My.Kali Magazine | Jordan

Khalid Abdel-Hadi | LGBTQ Rights Activist | Founder and Creative Director at My.Kali

In September 2007, Khalid founded My.Kali (named after his own nickname “Kali”) as a gay Arab men’s online magazine in English. Until today, My.Kali has evolved to cover queer, feminist, and intersexual issues in Arabic and English. In the lead up to the publication’s launch, Khalid had come out to his mom and he was fearful of his sexuality clashing with Jordanian society. However, he and the My.Kali team moved forward with the publication even though they were unaware of laws in Jordan concerning sexuality and media. 

In the beginning, the publication was a blog, since in 2007 social media was not the powerful platform it is now. The website was built using Weebly, a free website builder that was chosen because it was free and had ready templates (you can still check the old site here). 

The site proved to be a success, and then their social media boomed growing a community of over 51,000 page likes on Facebook and over 11,000 followers on Instagram. When their website was blocked by the Jordanian government, and later blocked in Qatar and Gaza, they relied heavily on their social media accounts. After the site was blocked they started researching hosting options from countries that would not allow their website to be blocked again. This is when they started using Medium to publish English and Arabic content, but they were frustrated with the platform because it does not properly support visuals (multimedia) or posts in Arabic (you can see here their page on Medium). 

The look and feel of My.Kali website was always that of an online magazine publication. Khalid described why he chose this format.

He said, “I was definitely inspired by Melody TV, Seventeen magazine, and vintage Vogues, but I was also reading a lot of National Geographic and Newsweek.” 

The main goal of My.Kali today is to create a space and platform for queer people in the Arab region, even though it started for gay Arab men specifically. When they launched, audiences were excited, but their readers pointed out that they are not covering the topic’s diversity by being gay Arab male-centric. In the beginning, they did not understand the importance of a diversity of topics and they did not have a mentor to guide them. 

My.Kali listened to their readers. The magazine kept on evolving to cover more topics and refining their practices of the magazine production to be more professional and less chaotic. Khalid felt they were being checked by the public, so they applied active listening and meaningfully acted on audience suggestions. 

Another factor in the magazine’s development was Khalid’s professional development. He recalls, “as a person, I started hitting a wall as an editor because my education was limited. I was only studying graphic design. I didn’t understand how to reach all the resources that I wanted. So my friend pushed me to apply to a leadership program. I think that was the pinnacle point when I started to evolve as a person. That was in 2014.” The impact of this leadership program shaped the professional values of My.Kali. Khalid describes how at this time the magazine started to expand its goals by being more inclusive and covering more topics, like e.g. feminism. 

At My.Kali, they prioritize featuring success stories from the queer community in the MENA region as they do not want to always portray stories about queer people as victims. They want to reflect positive stories to inspire change and to tell their readers that “yes MENA people do accept” the LGBTQ community, and yes queer people are thriving in the MENA region.

My.Kali started with around 10 volunteers (all of whom identify as men) who met online and seldom met in person. In the beginning, the team discussed the topics to write about, all of which were written in English, and were what Khalid described as “bubblegum articles” or non-serious topics. 

From 2007 till 2018, My.Kali operated with zero funding and all the work was done by volunteers. According to Khalid, this choice was deliberate in order to not fall under the influence of a foreign donor agenda: “We tried to stay away from American funding and lean towards the criteria for funders who are supportive.” Today they have funding through such an organization based in Europe.

The core team now includes five people: Khalid (founder), a trans editor from Egypt, an Arabic editor from Iraq, an English editor living in the US, and an additional member to deal with administration. My.Kali expanded their team slowly, so they would not get overwhelmed logistically. While the launching team was all men, more women joined when moving forward with the publication. Of the change in the organization’s gender composition, Khalid said, gender inclusivity “didn’t happen because we had to do it, we did that because it naturally happened. There was a need and there was a gap.” 

As for My.Kali writers, the team maintains a list of trusted authors who have worked with them for years. These writers are responsive, reactive, loyal, punctual, and are always evolving with My.Kali’s values. At times, My.Kali also worked with feminist groups who recommend writers. My.Kali also holds an open call for upcoming issues to recruit interested writers and photographers to submit. My.Kali maintains a list of writers of previous authors, as well as those who have applied (with priority given to the former), that is country-based. In addition, My.Kali offers internships to university students and more information can be found online.

The team members’ and volunteers’ age at My.Kali range from 17 years to 44 years old, which is also the magazine’s target audience demographic. Khalid claims the age is not always an indication of the person’s capabilities, “some of the young people we work with have old souls, while some of the older ones do not act their age, and we love this.” 

At My.Kali, team members’ inspirations produce different themes to work with. Sometimes a theme is sparked by a certain word or specific situation. Team members submit the themes to the editors for consideration. Based on these submissions, the editors jointly decide on the thematic structure needed to develop several angles and then discuss them together to choose the right ones. Afterward, My.Kali posts an open call for writers with the chosen theme, the angles they want from submissions, and why it is important for My.Kali to talk about this topic. People who have something to offer, either submit previously published work or they create content exclusively for My.Kali (which is mostly the case) that is then submitted for internal review by the team. 

Sometimes My.Kali gets requests from writers to publish in the magazine, but the submission does not have an angle. In such cases, the editor chooses one of the themes from the call for content and suggests a specific thematic focus for the writer to develop and revise their submission. Publication priority goes to My.Kali’s trusted writers, followed by new writers. 

My.Kali employs an interactive way to collaborate with their writers confirmed for each online magazine issue. The team uses a shared Google Doc so everybody involved with the issue can see the changes and approve them. Since they do not have a strict publishing time for posting, the My.Kali team can keep refining the quality of the content rather than focusing on publishing speed. 

Then the online magazine issue is proofread and then translated, which makes the process time-consuming. However, My.Kali prefers quality over speed of production, or as Khalid said, “Haute Couture versus ready-to-wear.” Once the article is collectively reviewed and edited, the writer is asked to create a concept note for the assigned artist to create alluring visuals or sometimes authors are invited to use visuals from their own archive. 

The My.Kali team is passionate about visuals. They create artistic content based on current political issues or get inspired by watching Arabic movies. They create mood boards around the theme they are working on so everyone can take a look, discuss it, and start contributing ideas. Then they break it down to develop content by sectioning it and assigning it to different creative teams or an artist from outside My.Kali. Sometimes they even use visuals from their own collections to give the publication more authenticity. 

My.Kali developed a political approach to fashion magazine publishing that insists on a concept or message in its coverage to guide the construction of visually beautiful images. He stated, “We do not publish images for the sake of publishing an image.” My.Kali prefers to work with conceptual artists primarily focused on photography, who eager to tease out a concept and message behind each image. This is how My.Kali lives up to its political approach and meets audience expectations for high quality, beautiful, and meaningful visuals. He added,

“My.Kali is not produced by graduates from journalism school; we are actually trained as activists who know the social structure of things … We have a different mentality than a professional journalist, who is typically not experienced in human rights or social activism.” 

Khalid believes this political approach is meaningful and can impact audiences. He reflects on his own learning process throughout the work on the magazine: “The language changed. And when I say language I mean the cultural language of inclusivity and our understanding of gender and our understanding of queerness. I actually learned about gender and sexuality through working on this publication.” 

Publishing constraints

Following their launch in 2007, My.Kali faced their first media clash. A local Jordanian conservative newspaper took some of their content and posted it out of context proclaiming the birth of the first “gay magazine” (اشهار موقع الكتروني ومجلة للشواذ الجنسيين الاردنيين) in Jordan. Afterwards, several political parties in Jordan were using this coverage to their advantage in campaigning for elections. Those parties claimed that once elected they would “ban” such publications. 

Reflecting on these events, Khalid explains: “In Jordan specifically there were no public conversations about LGBTQ, let alone from a Jordanian context.” My.Kali was defying the silence by talking about LGBTQ issues in the public sphere. Speaking out loud is what caused an uproar only a month after My.Kali’s launch, regardless of the fact that the publication was in English and online. Khalid recalls, “We were using English as the publication’s language as a protection mechanism.” One positive result of using English as the main language for the publication was that this averted some of the negative backlashes they received since many mistook My.Kali for a foreign publication. 

Following the media clash, the team took a break from October 2007 until the end of January 2008, when they picked up publishing again and changed the logo. The team had gotten scared. News of homophobic violence and criminalization in Iran, Saudi Arabic, Syria, and Egypt caused them to retreat in fear of being killed or arrested at the age of 16. Khalid remembers: “I felt I was gonna die, honestly. We didn’t want to move forward with it.” 

However, publishing only in English was not enough. The My.Kali team wanted to circulate in Arabic as well, but they needed to learn how to protect themselves and how to produce engaging content for Arab audiences. They collaborated with the international digital rights organization, Access Now that helped them learn how to protect themselves and how to promote their work through digital networks. This process took time: “We took another one year break in order to reestablish ourselves and delve into Arabic, that was in May 2016.”

Today, My.Kali’s work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Ten years after the initial launch in English, the first Arabic issue of My.Kali was published after a year of restructuring internally in 2016. The issue contained an article about a Jordanian Muslim Sheikh who worked for the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs came out as a gay man and another article about the gender identity of the iconic singer Umm Kulthum. Those two articles were controversial, particularly because they were published in Arabic. As a result, My.Kali had to release a statement about these articles. 

On July 14th, 2016, the media continued attacking the “Jordanian gay magazine” and some journalists questioned if the publication was registered with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Jordan. The ministry responded with an open letter saying that the government is against such publications in Jordan, adding that My.Kali did not exist in their records. The ministry also accused My.Kali of breaking the law, if the publication was printed, and assured the public that legal action would be taken if appropriate. Thus, being an online magazine publication was My.Kali’s unintentional tactical loophole to avoid legal action by the ministry. Still, the ministry took steps to block the publication’s website in Jordan.

At that time, My.Kali did not respond to the website blocking. The team knew that the foreign media was seeking any lead on stories that linked Jordan to homophobia. A few months before My.Kali’s website was censored, Mashrou’ Laila, an indie-rock group from Lebanon, was supposed to perform a concert in Jordan, but it was canceled by the government. The local media applauded this decision, calling Mashrou’ Laila “devil worshippers” while the international media claimed the concert’s cancellation was because of homophobia.

My.Kali team members found themselves trying to explain to the international media that the concert controversy was not linked to homophobia (as Mashrou’ Laila had performed in Jordan several times before), but due to this specific concert taking place at a historical Christian site during Good Friday and leading to religious figures in Jordan complaining. Nevertheless, the foreign media insisted on linking the issue to homophobia. After the censoring of My.Kali’s website, Khalid said, the team refused to “use the foreign media to twist our government’s arm, because we can do that ourselves.”

Despite these controversies, the team at My.Kali has worked through the challenges together: “In all of the hurdles, before I felt I was going through them alone, but now that I work with an amazing team and we have an amazing audience, so I feel like this is not a personal fight for me specifically, it’s a fight for us as a community.” 

To overcome the blocking of their website, they consulted the digital rights organization, Access Now. The organization checked and confirmed that their DNS was blocked in Jordan and advised My.Kali to move to since it cannot be blocked in Jordan. Next, Access Now trained them on how to protect the publication and how to use safer communication tools. Regarding this change, Khalid recalled, “One year later we started to realize that the platform ( is not really supportive towards our needs and we cannot publish through it.” 

Today My.Kali backs up their website content to different hard drives located in different countries since once they lost a lot of their data when their website was hacked.

My.Kali does not have any written internal policies for communications and logistics in place, but Khalid feels they should, as it is an aspect missing from their structure. 

When there is a complication the unwritten policy is that they go back to the board who decides how to move forward. The internal disagreements and external conflicts that My.Kali faces are always resolved as a team. They discuss the issue and vote collectively instead of an individual decision. Khalid observed, “When there’s an attack on My.Kali, it is the group that responds to it and feels proud of that moment.” 

When it comes to their ethics, they always make sure their articles and visuals do not insult others in any way (religion, sex, gender, etc.). If the article is provoking, they structure it in a way that is not offensive. They tend to thoroughly review content from writers to make sure it is not problematic and that it is using the most up-to-date and appropriate terminology especially when it comes to sensitive topics. Khalid suggested My.Kali is constantly adapting its language. He said, “Ethics and values evolve all of the time. This a dynamic process within the group, where it very much reacts to what is happening.” 

“We’re questioning the intent behind all the images around us, and asking ourselves why we’re okay with being captives to a narrative that doesn’t respect our personal agency, and why we can’t just work together.”

The purpose of any magazine cover or fronts used to be essential for a publications’ sales. A magazine has a couple of seconds to entice readers to buy their magazine. Nowadays it’s a prestige, it’s often given to the famous and the established, and it became a sense of validation. In theory, My.Kali doesn’t need to have fronts or covers, because the publication is not in print, we were digital from the get-go, and we’re not trying to sell it either.

“We adopted the identity of print and manufactured it to meet our values. We wanted our covers to be a source of empowerment and acknowledgment, and give it to individuals that their stories can push for change and empower. We also give it to upcoming and emerging artists who wouldn’t get that from the mainstream media, we want to be part of their profiles.”

Khalid majored in Graphic Design. He did not study journalism professionally, but he was interested in different publications as a consumer, and his media activist interest grew from there:

“I felt that there is a gap in the media when they discuss queer and gender-related matters. Specifically, when I started to apply for jobs in other local publications, and when I wanted to talk about gender identity and orientation I felt I was faced with rejection all the time. So I was fed up and it accumulated. That’s why I decided to start my own publication and put myself on the cover even, almost like releasing a diary, but in the shape of a publication.” 

Khalid describes how underrepresentation motivated his activism:

“As a person, I hated being told this is wrong or ‘haram’ all the time, I felt it was repressing me as an individual all the time, this was a huge motivation. […] I am a person who likes to express, I like to write, I like to draw, I like to illustrate. And I felt I did not have that space for me.” 

He also links his media activism to being a rebel: “When you are younger, you are naturally rebellious.” Being rebellious at the age of sixteen, in addition to coming to terms and clashing with his own identity and sexual orientation, he felt that there was a need to address the lack of queer representation in Arab media. 

Furthermore, in a reserved society (like Jordan) there were not enough public places or media spaces, where young rebels (like him) could express their points of view. Khalid explains that in the Middle East, the control of public and media spaces is shaped by familial and social values: “There’s no ‘I’, it is always the ‘we’, and at the time I really wanted to be an ‘I’.” He felt that due to this gap it was natural that he got pushed towards becoming a media activist for the Arab LGBTQ community.

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