories, and that freaked me out. To this day I hold on strongly to this magazine, as it’s my way to hold onto time. Therefore the magazine was called after that precise feeling of ownership and belonging. I wanted the reader to feel like they owned it, too, and that it’s theirs as well.

Q: Jordan is an Arab country, why did you choose to publish in English?
A: I’m not sure I discussed this enough before, but the magazine did choose English at the beginning to avoid any unwanted attention. We didn’t want to speak to the masses, which is what we would have ended up doing if we had chosen the Arabic language, and we believed using English would be a defence mechanism, preventing negative backlash. That said, I believe the magazine is ready to challenge that, after 9 years.

Q: You are from Jordan, and you know how does the Jordanian society view the LGBTQIA issues, didn’t this make you reconsider your plan to create such a controversial “space”?
A: Not at the beginning, but when it got out to the media and was labeled as an LGBTQI magazine in Jordan, that was a bit alarming and stressful at the same time. However, if the country wasn’t as easy going, I wouldn’t have dared to go ahead with it. The LGBTQI community needed the space to express and reflect upon issues. The Magazine gave us a sense of security that we were not the only ones going through difficulties and hardships. It’s needed regardless of being labeled as a controversial space.

Q: How was the reception at the beginning? Was it as per your expectations?
A: Not really. The media labeled it as “the first LGBTQIA magazine in Jordan and the MENA”, which had me and the group under pressure to live up to that and pushed us to be better individuals and create inspiring and empowering content and visuals.

Q: Did you ever receive any threats because of your works?
A: Not really, no, at least nothing alarming. Surprising, I know.

Q: What about now? How do you describe the current reception of My.Kali among the Jordanian people in general?
A: Many believe in the magazine’s message and appreciate what it does and what it stands for, but on the other hand many LGBTQIA and non-LGBTQIA identified individuals criticize the magazine as “shallow”, refuse to acknowledge its existence or work, or even blame it for putting the previously overlooked LGBTQIA community in the spotlight. I also think many believe the magazine hasn’t reached its peak yet, it still didn’t achieve its most important goals, and I agree. But many want for it to reach them.

Q: I cannot deny the fact that the Jordanian LGBTQIA community was previously overlooked, why do you think that we need to be in the spotlight? Isn’t it more safe to be overlooked?
A: I wouldn’t say we need to be in the spotlight, but we need to be visible. Being overlooked could be a blessing in so many countries, but I wouldn’t say it’s a blessing in Jordan or a curse. Being visible and diverse adds to the country’s varied communities. The right of co-existing should be given, and we acted on that.

Q: What message do you have to those who are against My.Kali?
A: Variety is important. You can’t have one message and carry on with it. You must have other alternatives, other voices, other mediums. How can you expect things to change if you don’t challenge the stereotype? Those who are against the magazine aren’t against me as an individual per se, they’re against the voice of it. People need to understand that this magazine is a collective work, it’s bigger than us! It’s a hub for many creative artists, writers, photographers, designers, muses… etc. It’s a voice, it’s a platform, and it’s a public one. Its existence helps many acknowledge that there’s an LGBTQIA community, it challenges the stereotype and encourages it at the same time.

Q: You said that My.Kali didn’t achieve its most important goals yet. So tell us, what is your vision? What are your goals?
A: My vision for My.Kali is to broaden its space, its spectrum of content and its mediums. I want this magazine to be more independent, more creative, more inclusive, Arabic-oriented, and to liberate, inspire and aspire for difference.

Q: What do you think you have achieved so far?
A: I believe the magazine helped shift the LGBTQIA movement in Jordan and the MENA in general to the online sphere, and became a reference to many. Many grew up with the magazine (9 years in January). I don’t think the magazine has achieved a lot yet, as there’s still a lot to work with, much to do. There’s a gap to fill, and I think the magazine is merely scratching the surface at this point and there’s much more substance to the case that we need to highlight and acknowledge.

Q: Tell us about your future plans to achieve the rest of your goals?
A: We’ll be going bilingual in January, as we announced earlier. We’ll be experimenting with new mediums, inviting more guest writers, bloggers, artists, photographers… But I believe we’ll start to notice tangible change once we go bilingual.

Q: You have got the chance to interview some local and regional figures and use their faces on your cover, what does this mean?
A: I feel there’s not enough coverage for underground artists or even artists in general. Not the creative ones, at least. The magazine is obsessed with pop culture and the underground scene. It’s a collaborative work, as these artists help us shape their interviews and appearances. They are willing to speak freely regarding anything they wish to express, including topics that mainstream media might shy away from, giving them a creative platform to explain their work and art. It’s also a chance for them to reach their LGBTQIA following and send a supportive message through My.Kali. We also try to promote acceptance among the non-LGBTQIA identified people through their appearances.

Q: Did they know that it is a magazine related to the LGBT issue so?
A: Of course! They’re aware of the magazine’s work, history, its message… etc. They’re also aware it comes from a social perspective.

W, as I myself am a transwoman, and I write for Transgender Planet, which is mostly read by other trans individuals, or people who support them, I want now to focus more on the trans issues, let’s talk about the T position in My.Kali.

Q: What are your thoughts regarding Arab trans, especially the Jordanian trans men and women, where are they now, and what do you think is their future?
A: I feel that it’s not my place to speak about the trans community. However, of course there’s a trans community in Jordan, but since it’s a very, very sensitive matter, it’s not as visible, and if it is, it’s for those lucky ones who challenged their surroundings. I do believe there’s a future, but only because I have met amazing trans people in Jordan, seeing and witnessing how they challenged their environment, how they’re challenging the stereotype and are redefining it, paving the way for change. I have that hope and expectation because of the ones I’ve sat and spoke with.

Q: Do you think that Jordan is a safe place for transgender individuals in specific, and LGBTQIA as a

My.Kali Magazine

My.Kali’s September/December 2015 The Ruby Issue, cover of one of My.Kali’s muses, Razan
Photographed by Amer Sweidan

whole?
A: You know, I think this question can’t be answered by one individual. Jordan is many things! It’s an open-minded country, a closed-minded country, based on tradition, westernized… It could be safe and secure for one individual, but a hazard and threat to another. I must say, however, that while the lesbian, gay and bisexual community do face a lot of challenges, it’s nothing compared to what the trans community face, considering that Jordan is a conservative country. And yet, there’s a space for everyone.

Q: Tell us about the relation between My.Kali and transgender people so far.
A: The trans community in Jordan and the MENA is a minority within the LGBTQIA scene, therefore the magazine had a challenge in addressing it. It’s very difficult to reach out, and we simply did not know how to. However things have been changing for a while now. We have included more trans people in our staff of volunteers, and we dedicated a cover earlier this year for the trans community, and that helped us be more inclusive and more aware.

Q: As I follow the LGBT news spread around the world, I began to notice that there is a new wave trying to separate the trans away from the LGBTQIA, what do you have to say about this, bearing in mind that there is a huge difference between transgenders and homosexuals.
A: As you pointed out, there’s a huge difference between homosexuality and transexuality, and unfortunately many people in the MENA region can’t differentiate between the two due to the lack of education on gender, sexuality and orientation.
That said, I don’t think I am with separation, I think as a minority we should all stick together. For me, it’s a support system that we all need, regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation. I haven’t spoken up for the trans community as much as I’m doing lately, as an individual and through the magazine. It’s something we’ll be focusing on and addressing in upcoming issues.

Q: Let me ask this question again, but in a deeper and more sensitive way which is related to the Arab and Jordanian mentality. Jordan is a Muslim country, and the majority of Jordanians are Muslims, and they believe that homosexuality is forbidden, it is an act that leads straight away to hell, and that homosexuals are damned, and considering the ignorance of gender issues, this belief also includes transgender people. This is a religious factor, and of course there is also the cultural factor, but if we put aside the culture, and let’s say that the Arab trans community started to use the medical support to raise the awareness of their condition, eventually they might get the religious support, and as a result, the legal support, don’t you think that theoretically, it is better for the Arab trans to separate from the LGBT community?
A: I don’t think that the majority in the Arab World, let alone in Jordan, understand what LGBTQI means. A blessing? Maybe! I think that the Arab World does separate them intuitively. However, they don’t separate effeminate men from transgender people. I think “looks” is everything in this case, unfortunately. If a gay man looks masculine, he could be more accepted regardless of his sexual orientation because he fits into society’s stereotypical norms. And if a trans person looks the part of the gender he/she falls under, then they’re more acceptable to society, regardless of their gender identity and orientation. I think in general, Arab societies praise masculinity more than femininity, like in the case of feminine men and masculine women.

Q: Do you feel that there is an effort from Jordanian trans and LGBT community in general to change?
A: I feel that there’s a desperate need for a support system. There have been several attempts to create ones, but they often fail to follow through. The magazine is a good start, but it’s not enough.

Q: Lately, there has been some success in some countries regarding the LGBT rights, the laws are changing. Do you see Jordan as a potential place for such changes?
A: I believe that in Jordan or the MENA region, it’s a different struggle, a different fight. There’s tradition, culture and society to take into consideration. Do I see potential change? Yes, I do, but it’s going to be unimposed and organic.

Q: Do you agree with the following statement: The changes have been considered as a success for the LGBTQIA community as a whole, but if you take a closer look, you might notice that it’s more related to the homosexual rights and less to the transgenders rights.
A: I believe this really doesn’t apply to the MENA region. I do insist that the LGB and T in the Arab World is going through a rather different struggle, its challenges are not the same as those of the West. So this statement doesn’t resonate with the MENA region.

Q: final message you would like to send to the Jordanian trans.
A: I would love for more trans individuals to participate with our magazine and join their voices to ours to help us shape a better platform that’s more inclusive and more diverse, as well as to help inspire others and catalyze change.

Finally Khalid, it was a real pleasure to know you and to have this discussion with you. I hope that your big efforts will result with a better future for the Arab LGBTQIA community, a better place for all of us. On behalf of Planet Transgender, I would like to thank you for this opportunity.

I am a Jordanian trans-woman. Writing has always been more than a hobby, it was my passion, the thing I do to express myself and let my feeling live, it was my special world. Now, I am trying to utilize my writing skills to help the transgender community in the Arab and Muslim world. I want to give a chance to our conservative societies to understand us, accept us, and treat us like any other society member.

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