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Re-Thinking Identity: I’d Totally Engage in Non-‘Gay’ Same Sex Relations with Joseph Massad!

January 12, 2010

An ewz reader, currently based in the Middle East, sent us a very good response to an article written by sysh about Joseph Massad, Arab gay identity, and cultural relativism, and we’re reposting it here as a guest blog. Read it to the end, there’s a great line in the final paragraph about the liberation of all forms of sexuality.

Re-Thinking Identity: I’d Totally Engage in Non-‘Gay’ Same Sex Relations with Joseph Massad! completely disagree with sysh’s post— it completely misreads Massad’s theory. What Massad is trying to do is attack the over simplified binary of homo- and hetero-sexuality that was birthed out of European modernization, specifically through modern psychology that invented ‘the homosexual’ as an attempt to cure and eradicate him/her. I know when using the word ‘invented’ people get upset but the fact of the matter is that until then, ‘homosexual’ as noun didn’t exist, and the idea of some authentic universal timeless homosexual identity is false.

Gay activists will have you believe you are born gay, but this is just not true. You are named gay once you show signs of effeminate behavior for a boy or butch behavior for a female, or you announce attraction to the same sex. This difference is huge. So you may be born with homosexual desire but you are most definitely not born ‘Gay’. Like all identities there is nothing authentic about it. Massad explains that and details Arab readings of homosexual behavior and acceptance of it in his book all without the use of a specific social category or identity.

In older Arab culture there was sexuality in all it’s perverse glory. A look into older social readings of sexual behavior, even if only through literature, is educational in the sense that it cements the notion that ‘homosexual’ as a social identity is in fact specific to a modern urban western culture and that the supposedly backward Arab culture accepted homoerotic behavior within the social sexual-gender identities that it had. Massad never says that it was some kind of haven for people who enjoy same sex sexual contact, he just said it allowed for them to enjoy this behavior without the stigma of being put into separate social categories, which now people can’t escape through homosexual/bisexual/gay/queer/fag sexual identity.

The fact of the matter is that without the fear of being labeled ‘gay’ more people would engage in same sex eroticism, it wouldn’t be a big deal and this can be seen in the Arab world. Massad is not talking about some past that doesn’t exist anymore; he’s talking about stuff that is still relavent to people’s life in the Arab world now… go ask the cab drivers that have no problem getting their dick sucked by a man and would think an identy based on that desire is insane! Do you really have the right to force him in that category? A lot of people refuse to acknowledge that sexuality, identity and sexual identity are fluid and refuse to celebrate that.

Massad never in his book or essays talks about an authentic Arab identity, what he’s saying is that sexual identities are culturally relative and that gay activists who want you to belive otherwise are lying. This is FACT and not theory.

For me the problem with Massad is that he refuses to acknowledge individual agency in this matter, since if ‘Gay’ is a culturally relative identity then one may choose to identify with it if he or she are from, say, an ‘Arab culture’,  specially since western culture (for better or worse) is rapidly influencing daily life in this region, while European urban dynamics are slowly becoming the reality in some areas of the Arab world.  Also, he completely misses the fact that it’s not only ‘Gay internationalists’ that are inventing homosexuals in the Arab world: modernity has been so incorporated by a number of institutions that this idea is slowly becoming institutionalized within the structure of the post-colonial state, and so that Arab states, through education systems, judiciary and police structures are adapting these social categories. And so citizens find themselves forced to deal with this language and battle within the structures of these social categories.

Although I will add my problem with some Arab gay rights activists here in Jordan who I find really idiotic. You hear them talking shit about wanting their ‘rights’, and I can’t help but notice that they see themselves so much within western eyes that they can’t escape this binary of homo-hetro. They see themselves as victims of heterosexuals, they don’t see themselves as sexual individuals within an oppressive culture that punishes all forms of sexuality, not just homosexuality, and a state that has no respect for personal privacy or freedom of speech, regardless of your sexual orientation. Within this structure it is dumb to fight for homosexuality separately, instead we need to fight for all forms of sexuality in the region.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 3:03 pm

    sorry this is long
    I haven’t completely read massad’s book in its entirety but i read enough about what he meant to do with the book name the intro to the resetdoc interview:

    “They have been “invented” by the West. In his book Desiring Arabs, Joseph Massad, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin and an associate professor at Columbia University, attempts to follow the process through which the gay movement, born in the USA, has resulted in and tried to impose a homosexual identity on those Arabs who entertain relations with people of their own sex. A process that according to Massad, follows the tracks of western imperialism.”

    to me, his attack is not only on a gay identity or a homo-hetro binary … it’s an attack on homosexuality in its definition: an emotional attraction between people of the same sex.
    The major flow of his work is that it only depends on mentions in literature, while its true to say that they were more tolerant of mention of stereotypical homosexual acts in their literature back in the day. whats untrue is solely blaming it on the west and colonialism … that ignores a big chuck of history in which the entire society become more literal and conservative … Ghazali anyone?
    That happened way before colonialism and even before that homosexual acts was always on the underground.
    Moving on, a homosexual identity actually does exist, and many can argue about its intrinsic nature that goes beyond the act its self. otherwise there wouldn’t be a mention of it and treating it as an identity. For example in the quran its recognized that there are males that don’t have any desires towards women, creating a binary with this implication in and off its self other than the anecdotal depiction of those who commit to strictly a homosexual relationship.
    The implication that arab culture is monolithic in any sense is as much a fallacy as talking about a so called “gay international”! one of the words for homosexual is ‘mukhanath’ and that term is indigenous to the people who ihabit oman now, they accept those participate in homosexual relationships and while providing an identity (the colorful clothe, attitude and all) they are not forced to hetronormalize traditionally and allowed to maintain a strictly homosexual life. If that is not homosexual identity then i don’t know what is. So over looking any other proves for the roots to a homosexual identity, he ignored examples such as those that put his view to shame.

    Putting individual agency aside and saying that “Within this structure it is dumb to fight for homosexuality separately, instead we need to fight for all forms of sexuality in the region.” is ignoring what you mentioned earlier about the fear. it’s the same reason that all minorities through out history have been told to wait until its the right time for them to fight for their rights…. which if they did they would never get any.
    Now the thing is i agree with you about the “naivete” of some activists when they are talking about their ‘rights’ but i only see it as such because they are not really a group rather just fragmented clicks and need to define their own identity , work on it and realize what is it that they want in the first place. That doesn’t really mean to wait for others to get their rights before organizing, to the contrary, its quite patriarchal to even suggest that since those groups might not necessarily want the rights i expect to fight for ….

  2. Gus Paris permalink
    January 13, 2010 5:25 pm

    What i find appaling in this article is the picture.

    It is about two arab men from the gulf greeting each other with the nose (the traditional greeting). It has nothing to do with homosexuality!
    This exactly the example of western influence and error in projecting ‘sexual’ values and codes onto other culture.
    So dear errwhateverz, you fell in the trap of what you were exactly criticizing.


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