edited by John C. Hawley
Published by SUNY Press
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
May 13, 2002
I loathe the academic chic imposition of “queer, but brought myself to look at Post-Colonial Queer, edited by Jon C. Hawley, shortly after it came out from SUNY Press in 2001.
The volume begins solidly with a version of Dennis Altman’s oft-recycled reflections on the globalization of gay identity before getting cute and eventually reaching full PoMo opacity in a chapter by William Spurlin having some reference to South Africa.
I was personally aggrieved by what seemed to be blockheadedness when first I read it, but now strikes me as being deliberate misrepresentation of my work by Jarrod Hayes (in the chapter “Queer resistance to (neo-colonialism in Algeria”), in particular willful misrepresentation of the book that I put together with Will Roscoe, Islamic Homosexualities (New York University Press, 1997). I was/am disappointed to have our work that criticized the sex tourist generalizations of the collection by Arno Schmitt and the late Jeheoda Sofer, Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Moslem Societies (Haworth Press, 1992) conflated with it, but am familiar with the phenomena of opponents from some time period appearing in retrospect to be, well, of a time now past, though 1997 and 1992 were not so distant a past or pasts in 2000 (the latest date at which a university press book dates 2001 could have gone to press).
It was annoying to see my “Sleeping with natives as a source of data,” published in the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists’ Newsletter in 1991, with no acknowledgment that (1) the field site about which I was writing was Mesoamerica and (2) that that preliminary squib had been expanded upon and published in a fairly prominent (at least to lesbigay anthropologists) book from the University of Illinois Press in 1996 in Out in the Field: Reflections of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists. But it was outright bizarre for Hayes to provide the misinformation that the SOLGAN piece was a review of Joseph Itiel’s (sex-tourist) Philippine Diary. I edited SOLGAN and provided a title that Martin F. Manalansan IV accepted for the review he wrote of the Itiel book: “Neocolonial Desire.”
This may seem inordinate personal pique but it not only made me wonder if Hayes’s reading of older writings in languages other than English were as sloppy but connects directly with the more important point that the book titled Islamic Homosexualities did not propose the existence of any uniquely Islamic homosexualities. Even if I had been reacting to Itiel’s book, that book was set among Christian Filipinos (not the Muslims of the southernmost islands of the archipelago) and the cautions about inferring what people do intraculturally from intercultural relations (or, I suggested outside the sexual culture of either participant) was grounded in my fieldwork in Mesoamerica. My concern was in drawing inferences about sexual culture (note that “source of data” in my title, turned subtitle of the later version), epistemological rather than ethical, and Hayes’s charge of my discussion labeling sex between persons of differing nationalities as “less authentic” is one of the straw men he produced. Intercultural sexual encounters occur all the time. My point was that one cannot validly infer typical intracultural sexual conduct from such encounters.
Dar al-Islam was the place (regions) from which we extracted historical accounts and literary texts including same-sex desire and/or sex, not a proposed kind of sex or sexuality unique to Muslims. Islamic Homosexualities was preceded by Oceanic Homosexualities (1992) and Latin American Male Homosexualities (1995), followed shortly by Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities (1998), all of which were cited within Islamic Homosexualities (no one has every accused me of under-citing myself!). That the lands of Muslims were a geographic site, like Oceania, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa was obvious to any good-faith scrutiny of my project, which culminated in Homosexualities (published in 1999 with a 2000 public date).
There is no justification for accusing Will Roscoe and me of having “assumed that, first of all, there is such a thing as ‘Islamic homosexualities’ and that there is something that sets ‘Islamic homosexualities’ apart from ‘non-Islamic homosexualities’ other than the religion of their practitioners” (emphasis added). Will Roscoe’s chapter in the book showing the same patterns in the region before the birth of Mohammed should have suggested caution about attributing to us a causal role for religion in homosexualities within dar al-Islam. I’m also curious where Hayes found the locution “non-Islamic homosexualities” to put in quotes, but even cursory examination of our book (even ignoring its place in a series of X Homosexualities books in which the value of X varied by place with the same forms of homosexualities appearing in them) would show that we were looking across spaces and genres of representations, not contrasting “Islamic homosexualities” to “Christian homosexualities,’ “Hindu homosexualities,” etc. (At the risk of seeming to dwell on the books and their titles forming a series, the non-appearance of such books should have occasioned doubt in Hayes of his interpretive fiats.
Considering that it follows a lengthy quotation from m my 1991 version of “Sleeping with natives as a source of data,” that the two most immediately preceding names in his text are mine, and that Hayes failed to mention that I was not writing about Muslims or fieldwork among Muslims in “Sleeping with natives as a source of data,” I find it difficult to believe that his text/intent was to exclude me from “the above accounts” in “The above accounts all imply that Muslims are incapable of what many Western scholars have labeled ‘egalitarian’ homosexuality.”
In my series of books, including [North] American Gay (1996), I also repeatedly made a point of stressing that the two historically most often and widely attested organizations (by age, by gender) coexisted with “modern” gay homosexuality in such “gay Meccas” as Amsterdam and San Francisco. This seems to me to make pretty clear that I have not posited that homosex structured by status differences occurs only elsewhere (than the contemporary West). On the other hand, I have discussed homosex not organized by status differences in times before the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. I believe that my work burrowing through records from one area after another also “clearly demonstrate[d] that the practices of same-sex sexual behavior throughout history and across space always exceed such frameworks” (that is, the ideal types of organization of same-sex sexual relations; “ideal types” being something of a technical term for abstractions for sociologists like me in the tradition of Max Weber, of which Hayes was/is probably unaware). The existence of what Hayes calls “diverse paradigms” in a single place and time is no surprise to me.
The typology of homosexualities organized, or as I sometimes put it, stratified, by differences in age, differences in gender, or by rough equality of status, which I took from Barry D. Adam in a 1979 response to me in the Sociologists’ Gay Caucus Newsletter, which I edited then, I laid out in my 1983 book Social Theory, Homosexual Realities in a chapter that was the first publication of the overview “Homosexual categorization in cross-cultural perspective” that was repeated in several of my later books and was also deployed by David F. Greenberg in his 1988 Construction of Homosexuality (which is where Hayes seemed to discover it).
Nowhere (in Islamic Homosexualities or elsewhere) have I maintained that there are no egalitarian relations (that is, relations structured by differences of age or gender) in dar al-Islam, so that, even if there are no status differences between and the downy-backed male he is observed penetrating in Algerian-born then French-resident Rachid Boudjedra’s 1969 novel La Repudiation (translated in 1995 as Repudiation), that fictional instance does not contradict my imagined model of an entity “Islamic homosexualities” because I did not posit the existence of such an entity.
In criticizing the lexicalist creationism (and inferences from the lack of a lexeme) of Arno Schmitt, I refused to accept the absence of an Arabic term for a man who penetrates and is penetrated as evidence for the lack of egalitarian same-sex sexual relations in Arab societies. I would welcome the obliteration of the basis for Schmitt’s inference, which Hayes purports to offer with nouiba, based on its use by Abdelhak Serhane in Messaouda 1986 : “We masturbated together and even, at the height of our frenzy, raped one of the group—the weakest or the youngest. If we were all equally matched we simply did the nouiba.” Hayes includes that book’s glossary’s definition as a “homosexual act in which each of the two partners sodomized the other in turn” (emphasis added). Alas, nouiba is not a kind of person (like, say, a luti), or a persisting identity, but sequential action, as Hayes should have realized both from the gloss and from the context of “did the nouiba.”
Similarly in its sloppy reasoning (and/or bad faith), although the chapter “The will not to know” that I wrote was in Islamic Homosexualities, I was at pains to point out that a wish not to cognize homosexuality of those regularly engaging in it existed in these United States, specifically in the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” then policy mandated for the U.S. military as well as in my primary fieldwork sites in Guatemala and Mexico (indeed, I had written at some length about Mexicans coexisted in tight spaces who said that they were “juntos pero no revueltos” (together, not scrambled). Love of gossip and curiosity about stigmatizing behavior of others is not confined, by any means, to Christians, nor is keeping quiet about what “everyone knows” about a family member or friend unique to Muslims. That Zahir’s family in Boudjedra’s novel “watches in amazement as Zahir fucks a buddy on the rooftop terrace” (emphasis added to Hayes’s epitomization) does not show a willingness on the part of even this fictional family to cognize that Zahir is homosexual or some Arabic term used for labeling persons homosexual.
Moreover, the actual incident within Boudjedra’s text provides an example of the “will not to know” rather than a refutation (leaving aside that one counterexample from a novel would not refute a generalization about what goes on outside the pages of novels, especially ones clearly aiming to shock, having already told of regularly fucking his father’s lactating young (15 when married) wife and several times mentioned that his sisters were regularly fondled by sexually greedy male cousins). The narrator, Rashid, and his other siblings look at the spectacle of their oldest brother atop another male, neither aware they can or are being watched:
He who my mother once caught in a shocking position, in the company of a boy living nearby; she did not understand and could not believe her eyes; outrageous, the sight of her child mounted with great pomp on the slightly downy back of the other poor sod…. Ma who could not call out to her son because she was not capable of giving a full explanation of this junction of two bodies perceived as a flash of pain—all the more bitter in that she was not going to be able express it; and finally Ma chased us out of the room, locking the door: “It is nothing but a rough game”, she said. (emphasis added)
Seeing is not believing, is not sufficient to obliterate denial; the refusal to acknowledge (or, indeed, to cognize) that one’s son (or husband or other intimate) is doing what he obviously is doing is the essence of what I call “the will not to know.” “It is nothing but a rough game” is a dismissal, not an acknowledgment that Rashid was fucking another more. And though more glancingly mentioned, the daughters’ unchastity with male cousins, the “awkward rapes of distant girl cousins who had come to spend their holiday,” and the rape by grooms of both Zahir and Rashid provide more examples within Rashid’s family in Boudjedra’s novel of what must not be acknowledged in public or even recognized in private (except by the narrator, who is confined in an insane asylum, and whose impatience with hypocrisy is heavily involved in his being considered crazy). What the child (etc.) is doing that a parent refuses to see certainly extends to doing drugs or to alcoholism of a spouse, as well as to same-sex sexual conduct in our own society, as well as in 1960s Algeria.
©13 May 2002, Stephen O. Murray
(This refutation was included in my Kindle book, 21st-century Representations of Muslim Homosexualities.)