My.Kali brings hope to MENA’s queer youths and challenges the narrative in the region

Clara Zid, March 2019

Khalid-7: Photographed by Abdullah Dajani

In 2016, the country of Jordan blocked the social lifestyle magazine My.Kali. The magazine was initially published in English, but had just begun to publish in Arabic as well, ‘dangerously’ expanding the knowledge of its magic. In addition, just before the blockade, an independent media had published an interview with the founder of My.Kali, Khalid “Kali” Abdel-Hadi, entitled: “How do homosexuals live in Jordan?”.

The magazine did not die because of the blockade, although other countries in the region, such as Qatar and Gaza, joined Jordan in the blockage. Why? “We speculate that it could be due to international media coverage. Also, some conservative countries automatically censor the site that uses keywords like sex, feminism, LGBT+, sexuality…”, says Abdel-Hadi, sadly. In addition, some regional media incited their governments to take action and protect their country from so called invasion.

A whole generation grew up to our presence, which means many felt less alone while growing up – something I suffered from myself while growing up

Media jealousy? Maybe, because My.Kali is an impressive, high quality monthly online magazine with the coolest of arts, music, design, pop culture, gender, philosophy or politics. 2016/2017 was a tough period for MyKali since the magazine was blocked and it was difficult to get the information out to their readers. Khalid Abdel-Hadi remembers when a friend who works in tech “put us in touch with, and eventually the magazine became accessible after almost 2 years”.

Today, people in Jordan and Qatar can read the magazine, a pure gem that uses pop culture as a weapon for the queer revolution in the Middle East and the North Africa region: “We use it as a language to speak to society and transcend our content to keep our format approachable, memorable and fresh. It’s a very natural path that the magazine has chosen, as the platform comes from very personal and vibrant place with everyone who works in and with it”, explains Khalid.

As an example, in My.Kali you can find cool musicians, as we found Shamsa while we were preparing the interview. Khalid was also inspired by Haute and Kali Uchis while answering our questions. That’s My.Kali: transgression, experimentation and art.

My.Kali was born in 2007. 11 years later, how does Khalid think the magazine has contributed to the Queer community in the Arab world? “I believe it became a solid source and reference to many. We get a lot of positive feedback from our non-conforming followers who are comfortable and happy to share our content with their families, relatives, and friends”.

Jan-Feb-2019–Raneem-English: courtesy of My.Kali magazine

Also, Khalid says: “A whole generation grew up to our presence, which means many felt less alone while growing up – something I suffered from myself while growing up”. The platform has become a hub for experimental photographers, artists, bloggers and writers from across the region who would like to explore various mediums like gender, sexuality or feminism. And, most important, he says: “We broadened the conversation and discuss almost everything from a feminist intersectional point of view. Reflect a lot on gender, use art as a language and more interactive with our readership and followers”.

Abdel-Hadi is a brave soul. And his courage includes publishing an online magazine without computer skills. But he has good friends. My.Kali has teamed up with organizations like Access Now and Front Line Defenders who stood by the platform for years and taught the team how to navigate tools and resources, migrate content, and how to improve digital and physical security”.

In addition, hosts its website and a mirror that allows the magazine to be read in Jordan: “Our collaboration/incubation with allowed us to focus on our work and worry less about net governance, and pursue our natural right for freedom of speech and freedom of the net”.

And how this magazine, one of the first Queer in the MENA region and, certainly, the coolest of all, exercise its freedom? “It’s hard not to fall into the fast-media or fast produced content trap. We do take our time to put out the content – whether written or visual – that our team feels essential and confident about, as quality takes time”.

Another challenge for the founder of My.Kali is combat labels: “While yes the magazine does indeed cover and reflect voices of society’s alt-communities, however the magazine does identify as queer and MENA regional, rather than being boxed or labeled as so and so”.

My.Kali is blocked inside of Jordan since 2016 and is accessible to the population by means of Qurium’s circumvention tool Bifrost.