The Lebanese M Community: Identities Lost (or Found) in Translation

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Karam, Michael

The first time I was exposed to the word “gay,” I was watching television at home. In the Arabic subtitles, the word shādh appeared. From around that time, I have a vague memory of one of my teachers at my Lebanese Catholic School explaining what shādh meant. The word easily translated into English as deviant – my teacher had been clear: the norm is a straight line, and anything that deviates away from the line is a shudhūdh min al-mujtama’ (deviation from society), whereby the adjective shādh becomes the noun shudhūdh in that expression. The naïve first-year student I was who left Lebanon to attend college in the U.S. was quick to discover that there are words in English to talk about these nonnormative identities – I will address that term soon – that allow for the existence of the multitude of identities within language. Stepping out of the US and back into Lebanon, I question how the discourse forms around nonnormative identities in Lebanon? What words do people use to describe themselves and what do they not use? What terminology do local advocacy groups employ? This paper begins this research with contextualizing the linguistic fabric of Lebanon. Then, I explain the specific dilemma of putting this research together, in writing, in English. Finally, I partition the state of queer language in Lebanon into the imagined intersection of Arabic and English, or which is critically constructed within the confines of Arabic, to exemplify incongruent equivalency in queer (nontextual) translation.

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This paper was part of the 2016-2017 Penn Humanities Forum on Translation. Find out more at
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