James W. Hicks, M.D.

Posts Tagged ‘arab’

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.


In Sexual Types on September 29, 2010 at 7:42 pm

The macho sexual type refers only to men and is a sexual category commonly seen among Latinos and men from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. But it can emerge in any culture or sub-culture (for example, in the military, in jails and prisons, in athletic circles, or in urban neighborhoods) where maintaining ones position in a hierarchy of power is particularly important. And many men, regardless of their cultural background, may consider sex an arena where ones masculinity is contested, proven, or compromised.

If you are macho, you consider yourself straight, and would never say otherwise, but you may also think of yourself as a “top” or, simply, a “man,” regardless of whether you are having sex with a man or a woman. The important thing is to be the active or insertive partner in the sexual act. If another man gives you head or lets you screw him, then it says something about his sexuality, not yours. Your ability to penetrate another man makes you more, not less, of a man. (At an extreme, this can make the rape of another man possible, for example by soldiers, police, or prisoners.) You may prefer or seek out younger, pretty, or effeminate men, or transvestites or transsexuals, or you may prefer masculine men, so long as your role in the relationship is not in doubt. You do not discuss these sexual encounters with your family or female partners, though you may joke in public or brag about them with like-minded friends, who perceive your exploits as enhancing your masculinity.

I can think of several un-exemplary examples of the macho type, for example: notorious cops who sexually abused their prisoners or the character played by Aaron Eckhart in In the Company of Men, whose most memorable sexual experience was the gang-rape of a fellow male student. There is also plenty of scientific and anecdotal literature about men in Latin, Muslim, and Mediterranean cultures who screw other men while considering themselves straight. But I can’t think of any famous individual whose sexual behaviors are acknowledged who might fit the macho type, aside from some gay Latino adult film stars, like Tiger Tyson, who exclusively top. One of the young Mexican characters in the book and movie of Mala Noche might also qualify.

Three New Books about Muslim Bisexuality

In Cultures, Research on July 1, 2010 at 5:50 am

Westerners tend to focus on gay identity and gay rights when speaking about sexuality, but in much of the world, same-sex activity takes place between individuals who do not think of themselves as gay or lesbian and who are likely to be married. All men and women are seen as having the potential to feel affection and sexual desire for both sexes; the act, rather than the individual, is considered homosexual.

This is an oversimplification, but it’s important to emphasize that, while a wide range of emotions and desires are universal, the ways in which they are labelled may vary from one culture to another.

In the last decade, Westerners have become more curious about Islamic cultures, and three new books describe homosexuality in those cultures from different contemporary perspectives.

Afdhere Jama’s Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World tells three dozen highly personal stories about real Muslim men and women (and transgendered individuals) living all over the world, from Africa to Southeast Asia. The stories are simply told but very moving, and few of the lives follow the trajectories of a Western coming-out story. The individuals are brave but not naive and find various ways to express their love while accomodating to their culture.

Michael Luongo is an author and journalist who has written about his own travels elsewhere. His new book titled Gay Travels in the Muslim World collects stories by predominantly gay Westerners (all men) about their experiences in Muslim countries. Luongo’s own chapter about Afghanistan is among the most fascinating, though a US marine corporal’s account of his encounter with an Arab man while on patrol in Baghdad powerfully shows how much we have in common. Several of the other stories disappointingly reveal a chasm in understanding, if not condescension and exploitation. Most of the chapters describe Muslims who might best be described as macho or versatile, though some might be gay in the Western sense.

Brian Whitaker’s Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East describes the political and religious context in which homosexual activity and identity are expressed and curtailed.

Three other older books provide greater historical, literary, and academic analysis: Islamic Homosexualities by Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800, by Khaled El-Rouayheb, and Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature by J.W. Wright Jr. and Everett Rowson. These books remind us that, for most of the last millenium or so, homosexual love and desire was celebrated and protected more in the Muslim world than in the West.

Though the titles of each of these books refers to gays, lesbians, queers, or homosexualities, in reality they are each describing, for the most part, bisexual cultures and individuals.