James W. Hicks, M.D.

Bisexual Arabic Literature

In Cultures, Media on February 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm

With Cairo in the news recently, I was reminded of an Egyptian novel that deals with bisexuality. The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany, was a best seller in the Arab world when it was published a few years ago, and it was subsequently made into a popular movie. One of the main characters is Abd Rabbuh, a young police officer who is married but also having an affair with an older, gay man, Hatim Rasheed. Rabbuh has features of several sexual types, though his role is most obviously macho and versatile. The characters are portrayed sympathetically, though the plot requires a perhaps stereotypical tragic ending.

For another great novel featuring bisexual characters in Egypt, pick up Norman Mailer’s colorful epic, Ancient Evenings, set mostly in the 13th Century B.C. The narrator (Menenhetet) has sex with both men and women, as does his pharaoh, Ramses the Great. Menenhetet is portrayed as macho, while Ramses seems to be supersexual. The novel is fascinating for the way in which Mailer immerses the reader in an alien culture, in which sexuality, bodily functions, and religion are completely unmoored from contemporary associations and assumptions.

And back to Arabic, consider reading the erotic wine songs of Abu Nuwas, a revered 8th Century poet who wrote in Baghdad during the early Abbasid period. The classic poet is famous for his sexual relations with men (when he was a boy) and boys (when he was a man), but he also married a woman and loved a slave girl during his youth. He wrote passionate songs about both young men and women.

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