George Haddad and Omar Sakr centre bisexual Arab Australian protagonists in their debut novels & More News Here

Omar Sakr remembers trying up and seeing a small airplane hint “Vote No” in massive, smoky letters that left a path like clouds in the sky.

It was 2016, because the same-sex marriage debate raged in Australia.

In Son of Sin, Sakr’s debut novel, the younger Arab Australian protagonist – a believer, a sinner, and the son of an absent father and a violent mom – additionally appears to be like up and sees that writing in the sky. Sakr writes:

“He was used to ignoring their nonsense. The whole country was debating the legal validity of love, churches and mosques and Liberals unleashing all the hatred and fear they’d spent so long cultivating. He was used to the negative will of strange millions, too.”

Sakr tells ABC Arts that it was an “incredibly ugly and incredibly hurtful” expertise.

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“You were suddenly now having to have a conversation that, to be frank, is something any sensible person would recognise we had many decades ago, and did not need to have again; it was really just an excuse to hurt us,” he says.

George Haddad, creator of Losing Face, additionally remembers the lead-up to the same-sex marriage plebiscite as a time of unwarranted scrutiny: “It felt like we were suddenly, for no reason, being judged in a kind of weird, contemporary witch trial of the digital age, where everyone was having their say about someone else’s happiness, someone else’s life.”

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Queer tales with Douglas Stuart, Indyana Schneider and Omar Sakr
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Haddad got here out to his mom Nawal in 2017, after he was outed by an prolonged member of the family with out his consent.

“It really became quite an anxiety-inducing thing,” he recollects.

In their new novels, Sakr and Haddad, draw from historical past and reminiscence to create shifting narratives centred on bisexual protagonists dwelling in Western Sydney.

Like Sakr and Haddad, the characters they wrote into life – Jamal Khaddaj Smith and Joey Harb respectively – have a lot in frequent: they belong to migrant communities; they’re sons of single moms; they don’t seem to be wealthy; they reside in a rustic the place individuals who appear to be them have realized to watch out across the legislation; they’re bisexual; and they’re unsure about what they imagine and with whom they belong.

You can image Jamal and Joey sharing a joint, every figuring out one thing about loneliness.

‘It was tougher to reside it, to be trustworthy’

Sakr has beforehand drawn on his personal experiences in his poetry collections These Wild Houses (2017) and The Lost Arabs (2019).

“People are always going to have these ideas about writers’ lives informing their work. If you’re going to come to my work with that assumption, then I’m going to run at it,” Sakr informed ABC RN’s The Book Show.

He dubs Jamal his “distant avatar”, by means of which he tells the story of a younger man’s sexual awakening and wrestle to find himself throughout the religion, traditions and household ties he has inherited.

A man in a dark green shirt stands in front of a light green wall. He is smiling and wears a turquoise ring.
In 2020, Sakr turned the primary Arab Australian Muslim to win a Prime Minister’s Literary Award (price $80,000) for his poetry assortment The Lost Arabs.(ABC Arts: Garry Trinh)

The novel depicts the harrowing bodily abuse Jamal experiences by the hands of his uncle and later, his mom.

But Sakr finds tenderness for her, and that heat suffuses Son of Sin.

“After I wrote my first poetry collection, I realised that it was really, really important that I give as much love as I could to the characters who are representative of my family members, because you only get what I give you, right?

“So, I made a concerted effort after that to offer the context to my mom: how she is a product of her surroundings, and the violence that was inflicted upon her first.”

The book cover for Son of Sin: a black snake coils through the title of the text which appears in yellow against a hot pink base
“I realised that the queer Muslim Arab novel in Australia hasn’t happened yet and I need to write it,” says Sakr.(Supplied: Affirm Press)

Sakr also embeds letters from his father, WhatsApp messages from relatives and even things his aunty said to him, in the novel.

He says he is often asked if it is hard to share these details with readers.

“It was tougher to reside it, to be trustworthy; to reside it and survive it,” he says.

Sakr doesn’t just write about his family memories – he also writes about the racist political climate in Australia in the 2000s.

In the novel, Jamal watches the Cronulla Riots of 2005 unfold, and later comes home to the aftermath of a raid by the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad (a police unit formed in response to the riots).

“It was extremely scary to see what I noticed on the information, but in addition to listen to the conversations that have been happening round me – all of the discuss of reprisals and of gangs,” recalls Sakr.

A different perspective on history

In Losing Face, Haddad too is interested in exploring the aftermath of an event that dominated the national conversation: the brutal gang rapes of six women in Sydney’s south-west in 2000, by a group of young men including brothers Bilal and Mohammed Skaf.

Haddad was 13 when the crimes made headlines.

Cover of Losing Face by George Haddad  featuring a close up of a hand over a man's eyes
“There was a heightened sensibility around [the Skaf gang rapes], because we were in the spotlight, we were being scrutinised,” says Haddad.(Supplied: UQP )

“Coupled with September 11, that was the type of onset of this ‘othering’ of Arab — actually, of ethnic — males,” he recalls.

“I bear in mind it as a type of consciousness being layered over how I carried out in my on a regular basis … I used to be acutely aware that I used to be now perceived as a part of a violent group.”

In Losing Face, Joey is present at the scene of a similar crime; he does not willingly participate but does not stop it from happening either.

The choice to write from the perspective of a perpetrator kept Haddad up at night.

“It was actually troubling for me to suppose that somebody, or a survivor, may be offended by this, that I’m shedding mild on the perpetrator of the crime slightly than the sufferer; however finally, I am unable to communicate from that sufferer’s perspective,” says Haddad.

Instead, he shows us much of the trial through the eyes of Joey’s grandmother, Elaine. Widowed, wrestling with a gambling habit and a pile of unpaid bills, she feels like an “fully ineffective matriarch”, but Haddad makes her the ethical centre of his novel – and it’s she who is not able to let Joey off the hook.

A smiling man with a short beard and hair stands in a front a metal fence with colourful paint splattered across it
“There have been undoubtedly no queer function fashions in any respect. I used to be educating myself as I went,” says Haddad of rising up in an Arab Australian household.(ABC Arts: Garry Trinh)

Haddad has five sisters, and was particularly close to his mother and his aunty – to whom he dedicated Losing Face.

Complicating masculinity

Losing Face was informed by Haddad’s research into masculinity, shame and suburban life in contemporary Australia, as part of his doctoral thesis at Western Sydney University.

He explored related themes in his prize-winning 2016 novella Perish and Populate.

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Mum’s the phrase with George Haddad, Dawn French, Douglas Stuart and extra
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“When I’m round different males who do not see my queerness, I could be privy to actually problematic issues. I discover it actually exhausting to talk up in these conditions and that in all probability has one thing to do with simply being scared for myself. I feel that performs out in Joey as properly,” he reflects.

Sakr has also found that his masculine presentation can render his queerness invisible, with some family members reacting with “actual disbelief” when he came out to them.

“I’m 6′1″[185cm]. I’m bearded. I do have an nearly stereotypical Lebanese masculine presentation, proper?”

In letters, his father seemed to say he might accept Sakr’s queerness if he appeared more feminine. “There’s simply actually simplistic gender politics happening in the neighborhood, I feel,” says Sakr.

For now, Sakr is comfortable with how he looks, partly because he’s happy to demonstrate that there are different ways to be queer.

“But then I additionally need to acknowledge that have been it not for the pressures that I really feel, I might current otherwise. There is in our tradition this robust sense of discretion and humility, which I feel is weaponised in opposition to girls, but in addition in opposition to queer and trans individuals.”

Sakr had no model for how to be open about his sexuality and still be part of the community when he was growing up.

“I’m getting emotional interested by it as a result of it is such a disgrace,” he says.

Celebrating queerness

Through Jamal, Sakr embraces this full-hearted vulnerability, sketching out an unabashedly bold and complex portrait of an Arab Australian man.

He also writes explicit sex scenes.

“I loved writing these probably the most – all the things else was so painful and it felt like that is the enjoyment,” says Sakr.

He also wanted to undermine what he sees as “mainstream strain to sanitise queerness and make it palatable”.

“The method that [queerness] is usually proven is to have them holding arms or saying they love one another, and it is like, ‘No, we f***.’ Yeah, we maintain arms, yeah, we love one another, and yeah, we could be cute, however I needed that warmth to be current in the work, in the way in which that it was current in my life.”

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