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Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes

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The extraordinary journey of Kamal Al-Solaylee
At 17, while living in Cairo, Kamal Al-Solaylee resolved to teach himself English as a kind of passport to the West.

“The potential of being arrested or going to prison for practising homosexuality was not good enough for me,” he says. “I knew that I could do better.”

But the political and economic chaos that beset Egypt in the early 1980s led the Al-Solaylee family to flee to their home country, Yemen. It is a place from which they escaped years before with barely more than the clothes on their backs and where building the free and open gay life Al-Solaylee wanted for himself seemed even more unlikely.

Still, he managed in time to arrange a student visa to the UK, eventually earning an advanced degree in literature, before winding up in 1996 in Toronto. He earned his first reporter’s credit as a contributor to Toronto’s gay press.

“I started my career as a journalist as a copy editor for the Church-Wellesley Review in 1996,” he says. “My first byline in Xtra was a story about women and style in January ’97. I still remember; I got paid $50 for it.”

He went on to build an impressive career. He landed a job at Report on Business magazine before becoming a respected theatre critic at The Globe and Mail. He has more recently dedicated himself full-time to teaching as a journalism professor at Ryerson University. It has so far been a grand, courageous and successful journey.

But in 2006 Al-Solaylee returned to Yemen to visit his extended family and was deeply disturbed by what he found. His brothers and sisters seemed defeated by the economic and political conditions there. Their health seemed to be suffering. They seemed to have lost a sense of hope, the belief that they could make their own lives better. But most of all, says Al-Solaylee, he was shocked by the level of religiosity that had taken hold of his formerly secular family.

“I remember a conversation with one of my nieces; she was 12 or 13 years old at the time,” he recalls. “I simply asked her what kind of music do you listen to? She said she doesn’t listen to music because it is the work of the devil. I didn’t know how to react to that. These are my brother’s children and here I am in Canada, a critic reviewing musicals for a living.”

The experience led Al-Solaylee into a deep depression for a time but eventually motivated him to write his first book, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes.

It’s partly his story, that of a gay man building a better life for himself; partly the story of the lives of Al-Solaylee’s extended family.

“I’m a supporting character in a book set in the Middle East and Canada,” he says. “It’s about my relationship with my family. It’s about coming out as a gay man in the Middle East, then pursuing the life I wanted for myself.”

Intolerable is an important and captivating read for those interested in issues of immigration and homophobia in the shifting social and political cultures of the Middle East. It’s also an inspiration for those who have changed their lives, or will one day, in order to live more openly with their sexualities.   

“I hope anyone who reads this book in a small town or a home environment or culture that is violent or homophobic comes to learn that you can get out and it’s okay to do so,” Al-Solaylee says. “Don’t be a hero. Run away from a harsh environment before it damages you. Find a place in the world where you can build your own community and a system of support. Find what makes you happy.”

Check out Xtra's video interview with the author of Intolerable, Kamal Al-Solaylee:



And watch Al-Solaylee read from Intolerable.



Comments

Gay Pride in Tel Aviv
Footage of gay pride in Tel Aviv. When will Muslims address the restrictions of freedoms within their own culture for free speech and thought? Why is the West kow towing to Islam through stupid religious accommodation policies? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb_Qav65Oxw&feature=player_embedded
Joe Tor [please[ time to be a nicer man
Joe what sweeping generalization I has made? I did not make one. I said many in MidEast cannot read at all, that is fact backed up by your own cutandpastes. Especialy women, poor people, labouring people and people who are farming. I did not say ALL or NONE illiterate. That would we generalization. which your last sentence is. You make fun of peoples English and peoples weight or 'chubby'. You really think that is okay? I thought you were human rights avocat. Not really huh? ANd why do you mix up names on purpose? Do you drink and write on Extra? Maybe that is fun for you but not for us. I think most people in Canada are very very nice. But you are not that way. I do not know why that is. Sorry you make fun of my English, I took more time to correct. Do you speak other languages? Do you make mistakes in speaking with them? Is that fun for you? You tell Mr. Oberman to look in mirror. Mirror should be busy with you looking in it instead.
Don't feed the trolls please
Joe Tor is an infamous troll here on xtra.ca. PTP should ban him. You should set up some kind of better system to screen out these people who live to insult people online. He's not interesting, just nasty, and makes no real points of value. It is time that Xtra started moderating these forums editorially. Not all contributions are of equal merit. The NYTimes is a good example; you still encounter opposing viewpoints but don't have to wade knee-deep through the muck.
Vile
Vile? Coming from the master, that's a compliment. Vile is as vile does, and you're the queen of the form. Move away from the mirror, and for that matter, get out of the chair and do some good. Insulting people for a living can't pay very well, unless you're Kathy Griffin. And you're no Kathy Griffin, you little bitch.
Nadine, have you checked your temperature yet?
@Nadine _I am flattered that you chose to unload on me today. Your deliciously snide cat-scratches to others are very entertaining and usually make sense in their own vile way. Irony, parody, satire, sarcasm fill the pages of great literature. At times your posts have had admirable flickers of greatness. I will consider the rant from your pulpit today. In the meantime have you checked your temperature yet? Boring and stupid are beneath your usual level of “wisdom...” (Self proclaimed and/or actual...) It's mirror-time :~))
Joe Tor, again?! Christ, Xtra. Start moderation!
Joe you think you know a lot more than you do. So some more reading and acquire some humility for starters...nothing is 'universal for all humanity across time and culture' on your say so. This is the very definition of sweeping generalization, something you criticize in the first sentence of yet an other run-on paragraph of nonsense and hilarious panacea which reads like a grade 11 social studies essay. C-. You have the world all figured out, doncha? And you also need a new construct besides "tipping point" - it's run its course. Your cultural invasion idea - that we should translate and airdrop Western books is laughable, and your certainty about the value your views shows how deluded you are about the power of your own intellect. The social and political world is many shades of grey, not black and white. If it were, we'd have solved all this by now. Change of laws is never a tipping point, in your phrase du jour. Changes in laws are at the end of the process, after all the work has been done. But you wouldn't know what, since all you do is scour Xtra.ca looking for audiences for your 'wisdom'. You are both boring and stupid, and that's a deadly combination.
Mass change builds to a threshold from inspiration
@ Alexandra Hrovitzkaya -Yoo make veri sveeping generalizatn dat meny piple in the Middle East kan't read at all. Vhile the literacy rate for Egypt + Yemen are in the 60%s, Iran and Jordan are in the 90%s. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate) ___ There are people in every country who can read their own language but not English. University students, people who run businesses/institutions or work in offices or run governments can read, often several languages. So a book can be translated and then published on paper or electronically and shipped by mechanical means or by the internet. Those who choose to read it can then inspire others. As doctors heal people one at a time, inspiration can spread through word of mouth in face to face conversation or electronically as personal or mass communication as shown by the cell-phone revolution in North Africa. ___ To start a conversation is the most important way of effecting change. The conversation may lead to debates, which then promote new learning. Change can take a long time. There needs to be a number of small events which eventually lead to a tipping point where the events becomes larger and more publicized and more people talk about it. If that conversation never starts, then there will be no change. ___ The North American and European LGBT equality did not happen over night either. Individuals risked their lives and went to jail to start a conversation to say We are OK and we want our equality. The tipping point came when laws were changed to accommodate these brave protesters. These conversations are still going on in democratic countries with conservatives and religious fundamentalist trying to take our hard won freedoms away. ___ It will take longer in the Middle East because of the fear of Fundamentalist violence. But if the conversation never starts in a language they can understand then no change will take place. This idea is universal for all of humanity across time and culture.
Hey David,
You wrote, "I come from Mideast, people there are not going to read this kind of book, many cannot read in Arabic, Farsi or English " I'm on your side here. That's the point! It's for the bubble people, yawn...
Disconnected from reality and from himself
I love how Joe Tor - who seems to be everywhere across this site - references the Charter as a turning point for human rights in one post and then makes fat jokes in another - on the same story!. Joe, maybe you need to get your head together get some integrity or some education and then come back when you have figured out your politics. Because it reads like you're on some really whack crack.
Not about language anyway
"Josephina" - you avoid the subjet make insults change names. I can do same. Please deol with it and takeaslash you alt.ego. I come from Mideast, people there are not going to read this kind of book, many cannot read in Arabic, Farsi or English so your solution is stupid one and they won't read a book by a gay guy in North America just because you translate it. People in Palestine and other places live hard lives too. The problems of North Americans gay does not gain their sympathies no matter how well written. YOu are simpleton thorough and thorough. Anything can be translated now on iPad or other tech devices. Don't need translation for books people don't want to read. You analysis is sh allow and your behaviour es troubling.

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