Growing up in a humble Beiruti home, Lebanese television was a primary part of my upbringing. The television set had taken households by storm: a picture perfect Friday night was watching prime time local TV in the living room with your family.
An anecdote that is familiar to many of us is the aforementioned setting: the gathering in front of a television set. I vividly remember my early discoveries with popular culture alongside my family and our SONY marked box, and the curious questions any other 6-year-old would have: “What is that?”
My family was a great fan of renown Lebanese drag artist, Bassem Feghali. Upon this encounter, my 6-year-old self is shocked: what is happening? Why is this man dressed as a woman, and what is the charisma that is embodied in this performance which we eagerly wait to appear on our television sets? My mother, shaming me for my rudeness, tells me this is normal and I should not be shocked: this is drag culture. Drag, in early 2000s Beirut, was comedy, impersonation, tribute and eulogy. Families would gather, not only acceptingly but also, excitedly, before their screens to engage in the lively performances of Bassem Feghali. “Alf Wayle Bi Layle”, Bassem Feghali’s show on LBC, would encompass his chronicles as different women: he would impersonate the legendary Sabah and Fairouz. He would show his criticality of Nawal Al Zoughbi, Elissa, and even Britney Spears.
Bassem Feghali’s drag transcended drag culture; Bassem Feghali brought drag into our television sets, he almost made drag “safe” to understand, learn and accept.
What Bassem Feghali achieved with early 2000s Lebanese families is almost avant-garde. He allowed entryway into the LGBT community, however, very subtly, almost in disguise.
This early act of eagerly awaiting drag performances without question, reminds me of what RuPaul Drag Race does to television sets today. Bassem Feghali awakens the otherwise conservative Beiruti men and women and shows them another side of the spectrum: a side they appreciate and admire so undoubtedly. Rupaul, in Drag Race, does the same.
It is inevitable to face the very problematic truth of these programs: there lies a certain narrative of privilege, and as gender is bended, race and class remain stigmas that are often brushed beneath rugs. However, it is evident that perhaps, in some alliance of screens, Bassem Feghali’s methods of invitation anticipates RuPaul Drag Race’s de-alienating ways.