Group member, Yemeni heritageAs a new arrival to the Bay Area, it was very important for me to find a space of connection and reflection in light of my polarized identities - a queer, Arab, Muslim man. Prior to my departure to the United States, I stumbled upon the GMEM group on a Google search and, without hesitation, I wrote to them a short self-introductory email expressing my interest in participating. In no time, I received a warm response back with follow up questions. After a short exchange, I was welcomed to the space with open arms and began attending on my first week of arrival to San Francisco.
I attended the group's meetings regularly for a period of 10 months where I got to meet men from different backgrounds, faiths, experiences, and nationalities. The diversity that was present in the group enriched my experience and opened my eyes to many things that I would not have ever considered before. Through this group, I made connections to other queer Arab people and organizations, and I walked away from the group with a greater sense of who I am and what I want.
The most valuable lesson I learned in from the group was the importance of asking generative questions and critically reflect on myself and my relationship with others. I remember experiencing a number of "aha!" moments when different group members probed further and inquired deeper in the presented issues by others instead of simply validating or providing advice to one another. If you are looking for a space of challenge, personal growth, and introspection, then I recommend the GMEM group. (2014)
Group member, Iranian heritageWhile I am of Iranian heritage, I grew up in North America and came out to family and friends in my early 20's. I was lucky enough to have a good support system, but found it consistently difficult to connect with other gay men. This was something I struggled with for several years.
I moved to San Francisco just over two years ago and found myself in a new city where I had hoped for a new start. Unfortunately, at this point I felt totally detached from everything. I grew up with Middle Eastern culture, but wasn't connected to that community. I had never felt that I belonged in the straight world, and now I felt as if I was an outcast in the gay community. I felt damaged. That was when I came across the Gay Middle Eastern Men's group. My initial interest in the group was to take two aspects of my life, being Middle Eastern and being gay, and hope that I would be in an environment where I could feel at ease and connect with other gay men.
Within this group I found a place, I found a voice, and I found a self-confidence that was not there previously. My growth since moving to the Bay Area was immense and a large part of that was from the support, friendships, and connections I made in the GMEM. Since my move I have been able to foster a better understanding of myself, my surroundings, and how I fit into my environment. I realized that – for me – my sense of belonging and acceptance needed to come from myself rather than expecting it to come from an external source. Most importantly to me, this experience has allowed me to have a better sense of appreciation and tenderness towards myself. It has been an exciting journey that I am still on, and still continuing to develop. (2014)
Group member, Palestinian heritage"Support Group for Gay Middle Eastern Men," the posting read. I was intrigued so I visited the website and read through the entire thing. I focused on the testimonials shared by some of the men in the group. Reading about their experiences caused me to flash back to my own childhood and adolescence.
Born to Palestinian immigrants, who did their best to assimilate to life in the US, I remembered always being ashamed of my heritage because of the portrayal of Palestinian people. From my perspective, Palestinian and Middle Eastern people were, and continue to be, portrayed in negative ways. Also, from my perspective, the GLBT community is portrayed just as negatively. There are a lot of generalizations and misconceptions about both groups. I feel as if both groups are rejected by society.
GMEM is a group that’s offering me a place to share my thoughts, express my feelings, and perceptions with others like myself. I was excited to meet these guys! From day one I was welcomed with open arms to this kind and caring group of men. I was able to be 100%, genuinely, positively, me. I shared things that I had shared with others in the past but things seemed to be different. Actually having a group that appreciated and understood where I was coming from made the difference. This group has helped me tremendously. I have learned a lot about myself from these guys. As a gay Palestinian I’m now proud to share my experience with this group by writing a testimonial to you. (2011)
Group member, Iraqi heritageBefore coming to the group one year ago, I was weak with severe depression. I was giving up hope in everything, living with no one to share what was going on inside of me and my struggles. I never thought one day I would tell my sexual story to anyone, but you guys made it easy for me to talk. I was comfortable feeling in this group that I was one of this family. Through time I became stronger and more confident with myself.
This group made me be "me" again with much more hope; more optimistic in the future; looking ahead and not thinking about the past. I really appreciate life -- to live and love. I love you guys all! I'm really grateful for your time, listening, care and generosity. You are all very special in my life and my heart. (2010)
Group member, Armenian & Lebanese heritageI joined this group because I wanted to understand my father better, and how his heritage affected the way I was raised. He deliberately tried to hide his heritage since he immigrated to the U.S., but I know that it affects the way he acts. Growing up in America, with an American mother, I often did not understand my father’s behavior.
I did not know exactly what to expect of the group. Before my first group, I thought that I would simply listen and learn about my heritage from others, but the group is more dynamic than that. I understand the other members better than I thought I would, because I often react to things the same way that they do.
Since I have attended this group, I have a better understanding of my father and communicate better with him. I have also found that many of my own behaviors were influenced by my father, so understand myself better. I now have more pride in my heritage and feel more secure in who I am. (2009)
Group member, Saudi heritageWhen I first came to live in the Bay Area, I immersed myself in the cosmopolitan nature of it. At the same time, I missed the earthy connection I used to get from living in an "old world" city. I felt stuck between two cultures, yet not really part of either one.
When someone told me about this group, I was worried that the group might be too “Middle Eastern,” i.e. indirectly enforcing those unwritten rules that I explicitly left behind. Instead, the other men were all like me—normal people, with issues of their own trying to make sense of how to achieve balance in their lives. This group seemed like the right place to address issues of this nature. To me the group is warm, polite, thoughtful, kind, open, mature and very understanding and understandable. (2008)