What is the Gay Middle Eastern Men's Group?This is a group for gay men of direct Middle Eastern origin, heritage or culture to come together to:
- Express yourself fully and honestly
- Increase cultural understanding of yourself and others
- Develop healthy emotional connections with other gay men
- Find a sense of belonging and support for your life situation
- Make friends with men who share a similar cultural background
- Become more comfortable and confident with your family relationships
How does it work?GMEM is a peer-led support group. This means that we agree to be together in a certain way.
In our case, this includes an explicit agreement that confidentiality is maintained and that members support each other where they are. Observing these agreements allows for a higher level of communication, a deeper degree self-understanding, and a stronger connection to others in the group. Having a structure in which these agreements are held creates a special space which don’t hold true in a social setting.
I want to make friends. Is there a social aspect to the group?Wanting to make friends is a great reason to join GMEM.
At its best, the group creates a miniature community based on trust, healthy communication, and a uniquely gay/male/Middle Eastern bonding. It is precisely because the group meeting is different from a social setting that members are able to speak more closely and bond more quickly. Members are neither obligated nor restricted in any way outside of the group.
Over the years, many members have made friendships within the group as well as made connections to other communities by participation in the group.
What happens in the group?Members learn about themselves through reflection from other members and by being challenged in a caring way.
There is a brief check-in in which each member can talk about how they are doing and anything they might want to address in more detail during the group meeting. Any topic that affects a member's life is valid for discussion: dating, sex, coming out, being out, stressful life situations, HIV, family, friendships, work, religion, cultural understanding; feelings of sadness, depression, happiness; good news and bad; and so on. This is followed by a free discussion. Over time, trust, bonding, and a sense of solidarity build among the men in the group.
Who runs the group?I am a gay, first generation Palestinian-American.
I wanted to belong to a group like this and couldn't find one--so I started this group for myself and others! I have had formal training and certification in leading support groups, so I appreciated the benefits and dynamics of group process. I consider myself both the facilitator and a participant in the group. If you are interested in learning more, I will be happy to answer any questions about myself in a conversation.
Why did you start the group?I wanted a space for myself and others to heal from the numerous stressors--practical and emotional--of being both gay and Middle Eastern.
On a fundamental level, I wanted to create a place to explore feelings, ideas and ways of being in a space where communication wasn't based on social performance.
Personally, I realized many of my choices and perceptions--both positive and negative--were informed by my ethnic heritage. The way we communicated as a family was very different from that of American society. It was difficult for me to overcome the profound stigma of being gay in an Arab family. Being born in the US, I felt a piece of me was missing that I wanted to connect with (conversely, just as immigrants might experience frustration at not feeling fully integrated in American culture). I had the need for community with other gay Arabs, especially other men.
Soon after announcing the group two Iranian men joined, so I expanded the focus of the group to include all Middle Eastern gay men. As far as I know, this is the first and only group of its kind.
Who can join the group?The group is set up to be helpful for any gay man of direct Middle Eastern origin, culture or heritage.
Many people assume Middle Eastern means Arab and Muslim. Most of our members have been and are currently Arab. However, the group takes a much broader geographical and cultural view of the term, without making distinctions that might exclude those who identify as Middle-Eastern.
(Wikipedia explains "Middle East" as follows: "The Middle East is a historical and political region of Africa-Eurasia with no clear definition. The term 'Middle East' was popularized around 1900 by the British, and has been criticized for its loose definition. The Middle East traditionally includes countries or regions in Southwest Asia and parts of Africa." Some people prefer the term SWANA, an acronym for SouthWest Asian, North African.)
When and where does it meet?The group meets twice a month in San Francisco. The meeting lasts two hours.
What will I get out of being part of GMEM?The intention of GMEM is to create a place to feel whole, to investigate relationships with family, friends and partners, and to provide support to lead an integrated life. Ideally, you will grow as a person, find deeper perspective to make more beneficial choices in your life, and gain the satisfaction of providing support to others. At the minimum, you will share a few hours a month with some special people.
This group may be for you if...
- you are a gay man of direct Middle Eastern origin, heritage or culture
- you want a place to feel comfortable talking fully and honestly about your emotional, personal, or sexuality-related issues
- you desire a more confident connection to your family, culture and other gay men
- If any of this resonates with you, please feel free to contact me through the Contact page, and I will gladly answer any questions you have. If you prefer to have a phone discussion, please send me your phone number and I'll give you a call.
Why have others joined GMEM?Some issues people have come to GMEM to address are:
- Adjusting to life in America and learning about American culture
- Wanting a deeper understanding of ones cultural background
- Examining traditional patterns of thinking based on culture
- Wanting to feeling you belong to a community of gay men
- Creating healthy relationships with other gay men
- Extreme repression from family and community
- Conflict between cultural tradition and sexuality
- Wanting a deeper understand of oneself
- Wanting better relationships with family
- Conflict between religion and sexuality
- Desire for friendship with similar men
- A desire for support from other men
- Being kicked out of the family home
- Coping with being in the closet
- Adjusting to being openly gay
- Physical threats from family
- Past trauma
Do I have to be Arab? Do I have to be Muslim?No and No.
The group is not based on religion or even on specific ethnicity, but more on geo-cultural commonalities. Many people, even Arabs, are surprised to learn that the majority of Arabs in the US are Christian. Since inception in November 2006, our membership has represented the regions of Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen and Tunisia. Religious heritages have included Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Baha'i. Our members have included a mix of American-born and foreign-born, bilingual and English-only.
My family and/or my friends don't know I'm gay. Will I be welcome? What will I have to reveal?
You don't have to be out, open or sexually active to join the group. Everyone in the group agrees to confidentiality regarding other members.
Part of the reason the group exists is to provide a safe space to express yourself, and to be heard and understood, just as you are. Be willing to be sincere and honest with the other members about your thoughts and feelings, as well as to hear what other members have to say. Ideally, participation in the group will help you understand yourself better, and help you make choices that are best for you.
Can I drop in and see what the group is like?No. The group is not structured to accommodate visitors. We ask that you come only if you feel you want to attend regularly.
The reason for this is that members are close; they share intimate details of their lives. There is a high level of trust that has been built up over time. It would be uncomfortable for the group to be "observed" by someone who is not participating in a similar manner.
It is a good idea to find out as much about the group as possible before deciding to join. I will be glad to talk to you about the group ahead of time so that you can decide if it is right for you. I can also arrange for you to speak with another group member ahead of time, to help you make a decision.
What kind of commitment do I have to make?No formal commitment will be asked of you. Anyone coming to the group will be welcomed as a full member. Conversely, you are asked to come with the intention of participating fully, and to maintain the confidentiality of other members. However, if you find the group is not for you, there is no obligation to stay.
How can I find out more?Send me a message through our Contact page. Or call 415-889-3412 and ask for Paul. I will be glad to tell you about the group and answer any questions you might have.
I'm hesitant about giving out personal information.Any personal information you give will be handled sensitively.
Naturally, one has to be sensible about giving out personal information to someone you don't know. This group is about connection and sharing, and there has to be trust to let this happen. No information you give will be shared.
How can I join ?A phone conversation is required prior to joining the group.
It is a chance for me to get to know you, and for you to ask any questions you like. Once it is agreed you will join the group, I will need to collect some basic contact information. At that time I will give you the address for the meetings, which take place at my home in San Francisco.
Because of the intimate nature of the group, size is limited to eight people. If the group is full, you can be placed on a waiting list and another group will be started once there are at least three people who are interested in starting another group.
I live in another country or state.Please say "Hello"!
I appreciate hearing from anyone who has an interest in this website. You might have a question, an opinion, or maybe you have a story to share. Please use the contact page to get in touch. Your communication will be held in confidence and will not be shared. I will respond to each person who writes.