David-Elijah Nahmod is a film critic and reporter in San Francisco. His articles appear regularly in South Florida Gay News and Hoodline.com You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.
Long long ago I came out as a gay man. Even before that I was out, loud and proud as a Jew with strong Israeli roots. But there was another part of my multi-faceted heritage that I wasn’t as open or as honest about. I am, at least in part, an Arab, a Jew descended from Syria.
All four of my grandparents were from Damascus, one of Syria’s largest cities. They were fluent in Arabic. They cooked Middle Eastern dishes. Both of my grandmothers belly danced, their many bracelets clanging on each arm as they did so. My paternal grandmother smoked a water pipe–every September her sister, my Great Aunt Latifah, would fly in from Tel Aviv, where she had moved to after leaving Damascus. For a month it seemed that Grandma and Aunt Latifah did nothing but sit in Grandma’s Brooklyn kitchen, eating “bizzer” (the Arabic word for nuts). They drank Turkish coffee while they chatted in Arabic. I never learned Arabic, but I could converse with my Great Aunt in Hebrew–they both called me “yawaladee”–the Arabic word for “my dear”.
It was my closest friend, who is half Black, who made me realize what should have been obvious to me from decades ago.
“You had an Aunt Latifah?” he asked me. “She and your Grandma spoke Arabic and belly danced? And this is white how?”
He’s right. In spite of my fair skinned complexion, I’m not white, not Caucasian. I’m a Jew–and let us not forget that Jews were targeted by the Nazis because they weren’t Aryan–Jews are not white. And neither are Arabs.
So why did I remain closeted about my Arabic heritage for so many years while I shouted my Judaism and homosexuality from the rooftops? The answer might offend some, though that’s not my intention.
As I’ve written earlier in this publication and elsewhere, in 2010 I needed police intervention after Niki D’Andrea, a lesbian journalist, inflamed anti-gay and anti-Semitic hate against me for a cheap laugh–D’Andrea actually told me that her lesbianism justified what she had done. For more than six years a variety of gay men and lesbians used the inflammatory–and false–stories that D’Andrea had written about me as a justification for spreading more lies about me–this included multiple incidents in which D’Andrea’s lies were forwarded to my editors in attempts to take my livelihood away from me. Though it all I was accused of “anti-gay bigotry” for not supporting the behavior I’d been subjected to.
Concurrent with that horror I was subjected to equally disturbing amounts of bullying, and even threats, from the psychotic fan base of the classic TV series “Dark Shadows”–they claimed that I had outed series star Jonathan Frid when I wrote about what he and his performances meant to gay fans of the series–personal, offline friends of mine were contacted and “warned” about me by these sick people. Again, police intervention was needed.
“How many of the perps were white?” My aforementioned half-Black friend asked me. “And how many were people of color?”
After giving his question, some thought, I had no choice but to face the truth: in both spheres in which I was bullied, the perps were white. Not a single person of color had taken part–in fact it was people of color who had consistently offered me kindness and support.
More thought brought more realizations: I may be a Jew–a Hebrew speaking Israeli citizen–but my last names does not originate in the Holy Land. Nahmod comes from Syria. I was targeted for all that hate–from people I don’t actually know–because I’m also an Arab.
Think I’m being paranoid? Then think of President Trump’s travel ban from Muslim–Arab–countries.
Think of the hate now being perpetrated against Muslims and Jews across the country thanks to the rhetoric of our “grab ‘em by the pussy” President, who also mocked a disabled reporter.
In spite of Trump’s abominable behavior, he continues to maintain the support of his white base, a base that sees nothing wrong with his actions.
No doubt some of the hate I was targeted for is due to anti-Semitism. But I now realize that at least some of it is due to my Arab heritage.
“Why don’t you change your last name?” someone asked me recently.
No, I won’t do that. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I embrace my various identities. The hate that I’ve seen, the hate that I’ve been subjected to, has only served to make me prouder of my ethnicities and of my homosexuality.
I no longer want the approval of the hateful people who bombarded me with all that abuse.
More than forty years ago Harvey Milk urged us all to come out of the closet. He said we’d feel “so much better” if we did. I heeded Harvey’s call–albeit only in part. Now that I am fully out, I have never felt better.
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