In

this project, I consider conceptions of “homosexuality” in various contexts. I look at the intersections of identities—cisgender and transgender, masculine and feminine, past and present. I also consider what a viewer might identify as “queer”—for example, a place, a face, a body, an object, or an action. In doing so, I aim to show the variety of experiences and identities of LGBTQ people in the Middle East. In the Western world, current depictions of Arab LGBTQ life are often distorted, and individuals’ stories are often made to fit into familiar stereotypes or molds. While current Western media often depict the Arab world as illiberal, earlier observers saw the opposite. Before the arrival of colonial powers, same-sex intimacy was a tolerated fact of life. Historians and other writers have also focused on the history of same-sex intimacy, the history of photography, and the intersection of these two fields in the Middle East. Early European photographers in the region focused on ideas of odalisques and harems as examples of Arab sexual decadence, and some photographers even highlighted exotic male beauty in their work. However, the British and French eventually made same-sex intimacy a medical and legal condition, thereby imposing the Western concept of “homosexuality.” In fact, in many Arab countries, current anti-LGBTQ laws were originally drafted by colonial governments. Many European and American photographers have notably focused on lives of LGBTQ people, including Nan Goldin, Hervé Guibert, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Mark Morrisroe, and David Wojnarowicz, as well as many younger and lesser-known photographers. However, there are few major Arab photographers who have focused on such subjects. “Mukhmal” is a photography project that documents the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people indigenous to the Middle East. The title of the project is the Arabic word for “velvet,” a sensitive fabric that reflects the delicacy with which this topic must be handled.