The Latest

"We don't have homosexuals like in your country!" -- mainstream/LGBT society has got it twisted...again

Columbia kids at this forum, the LGBT media, and mainstream liberal-democatic-"progressive?" America have been bantering on about how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement on homosexuality in Iran is absolutely ludicrous, reflecting a large-scale motivation to 'repress homosexuals' by literally executing them into non-existence. Through this perspective, the end result would be exactly what Ahmadinejad contended: "we don't have homosexuals..." In other words, they are all dead because 'we have executed them into disappearance.'

I have a COUPLE of comments. First and foremost, let's write down what precisely Ahmadinejad said:

"In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon; I don't know who's told you we have it."

Immediately after the first sentence, the audience is laughing hysterically. Why? Because "we," mainstream liberal 'progressive' America, we, Columbia kids, "we," the HRC and the Task Force and gay rights advocates, continue to presume that a 'homosexual identity' is an unproblematic monolithic given. Their job--"our" job--is to get this unproblematic given publically articulated in the best way possible. Gay America and the liberals who superficially embrace this tacky queeny faggoty America in order to put themselves in pleasurable accord with being liberal--*cough* neoliberal, democratic, egalitarian subjects (woohoo yay!) appear to have forgotten or not stopped and realized that gay *identities* have only RECENTLY been culturally exported through globalized capitalist forces (a neoliberal new world order, yay! let's downsize democracy and up-up-up the [western] wealth using rhetoric and coercive tactics that pretend to be surface-level socially democratic) into areas such as the Middle East.

Yes, the 'homosexual identity' is in fact NOT a static, fixed, stable, and universal organic thing that has merely been repressed by 'uncivilized' societies like pre-1969 United States and the primitive savagery we tend to consider the non-western world. Historians have widely agreed upon this since AT LEAST Michel Foucault's debut of Intro. to History of Sexuality into the United States in the early 1970s, yet most liberal Americans, gays, and LGBT/queer folk alike have disregarded this, succumbing to our society's complete indoctrination into postivist science's mechanistic dissection of our "inner selves," (gay gene anyone?!), and the relentless legacy of philisophical humanism which makes almost all of us believe that nearly everything about us including our "sexual orientation" (what is this again?) is an essentialized truth that may be found at some central spot in our "core identity."

But not everyone goes soul-searching if you're talking about two men or two women fucking. In fact, only until the late 19th century in sexological Europe do people begin to start digging into the depths of their soul to understand their "invertedness" or "Uranism," the pathological predecessors of the modern "homosexual," a term employed by a rising biomedical discourse which sought to exert social control over deviance of all kinds, "homosexuals" being one brand of widespread DEVIANCE. And it makes it a hell of a lot easier to control people if you can get them to not look to the state or sovereign any longer to be regulated, but actually police THEMSELVES. Through what Foucault calls biopower, subjects begin to police themselves into accord with state apparatuses, e.g., a state-sanctioned pathologizing biomedical discourse, to the point where a "homosexual identity" is constituted, coerced, and "stylized" as Butler will later refer to the process, into the very core "self." So, if society wants to regulate heternormative reproduction and all those other goodies, sovereign power doesn't need to waste its time any longer with these stupid things like homosexual acts and behaviors and instances of sodomy---(again these were not linked to an identity, but rather seen as behaviors)---but now homosexuals have been invented so they will internalize their deviancy in order to police themselves more effectively (if you have people policing themselves, it is far more cost-effective than to have a sovereign power policing subjects indirectly).

Anyway, sorry for the rant, but bringing it all back, it is only of late that the "homosexual identity" has been exported over to regions such as the Middle East. With massive globalization, we export our cultural 'knowledges,' and they eat it up. While of course homosexual BEHAVIORS, same-sex desire, etc. have existed as long as sex and eros have surely, it is only very recently that the west has been transmitting The Gay and The Homosexual as some fixed truth-speaking essentialized identity (we just gotta find that gay gene and LIBERATION, voila!). Now, places like the Middle East, Thailand, South Africa, etc. have been faced with a very queer problem: what is a "gay" person, what is a "homosexual" person, if heretofore they have been considered behaviors, not identities, and not people. It would be like suddently reifyng in the United States, "chocolate-lovers" and "vanilla-lovers!" What the hell does that mean? Since when does our preference for chocolate or vanilla constitute my very being? You could ask the pre-1860 western world and the pre-1970s non-western world this same question except substitute "chocolate-lover" for "heterosexual" and "vanilla-lover" for "homosexual" and you would get very similar strange looks at you. Before 1860s, one was not a homosexual, one does homosexual things. You like chocolate, you like vanilla, but these are spontaneous desires that are subject to change. Since when do they speak to the truth of your soul, and when do they reflect some core identity? When a biopolitical disciplinary regime seeks to regulate your food preferences (as it did in the 1860s towards your sexual preferences), then you might start to make sense of your 'food identities.'

SO, my point---sorry for how longwinded this is--is that we need to understand a little bit more about history, the social construction, and discursive production of the homosexual identity and consciousness, instead of laughing in Ahmadinejad's face as he tells us that "there is no such phenomenon here." He is right, the western Gay or Homosexual is an incredibly recent concept, and they have only experienced it as it has been rapidly and powerfully exported through globalization and a capitalist new world order in which they are coerced into our cultural categories, identities, beliefs, and "truths."

In traditional Islam there is no "homosexual" as some fixed identity or role. In its earlier times, adult males were seen as predator and women could be penetrated provided they were married or were a slave. Slave-boys could be penetrated as well, although met with slight disapproval from authorities. Private adult male-male sexual relations went undocumented, but married wealthy men often would not resist sex with a slave-boy or affairs with slave girls. Many famous love-poems of pre-'modern' Baghdad seem to have been addressed from male to male. A modern homosexual idenity has only begun to emerge in places like Iran. Real-life Muslim societies are not necessarily as puritanical as outsides imagine. For instance, in cosmopolitan centers like in Egypt, the contemporary gay subculture is sometimes given a hard time with some occasional crackdowns (remind you of the club scene in NYC even now)? The state of affairs currently is reminiscent of the early 20th century in New York, for instance, as George Chauncey unveils, when police would readily arrest gays and disband gay nightlife. However, in radical fundamentalist leadership like Taliban Afghanistan, same-sex-practicing men are certainly executed, very tragically. But Taliban Afghanistan is not the entire Muslim world by any stretch of the imagination, despite mainstream liberal America's sensationalizing "war on terror"/anti-terrorist discourse would like to pretend.

So, before we laugh at Ahmadinejad's words on 'having no homosexuals' in Iran and immediately construe him as some gay-killing truth-denying monster, I feel we ought to have a better understanding of the social constructivism of the homosexual identity and its only very recent debut in places like Iran due to our mass cultural export coinciding with globalization and transnational capitalism. But when mainstream liberal-democratic-"progressive" America and the mainstream gay movement engage a politics that starts with the gay identity as some unproblematic universal given (spanning all times and spaces) that just needs maximum visibility, rights afforded to it, and as much social status as they can reap, these are the things we surely miss---among just a HANDFUL of other things like a completely debilitated "left-progressive" politics which really has become a tunnel-visioned political crusade that seeks status elevation in the narrowest of possible terms---but anyway, I made my point I think, I'll let it go. Thanks for listening!


Johnny Burnham said...

One of my fellow coworkers was joking about this today and I couldn't belive it. I don't find the president's comments funny in the least, more than anything I find them sad and humbling knowing that while we as Americans are fighting for things like marriage rights, so many people around the world are fighting to even be recognized and acknowledged as human beings on the most basic level.

I don't know, I've never been eloquent with phrasing these kinds of things, just a thought.

Mark D. Snyder said...

It's upsetting that this is what the media and people choose to focus on rather than the broader more important discussions that need to be had such as what Jon brings up, but also discussions about how our media and our administration manipulate facts about other countries particularly Iran.

Brian Rainey said...

This is an excellent post Jon, and it's the only thing I've seen that tackles Ahmanijad's speech without playing right into Washington's anti-Iran rhetoric.

I understand that your post is saying that we need to be more sensitive to the social construction of sexuality. At the same time, I think we should be clear that some constructions are more helpful both politically and analytically than others. While the essentialized "inborn" idea of the mainstream gay-rights movement is problematic, it is in my view superior to the idea that homosexuality/bisexuality/queerness constitute mere BEHAVIORS.

The notion of sexual orientation and homosexuality may have a dark side (the self-policing side as you put it--but what things in social life aren't in some way contradictory?), but it also served as a basis for organization and mobilization.

The concept of sexual orientation also forced people to see that what we call queerness cannot be reduced to mere behaviors that can be changed through behaviorist and aversion therapy schemes, but there is something else about this phenomenon that goes deep into the psyche of the person.

With globalization, as you point out, there is pressure for people to adapt to (mostly Western) conceptualizations, which I suspect does not help the plight of queer people in places like Iran one bit. Because homosexuality is such a western category, it probably comes under intense suspicion as a Western invasion (but I am not a Middle East scholar).