February 2, 2024

How Do You Say Gay in Arabic?

During the Egypt uprising in 2017, members of the Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila were seen performing outside Cairo waving rainbow flags. The next day, the government cracked down on Egypt’s LGBTQ community in the worst-ever crackdown.

It’s important for interpreters to be aware of the words they use in their work. Using shdh and lwTy (and other, older expressions) can be extremely offensive to LGBTQ clients. While they may not look or sound like fag or faggot in English, they still carry negative connotations for people with non-binary gender identities and are still othering.

In the past, many Arabic speakers used terms such as fag or pervert for homosexuals. However, a movement is underway to develop more neutral and respectful language. One such example is mithli, which was coined by academics who translate Sigmund Freud’s works. The word has been reappropriated by the LGBTQ community as a more respectful term for homosexuals. Another positive neologism is Ahrar el jins, which translates to sexually free.

Sadly, these new neutral terms are not yet widely known in the Arabic-speaking world. For this reason, some dictionaries (e.g., Al Mawreed, Almaany, and Larousse) still list fag/faggot in their entries for mthly. This is unacceptable; if you are using these dictionaries, please contact the editors and request that they remove this entry. You can also help by preferring to use other translations such as “gay,” which does not have negative connotations and is more likely to be understood in an Arabic-speaking context.

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