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Journal of Lesbian Studies


Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wjls20

Naming to Empower: Lesbianism in the Arab Islamicate World Today


Sahar Amer
a a

Department of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA Published online: 14 Sep 2012.

To cite this article: Sahar Amer (2012) Naming to Empower: Lesbianism in the Arab Islamicate World Today, Journal of Lesbian Studies, 16:4, 381-397, DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2012.681258 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10894160.2012.681258

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Journal of Lesbian Studies, 16:381397, 2012 Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1089-4160 print / 1540-3548 online DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2012.681258

Naming to Empower: Lesbianism in the Arab Islamicate World Today


SAHAR AMER
Department of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

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After a brief review of the proliferation of newly coined Arabic words to speak about LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally) identities, this article interrogates the facile imitation of Western labels and questions their usefulness in the context of Arab societies and cultures. It demonstrates that the assumptions that underlie the creation of new wordlists overlook and ultimately erase the very rich tradition on alternative sexual practices that has been prominent in the Islamicate world at least since the ninth century. Salvaging this tradition and its accompanying terminology on homosexuality challenges the claim that homosexuality is a Western importation, and renders the recourse to English categories superuous. Moreover, uncovering the forgotten Arabic cultural material on alternative sexualities offers contemporary Arab gays and lesbians a rich and empowering indigenous heritage, as well as home-grown modes of resistance that are poised to challenge homophobic attitudes and policies in the Arab world, and the hegemony of Western sexual and cultural imperialism. KEYWORDS Arab lesbians, cultural imperialism, empowerment, fourth generation feminism, hybridity In July 2009 the Arabic translation of Gay Travels in the Muslim World , a collection of stories penned by gay Muslim and non-Muslim authors, edited by U.S.-based photojournalist Michael Luongo and published by the Lebanonbased publisher, Arab Diffusion, was met with uproar in the Arabic-speaking
Address correspondence to Sahar Amer, Department of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB # 3267, 113 New West, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3267. E-mail: samer@email.unc.edu 381

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gay community. The key issue hotly debated pertained to the decision to render the word gay in the title by the Arabic sh adh, a term that means abnormal, odd, strange, perverted, or deviant; hence making the Arabic title read as Perverted Travels in the Muslim World. With homosexuality being a taboo topic throughout the contemporary Middle East, the use of the pejorative word sh adh was decried for reinforcing prevailing prejudice among Arabs and Muslims about homosexuality. How to shatter prejudice and bring out into the open lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally (LGBTQIA) issues in Arabic when, as numerous gay-rights groups in the Middle East have pointed out, there is not even a commonly understood nonpejorative word to describe it in the Middle East? Similarly, the publication in May 2009 in Lebanon of Bareed Mista3Jil: True Storiesthe rst collection of lesbian Arab/Lebanese stories published by the advocacy organization Meemalso raises from the outset the question of the translation of words pertaining to lesbianism. In their introduction, the anonymous editors of the collection point out that all of the stories were written in English because the various authors of Bareed Mista3Jil (also all anonymous) could not nd words to articulate their sexuality in Arabic. They state: The words didnt exist to express exactly what we wanted them to, and that they struggled with euphemisms and scientic words to describe sexuality terms versus crude slang that differs in different regions of Lebanon (Bareed Mista3Jil , 2009, p. 6).1 Bareed Mista3Jil is thus written and published in English and is still awaiting an Arabic translation. Clearly, and as the editors of this collection point out, Arabic as a language has not adapted itself to create new words or a more comfortable use of existing words to describe things related to sexual expression (p. 6). The concern over terminology and the translation of terms related to lesbianism and homosexuality that the editors of Bareed Mista3Jil or the controversy over the title of Gay Travels in the Muslim World raises, gives us a glimpse of the struggle that Arab gays and lesbians continue to meet in asserting their identity in the face of persecution and prosecution. It also explains why, in a society and political system that wages violence against the Arab LGBTQIA community by excluding them from discourse, by treating them as the unviable (un)subjects who belong to the domain of unthinkability and unnamability,2 an increasing number of Arab gay and lesbian groups and websites have rallied for resistance. They have endeavored to coin a new Arab LGBTQIA glossary that offers a less pejorative and more empowering vocabulary to speak about a topic which remains unspeakable in the Middle East or is addressed only in negative terms. More often than not, the new terminology that Arab gay rights groups urge everyone to adopt is modeled on the Western LGBTQIA vocabulary that functions as the hegemonic cultural idiom throughout the Middle East and that is extolled for offering a less judgmental, more inclusive, and accepting vocabulary for same-sex orientations. But is this new lexicon truly more liberating both to

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the culturally specic and to the global context of contemporary gay and lesbian Arabs and Muslims? In other words, should Western labels for homosexuality and lesbianism be simply used and appropriated by the Arab and Muslim gay and lesbian community, or should the latter not endeavor to nd its own meaningful voicewhich in this early twenty-rst century can only be both local and globalthat is truly hybrid?

ARTICULATIONS OF QUEER SEXUALITIES IN ARABIC


A quick review of prevailing terms referring to lesbianism and homosexuality reveals a dearth of vocabulary in Arabic denoting the sexual identity or gender orientation of gays, lesbians, and transgendered Arabs. Equally important, the terminology that continues to circulate in Arabic to this day remains negative, derogatory, and judgmental. While homosexuals and lesbians use an underground lingo to invoke their sexuality, their expressions are little known among heterosexuals, and because of the vital need to protect their anonymity, this lingo remains for the most part concealed, unexplored, and unindexed until today (Bareed Mista3Jil , 2009, p. 6). This means that, often, Arab gays and lesbians who are struggling to come out in the Arab world not only feel extremely socially lonely and isolated, but they also do not even have the most basic linguistic tools to name what they are feeling or thinking. As a matter of fact, several lesbians in Bareed Mista3Jil report that, initially, their biggest impediment to understanding their sexual attraction to other women was the fact that they did not even know how to label what they felt. One of them writes: Growing up, I dont remember ever using the word gay or lesbian. In fact, I dont remember using any term to describe homosexuality. I didnt even know that louti[sic] meant faggot; I assumed it was just another curse word (Bareed Mista3Jil , 2009, p. 161). Many do not learn the term lesbian until their late teens or twenties, through the media (Western), or when speaking to a psychologist. One of the challenges of this present study has been precisely to learn and compile a glossary of commonly used Arabic words for lesbianism and homosexuality. My research thus far has revealed that the Arabic words customarily used for a male homosexual continue to be: Sh adh: pervert . : from the story of Lot in the Quran Lut Khawal : originally, a male transvestite dancer who was considered to be a respectable substitute for female dancers in the nineteenth century; today, the term is used to refer to an effeminate man Mukhannath: An effeminate man Walad biskilitta (Egyptian Arabic): literally, a bicycle boy, an image of sexual behavior

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(Moroccan Arabic): literally, a person who feels deeply, an effem H . assass inate man t . abaj (Lebanese Arabic): someone who bends over (to be fucked) Biyinik (Lebanese Arabic): literally, a person who gets fucked, a passive homosexual (Lebanese Arabic): literally, someone who makes use of his Biyshaghil t z . .u ass As for lesbians, the most commonly used Arabic words are the female version of some of the male terms just cited, such as: Sh adha: Feminine form of sh adh i Lut . . iyya: Feminine form of lut
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But also: Suh . aqiyya (from the verb sah . q, to grind, a metaphor for lesbian sexual behavior): A woman who has sex by grinding Qa`r`ala qa`r (Egyptian Arabic): Literally ass over ass Dhakar : A male Sharmut . a: A whore Mistarjil : A person who behaves like a man Ikht el rijel (Lebanese Arabic): Literally, sister of men; this term refers to butch women; it is used as a compliment Hasan sab i (Lebanese Arabic): Tomboy3 All of these terms are slang and vulgar, and they are regularly used in a disparaging manner by much of Arab society. In fact, the Arabic terms used to refer to lesbians do not just describe a nonnormative, unacceptable sexuality, but they are also associated with other misconceptions that Arab society often has about lesbians, namely, women who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and who are promiscuous (hence the use of the term sharmut . a, or prostitute).4 Not surprisingly, the labels for lesbian and their xed negative meanings are the rst hurdle that Arab lesbians must confront when they attempt to proclaim and assert their gender orientation and sexual identity. The rst story in Bareed Mista3Jil addresses this issue squarely:
Lesbian is such an ugly word to me. It makes me cringeespecially the French version that is more often used in Lebanon lesbienne (with an elongated ieeeen). Ugh. Even worse was the word dyke. But its still all good compared to sou7aqiyyeh. That one really makes me want to vomit. I dont know if its the word itself, or the meaning associated with it, that horrible disgusting image of lesbians in peoples minds was entrenched in my mind too for so long [. . .]. So, I couldnt call myself a

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lesbian. I refused to [. . .]. I was always angry when gay women had to be referred to as lesbians. (Bareed Mista3Jill , 2009, p. 34)5

Words have powerful meanings associated with them and rather than describing reality, they create it, shape it, and give it meaning. As the editors of Bareed Mista3Jil point out, one of the rst steps facing the Arab LGBTQIA community has to be about re-thinking these terms in Arabic, . . . and deconstructing the images associated with them. [Gays and lesbians] need to present the public with alternative words and images (Bareed Mista3Jill , 2009, p. 36). For Arab gays and lesbians, claiming and asserting their sexual identity is a matter rst and foremost of reclaiming their language: Arabic is our language too, and languages are alive. People give meanings to words, and people can change the meaning of words, or invent new words altogether, or simply refuse using offensive words. We need to challenge the dictionary in our heads (p. 36). Not surprisingly, therefore, Arab LGBTQIA organizations, since their inception, have endeavored to replace commonly used negative Arabic terms with positive ones, to coin a new vocabulary to express homosexuality.6 In the tenth issue of the online magazine Bintelnas (July 2003), Bassam Bassam, who translated articles for the magazine from English and French into Arabic, adds a Translators Note in which he offers what he calls positive expressions in Arabic for terms such as queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex among others. His reasons for developing such a glossary echo those of the editors of Bareed Mista3Jil . Bassam urges the reader to adopt the phrase jun usiyya mithliyya to name homosexuality.7 Mithliyya, here, means same, presumably referring to the rst part of the word homosexuality (that is, homo); so jun usiyya mithliyya literally means the same sexuality, sexual sameness, or the same gender.8 Based on this alleged positive term, a gay man is dubbed a mithl (a masculine same); a lesbian is a mithliyya (a feminine same); queer becomes ahrar al-jins (literally, free of gender); LGBTQIA becomes M.M.M.M. (mithliyya, mithl , mozdawij , moghayyir ). Clearly, the vocabulary adopted, proclaimed, and heralded as positive and liberating is intended to empower gays and lesbians by offering them a positive self-reection, a less degrading vocabulary to speak about their orientation and identities, and (because the Arabic words are modeled on English terms) an international community to which they can belong. And yet, the lobbying for the phrase junusiyya mithliyya to denote homosexuality has yet to gain currency among contemporary Arab gays (and straights),9 and is insufcient to challenge the invisibility of Arab gays and lesbians. It is well to remember that the expression junusiyya mithliyya had been coined from Arabic translations of Freud that were made in the 1950s.10 And when Freud used the word Homosexualitat over a hundred years ago, he was constructing it as a mental illness, a pathology of deviancy requiring

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long-term psychoanalysis, aversion therapy, and at times even electroshock in order to be cureda situation that the U.S. gay rights movement has combated at least since 1924, and with a political edge during the 1969 Stonewall riots.11 In the West, the category of homosexuality (from the German Homosexualitat ) was viewed as a clinical diagnosis of mental illness at least until 1973 when, after decades of intense lobbying by Western gay advocates, it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM ). Even so, today the term homosexuality is still often invoked in U.S. public discourse, as a point of reference for much homophobic rhetoric. I thus question the liberating potential of coining an Arabic phrase based on the very term that has been used in the West to designate a mental illness and that continues to be appropriated by antigay groups to embolden in-group/out-group divisiveness. The newly introduced Arabic words junusiyya mithliyya, mithl , or mithliyya to address the taboo topics of homosexuality, gays, and lesbians, respectively, are not the only ones to have currency in the Arab world toi, day. In a deliberate effort to avoid using Arabic terms such as sh adh, lut . or Suh . aqiyya, considered to be derogatory and oppressive, some Arabs are adopting the nontranslated English and French words for gays and lesbians even as they converse in Arabic. Hence, it is not uncommon to hear an Arabic conversation peppered with homosexuel, lesbienne, homosexual, queer, gay, lesbian, or dyke. The recourse to foreign words when speaking Arabic is not a new phenomenon. It represents one of the legacies of colonialism and remains a distinctive hallmark of Western-educated Arabs, a mark of privilege, urban sophistication, and social class. This means that the use of Western terminology to speak about homosexuality leads to the exclusion of poor and working-class Arab gays and lesbians who may feel doubly alienated by foreign cultural semantics and categories. What begins as an effort to include, to empower, and to challenge traditional views of homosexuality ends up silencing other voices which could potentially deepen and enrich our consciousness about the varied lived experiences of gays and lesbians in the Arab world. The recourse to Western terminology, like the literal translation of Western concepts related to homosexuality into Arabic, ends up asserting a primarily monolithic Western sexual identity itself a problematic construct and under much controversy in academic and activist circles12and promoting it as universally valid for all sexual minorities. The question that I am raising here is not whether naming should take place (I strongly believe that it must), or even whether Western discourses on sexuality are relevant to the Arab world (I rmly believe that they are relevant). Rather, what I interrogate is the almost exclusive reliance by Arab activists on Western terminology and Western paradigms of same-sex sexuality. What I object to are the kinds of names that are selected by Arab gay activists to speak about homosexuality, and how these names fail to empower and delay much-needed social change

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in Arab societies today. By adopting foreign terms and gender categories that mimic Western sexual politics and by dressing sexual preference in foreign linguistic garb, Arab gay activists unwittingly end up supporting a culture of shame that ultimately undermines Arab identity and leads to the further isolation of Arab gays and lesbians from their own sociohistorical and literary traditions.13

LESBIANISM AND THE MEDIEVAL ARABIC LITERARY HERITAGE


The assumptions that underlie the creation of new linguistic registers to replace some of the negatively charged Arabic vocabulary on lesbianism and homosexuality overlook and ultimately erase the very rich tradition on alternative sexual practices that have been prominent in the Islamicate world at least since the ninth century. My research into comparative medieval French and Arabic nonnormative sexualities has indeed revealed that gender-bending has always been part both of the Arabic language and of Islamicate societies (Amer, 2008). It has highlighted the unsuspected survival of a wide range of medieval Arabic treatises on eroticism that depicted alternative sexualities openly, without shame, and considered them as one of the multiple facets of human sexuality in general. This tradition of Arabic homoeroticism is particularly noteworthy because it is far more tolerant than is commonly imagined given the current political reappropriation of Islam by fundamentalist regimes. Because they do not shy away from painting men and women who are involved in same-sex relationships in explicit terms, and at times with unexpected agency over their sexual lives, the medieval Arabic works on eroticism have the potential to become powerful models of resistance and culturally signicant sources of Arab gay pride for contemporary Arab and Muslim gays and lesbians. It is my contention that it is precisely this largely unexamined and understudied body of medieval Arabic literary and belle-lettrist works on eroticism that can serve the interests of gay rights groups in the contemporary Arab world and allow them to explore non-Western ways of being gay, while asserting their sexual identity in culturally meaningful terms. My research into medieval Arabic erotology and homoerotic literature has unveiled an extensive lexicon of terms related to sexual expression that could be reclaimed by Arab gay and lesbian activists and the Arab LGBTQIA community in general. Because lesbianism is an even greater taboo than male same-sex relations in the Arab world, I will focus here on terms denoting lesbianism that could be considered by Arab lesbians and for which a more comfortable use could be developed. All the Arabic terms discussed below have been culled from medieval adab literary sources; they all thus have an Arab or Islamicate lineage and offer a culturally pertinent reservoir from which the specicity of contemporary Arab homosexuality can be articulated.

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The terms most frequently used to denote a lesbian in medieval Arabic erotic treatises are all variations of the word suh qiyya which one Lebanese .a lesbian from Bareed Mista3Jil , as discussed above, considered to be the most ah offensive of all. They are: s ah qa, and mus . iqa, sah .h .a . iqa. Even though these expressions are considered disparaging in contemporary Arab societies, I will suggest that such shame words can also be reclaimed as markers of positive identity for Arab lesbians. Such a strategy would parallel that adopted by Western LGBTQIA advocates as early as the 1920s and especially in the 1980s and 1990s when Queer Nation, for instance, borrowed tactics and insights from the black power and feminist movements to reclaim shame words (queer, faggot, dyke) for self-empowerment. And, in contrast to Western queers, Arab lesbians would have a long indigenous literary and cultural tradition from which to draw in order to validate their experiences, challenge existing social attitudes, and ultimately effect much-needed political and institutional change. The power of reclaiming the historical Arab past to assert the legitimacy of Arab gay and lesbian identities in the contemporary Arab world should not be underestimated. For, after all, names can be more than tags; they can convey powerful imagery. So namingproposing, imposing and accepting namescan be a political exercise (Martin, 1991, p. 83). To call Arab at is culturally meaningful: it places Arab lesbians within lesbians mus ah . iq their own cultural context, reconnects them to their heritage and solidly anchors the present to the past. This past ought not to be associated simply with violence and persecution, but ought also to evoke a sense of lesbian pride among contemporary Arab lesbians. Let us recall that in medieval Araat (lesbians) were associated bic literary writings as in adab literature, s ah . iq with love and devotion, and at times were known to form exclusive and reciprocal relations. As a matter of fact, the origin of lesbianism, according to popular anecdotes in the Arabic literary tradition, is regularly traced back forty years before the emergence of male homosexuality to an intercultural, interfaith love affair between an Arab woman and a Christian woman in preIslamic Iraq. The earliest extant erotic treatise in Arabic, Jawami ` al-Ladhdha (Encyclopedia of Pleasure) from the late tenth century tells us the story of the rst lesbian couple, the enduring love between Hind bint al-Nu`m an, the Christian daughter of the last Lakhmid (Byzantine) king of Hira in the seventh century, and Hind bint al Khuss al-Iy adiyya from Yam am a known as al-Zarq a and reportedly the rst lesbian in Arab history (al-K atib, 1997, p. 88).14 In the Encyclopedia of Pleasure, this lesbian love story is praised and presented as evidence of the greater loyalty and devotion that women have for their female partners compared to heterosexual mens attachment to women.15 If the relationship between Hind and al-Zarq a is the one most often cited in the Arabic erotic tradition on lesbianism, it is not the only lesbian relation in Arabic literary history. In fact, in al-Fihrist (The Catalog), al-Nad m

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(d. ca. 995) listed the names of twelve lesbian couples who were known in the tenth century but about whom nothing else has been preserved. Because al-Nad m lists every Arabic book of which he was aware, we know from his inventory about the existence of twelve works dating before the end of the tenth century that were devoted to named lesbian couples. All the titles given are named after characters, presumably the lesbian couples whose na and Qoronl story each book tells. These works are: the Book of R h .a (literally, the Book of Basil and Clove); the Book of Ruqayya and Khad ja; the Book of Mo s and Zakiyya; the Book of Sak na and al-Rab ab (of Calm fa and al-Dhulaf a; and the Mistress of the Household); the Book of al-Ghat . r the Book of Hind and bint al-Nu `m an (of Hind/India and the Daughter of al-Nu`m an, undoubtedly the couple described above); the Book of `Abda al-`Aqila and `Abda al-Ghadd ara (of the Wise Slave Girl and the Treacherous m;16 Slave Girl); the Book of Lulua and Sh atira; the Book of Najda and Zu` u d; the Book of S the Book of Salma and Su` a ab and Sur ur (of Justice and . aw Happiness); the Book of al-Dahm a and Ni`ma (of the Dark One and the Gift from God) (al-Nad m, 1971, p. 366). l According to medieval Arab physician al-Samaw` u i ibn Yahy a (d. 1180), a great number of Arab lesbians were writers, poets, scholars, even Quranic reciters (n.d., p. 87).17 They thus belonged to the best educated, most sophisticated, and most respected spheres of their societies. Any one of these lesbian characters could become a role model for contemporary Arab lesbians and any of their names could be adopted and adapted to name female homosexuality in the Arab world, in the same way as the name of the poet Sappho was used to coin sapphism or the name of the Greek island of Lesbos led to the creation of the word lesbian. Instead of shunning the ah terms sah . q and s . iqa, and rather than adopting the words dyke, lesbian, lesbienne, or even the newly coined Arabic mithliyya, Arab lesbians stand to gain a great deal from reclaiming and proclaiming local constructs from their own literary history as culturally meaningful voices to challenge current negative social attitudes and to assert proudly their identity as Arab lesbians. ah at or an adaptaIt should be pointed out that the terms sah . q and s . iq tion of the name of one of the twelve lesbian couples, are not the only options available to contemporary Arab lesbians. Medieval erotic treatises regularly also use the words zar if at witty, elegant courtly ladies-loversand 18 ab a ib beloveds, to refer to lesbians. In fact, these are precisely the two h . terms selected by al-Nad im to refer to known lesbians during his time, indicating that, by the end of the tenth century, there was already a conscious effort to expand the lexicon referring to female homosexuals (1971, p. 366). aib include the ghul amiyy at from ninth-century BaghThese zar if at and h . ab dad (the ghul amiyy at is the name given to slave girls in the Abbasid court of al-Mam un, one of Har un Al-Rach ids sons, who cross-dressed as boysat times even with painted mustaches); some of the cross-dressed characters from Alf Layla wa Layla or the siyar al-Sha `biyya (popular epics);19 Princess

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Wall ada (d. 1087 or 1091), daughter of Muhammad III (r. 102425), also known as al-Mustak, the caliph of Cordoba (the capital of Islamic al-Andalus in modern Spain), who was known to have had one male and one female lover (Abd us and Mohja) in addition to her famed love story with Andalu (slave sian poet Ibn Zayd un;20 and the most famous ninth-century qaynas singers) mentioned in Abu al-Faraj al-Isbah an is Kit ab al-Agh an i,21 namely, an (d. 841), Fadl (d. 875), and `Arib (d. 890). Bath ul,22 `In For contemporary Arab lesbians, asserting themselves as the twentyaib, or even ghul amiyy at would unquestionably rst-century zar if at , h . ab be a politically powerful action. Such a gesture was courageously made by aib one Arab organization that has adopted a variation on the term h . ab ab, a suborganization of the Gay as its group name, namely, the group Ah . b and Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS), which currently has four different chapters worldwide (New York City, Los Angeles, Lebanon, and Egypt).23 Because the aib, or ghul amiyy at have no negative connotations, in words zar if at , h . ab fact, no sexual connotation in Arabic today, they may be usefully reclaimed to validate lesbian experiences and empower Arab lesbians, all the while anchoring Arab female homosexuality within its own cultural context. Salvaging the medieval Islamicate erotic tradition and its accompanying terminology on homosexuality and promoting it as a rallying banner for contemporary Arab gays and lesbians challenge the claim that homosexuality is a Western importation, and renders the automatic recourse to monolithic English and Western categories superuous. Moreover, uncovering the forgotten Arabic literary and cultural material on alternative sexualities offers contemporary Arab gays and lesbians a rich and empowering culturally specic and meaningful heritage, as well as homegrown modes of resistance that are poised to challenge homophobic attitudes and policies in the Arab world, and the hegemony of Western sexual and cultural imperialism.

TOWARD A HYBRID AND INTERCULTURAL ARABIC QUEER THEORY


I am not naively advocating that a facile or simplistic adoption of medieval Arabic terminology related to homosexual expression can by itself redress all, or even most of the issues of discrimination and human rights abuses that contemporary Arab LGBTQIA individuals face. A call for a return to medieval literary history and the adoption of medieval sexual paradigms, no matter how tolerant they may have been at times, would be tantamount to nothing less than a fundamentalist vision, a non-Western nativist position. And my intent is certainly not to paint a nostalgic picture of a monolithic, blissful, tolerant Arab past, before Western imperialism, when Arab gays and lesbians lived openly, side by side with straight individuals in absolute harmony.24

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Such a view would not only be inaccurate, but also of limited value and signicance to the global context in which the contemporary Arab LGBTQIA community lives. Indeed, we cannot ignore the fact that, today, Arab gays and lesbians exist in an international global community with increased exposure to Western popular culture from which many rst learn about their sexual identity (via Western media and the Internet). We also cannot dismiss the fact that the very notion of gay rights was born in the West and only later did its momentum spread to the developing non-Western world. Last but not least, we must remember that the elaboration of queer theoryitself a Western paradigmdespite its limitations, has led to productive discussions that have been particularly benecial to our nuanced understanding of alternative, nonconforming sexualities all over the world. The Arab LGBTQIA community has certainly beneted from all of these (Western) developments and it is in great part owing to them that it has been able to organize and assert itself, at the grassroots level, in many Arab countries. In this early twenty-rst century, the sexual and social identity of the Arab LGBTQIA community is a hyphenated one. It is anchored both in local traditions and interdependent with global realities. Whether living in the diaspora or not, Arab gays and lesbians are part of a global community where the West has been at the forefront of theoretical debates over queer identity and at the vanguard of human rights activism. Arab gays and lesbians are also heir to a rich legacy of writings on homoeroticism with which they are often unfamiliar because it has been censored and occulted at least since nineteenth-century debates over modernity.25 These writings, and the lexicon of sexual desire that they include, possess signicant social and political implications for gay rights activism worldwide. Because it portrays non-Western ways of being gay, the Islamicate tradition on homoeroticism promises to be especially useful to Arab gays struggle for acceptance in that it provides Arab society, and the Arab LGBTQIA community and their families, with a culturally meaningful framework for understanding nonnormative sexual and gender identity. Recognizing and adopting only one side of their hyphenated identity (be it the Arab or the Western part) is damaging because it promotes a clash-of-civilizations position: cultural authenticity vs. Western imperialism. By embracing their hybridity and interculturality, the Arab LGBTQIA community stands to participate fully, as actors (and no longer as reactors) in the elaboration of a new global LGBTQIA discourse that would validate their experiences as Arabs and as citizens of an interconnected community. Only then will Arab gay and lesbian organizations be in a position to effectively support their members and produce much-needed social and political change. Interestingly, Arab lesbians have been active advocates in the endorsement of the essentially hybrid nature of their identity. Indeed, let us recall

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that the Web producers of the online magazine Bintelnas discussed earlier have adopted the linguistically and culturally hybrid name of Mujadarra Grrls to describe their intercultural identity. This is how they explain their choice: We chose the name Mujadarra Grrls because it reects our heritages. Mujadarra represents the traditions that nourish us and connects us to where we came from. Grrls represents the inuence of late twentieth-century urban U.S. culture on our lives.26 The choice of the Arabic mujadarra and the modied English spelling of the word girls highlight the hybrid dimension of Arab gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender individuals. The word grrls afliates these Arab lesbians with the fourth generation of feminists who are seeking to update and reinvent Western feminism, paying particular attention to the diversity of women and the range of their experiences and orientations. Grrls represent the younger generation of women who are striving to remind us of the limitations of middle-class, white, and heterosexual feminism that was characteristic of earlier generations.27 In the early twenty-rst century, the new wave of feminists includes not only an array of ethnic and racial backgrounds (including, in this case, Arabs and Arab-Americans), but also women who exhibit a range of sexual preferences. The specic choice of mujadarra (in Mujadarra Grrls) is also important not only because food is a key aspect of Arab culture, but especially because mujadarra (a popular Arabic dish made of rice, lentils, and fried onions) is a dish composed of various elements. It thus stands as a felicitous metaphor for the mixed ethnic origins of the individuals the website is intended to serve. The diversity of Arabs is thus highlighted, just as is their common heritage, and their association with the evolving global feminist movement. Just as the various ingredients in the mujadarra combine together into a harmonious assemblage, Arab gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals become whole and harmonious when they embrace their hybridity. The afrmation of the essentially hybrid nature of Arab gay and lesbian identity is again openly voiced in one of the stories from Bareed Mista3Jil where the narrator calls for a rejection of a monolithic denition of homosexuality as imposed by Arab societys heteronormativity. She decries the fact that Arab society has hijacked exible sexual terms and imposed upon them absolute and single meanings; she calls for the adoption of a hybrid linguistic identity that encompasses both Western theoretical paradigms and Arabic cultural registers:
Queer theory calls for a bigger uidity of sexual identities. It refuses to push people into the labels of gay/straight [. . .]. I love queer [. . .]. In Arabic, it translates into ghareeb al atwar (which also means strange or peculiar) and also into shazz [sic] (deviant). I love the word shazz! [. . .]. So yes, ana shazzeh. (Bareed Mista3Jill , 2009, p. 115)

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The Lebanese lesbians understanding of the implications that queer theory can have for Arab homosexuals and her resulting enthusiastic ratication of the term sh adh are a powerful statement of the advantages of hybridity

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and an insightful understanding of the unquestionably intercultural nature of the Arab LGBTQIA identity. The appeal to (Western) queer theory and the reappropriation of the Arabic term sh adh have allowed this Lebanese woman to afrm her sexual orientation and her lesbianism proudly and openly by reclaiming the Arabic language. One must add that, while queer theory (a Western paradigm) is indeed what has permitted this Arab lesbian to proudly assert her sexual identity, it has not done so by imposing itself on Arab cultures and by erasing its specicities. Rather, the adoption of queer theory as a model for inclusive social justice has afforded the Arab lesbian from Bareed Mista3Jil the opportunity to embrace her Arab lineage and in so doing to reclaim the Arabic language to address her nonconforming sexuality. The interweaving of queer theory with the Islamicate tradition on erotology holds tremendous potential for gay rights activism throughout the Arab world and the Middle East. Thanks to it, Arab gays and lesbians no longer need to feel or believe that the only way to articulate their sexual and gender identity is solely through Western terms. Likewise, Arab society can no longer claim that homosexuality is a Western importation that must be combated, defeated, and eradicated just like colonialism had to be. Instead, Arab gays and lesbians, like Arab society at large, can begin to unlearn patterns of internalized homophobia which is one of the most enduring and damaging legacies of Western imperialism. By embracing aspects of the Arab literary past and by reclaiming a culturally meaningful terminology that is sensitive to their own social and cultural background, they can enter into productive dialogue with the Western LGBTQIA community, and participate on equal footing in international debates about gay and human rights. The search for a suitable Arabic terminologyrooted in Arabic and Islamicate classical sources and beneting from developments in (Western) queer theoryis a valuable contribution to the construction of an afrmative Arab LGBTQIA identity, and to the global discourse about queer identity. It is thus a search with not only local implications, but crucial global ones as well. The benets of this wider global, hybrid, and intercultural conversation between Middle Eastern and Western gays and lesbians promise to revolutionize queer theory, challenge cultural binarisms, and promote new culturally sensitive paradigms of sexual expression.

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NOTES
1. The title of this collection translates to Express Mail or Mail in a Hurry. The editors chose this title to reect both the urgency of getting these stories across and also the private nature of the stories-like letters written, sealed, and sent out to the world (Bareed Mista3Jil , 2009, p. 10). 2. Judith Butler describes thus the operation of oppressive regimes (1993, p. 312). 3. This terminology is culled from Bareed Mista3Jil , from contemporary Arabic literary works, and from personal conversations. I have purposefully left out a few terms to protect the privacy of gays and lesbians living in the Arab world today. The reader may also usefully consult the glossary of terms circulated by the group Aswat in 2008, entitled Mustala7at Assasiya Fi al-Hawiya al-Jinsiya (al-hawiya

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al-jinsiya [sexual identity] is another term worthy of consideration). See http://www.aswatgroup.org/ content/publications. 4. This association is mentioned on several occasions by various lesbians interviewed in Bareed Mista3Jil (2009); see esp. pp. 147 and 157. 5. I have kept the transliterations found in the original. 6. The development of a new Arabic lexicon for homosexuality has begun with Arabs in the diaspora, especially those living in the West because of their greater freedom to organize and the support they are able to receive from other human rights organizations. But their example has been followed by other LGBTQIA associations within the Arab world. 7. Both Bassam Bassams glossary and his Translators Note are available on the Bintelnas website, http://www.bintelnas.org/10muqadeema/transl-eng.html. I am reproducing here Bassams own transliteration of Arabic terms. 8. Bassam does not explain the linguistic formation of junusiyya mithliyya. It is still unclear to me whether the word junusiyya is Bassams transliteration of jinsiyya (one nds regularly the expression jinsiyya mithliyya just as al-mithliyya al-jinsiyya), or whether it is a conscious adoption of the term al-junusiyya , which was coined by Omar Nahas (founder of the Yousuf Foundation). Omar Nahas (1997) had proposed the term junusiyya (in contrast to jinsiyya) to speak positively about homosexuality in the Arab world. 9. The lack of widespread appeal is evident in the fact that the editors and narrators of Bareed Mista3Jil , writing some seventeen years after the list proposed by Bassam, are still struggling with terminology. One could also point out that while Alaa Al-Aswany opts for the use of the term sh adh in the Yacoubian Building (2004) because it is the one best known in Egyptian and Arab society, Elham Mansour does not consistently use the words junusiyya mithliyya in her novel Ana Hiya Anti (2008), even though her novel has been heralded as the most explicit and tolerant depiction of lesbianism in contemporary Arabic literature. 10. The expression al-jinsiyya al-mithliyya (like al-mithliyya al-jinsiyya) was used by Sayyid Qutb to speak about Da Vincis alleged homosexuality as discussed by Freud. Qutb did not use the term sh adh, which would have been more common in his time. See Joseph Massads discussion of the use of Arabic terms for homosexuality (2007, p. 126). For an example of the unusual use of the term mithliyya without reference to homosexuality, see Jurj al-Tar ab ish i, cited in Massad (2007, p. 37). 11. A timetable of the U.S. Gay Rights Movement is available online at http://www.infoplease.com/ ipa/A0761909.html. It is worth recalling that, when homosexuality began to be considered as a mental illness in the nineteenth century, it was thought at the time to be an improvement over the then prevalent biblical view of homosexuality as an unnatural sexuality, a sin against nature and against the will of God. 12. The notion of a xed gender or sexual identity has been challenged by Judith Butler who has usefully pointed out that identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes and are sites of trouble (1993, p. 308). 13. While I believe that the recourse to English or French terminology to express sexual preference in Arab cultures is inappropriate, I disagree with scholars (like Joseph Massad, for instance) who view homosexuality as a category to be a foreign import, inapplicable therefore to non-Western societies. 14. The Lakhmid dynasty evolved from a pre-Islamic Bedouin tribe into a kingdom in the late third century CE and became a vassal of Sassanian Persia in the seventh century. Hira is a city near Kufa in the south of present-day Iraq. 15. This anecdote already appeared in the tenth-century work of Abbasid historian, poet, and musicologist Abu al-Faraj al-Isbah an i (d. ca. 972), Kit ab al-Agh an i (1927, 2:3132). It was later repeated by others, including al-R aghib al-Isfah an i (. ca. 1000), Muh adar at al-Udab a wa-Muh awar at al-Shu `ar a wa-l-Bulagh a (1961), cited in Rowson (1991, p. 68). It was also included in al-Yemen i (d. 850), Rushd al-Lab ib ila Mu `a ib (2002), translated by Samar Habib as On the Mention of Grinding and sharat al-Hab Grindings (2007, p. 67). 16. Sometimes this couple is known as Rughum and Najd a. See al-Yemen i, in Habib (2007, p. 68). 17. Al-Samaw` ul i ibn Yahy a wrote about the physiological causes of lesbianism. See Jacquart and Thomasset (1988, p. 124). 18. Al-Tif ashi uses the term zarif at in his thirteenth-century treatise, Nuzhat al-Alb ab f i m a l a Yujad f i Kit ab (literally, A Promenade of the Hearts in What Does Not Exist in Any Book) (1992, p. 236). The term zar if at is close to the playfulness and joy implicit in the term queer; it may thus become a particularly apt choice for contemporary Arab lesbians.

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19. See my analysis of cross-dressed heroines in Alf Layla wa Layla (Amer, 2008, chap. 3). 20. There is a heated debate among scholars as to whether Wall ada may be considered a lesbian in the medieval Islamicate world. While Philip K. Hitti (1968), Ab u Khal il (1993), Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe (1997, p. 99) considered her a lesbian, Rowson takes the opposite view, stating that there is insufcient evidence for making any assertions about her lesbianism. Rowson summarizes the debate in his forthcoming book on male homoeroticism in the medieval Islamicate tradition. I would like to thank him for sharing parts of his unpublished manuscript with me. 21. On Kit ab al-Agh an i, see Kilpatrick (2003) and Guidi (1900). 22. On these slave girls, see Habib (2007, p. 26). These slave girls (like the zar if at and hab aib) are examples of what I have called elsewhere lesbian-like women (Amer 2008, chaps. 45; 2009). Much information about the education of slave girls (q aynas) can be found in al-J ahizs Ris alat al-qiy an (1980), which survives only in one manuscript, Istanbul MS Damad 949, fols. 177v188v. The Arabic text has been edited and translated into English by A. F. L. Beeston (1980) and into French by Charles Pellat (1963, esp. p. 145). See also some histories of Muslim women written in the Middle Ages, such as Ibn al-S a` (11961275) (1968). While al-S a` i discussed primarily aristocratic women, Jal al al-D in al-Suy ut i (14451505) treated slave girls from all sections of society in al-Mustazraf min Akhb ar al-Jaw ar i (1989). 23. On this organization, see their ofcial website, http://www.glas.org/ahbab/. It should be pointed out that Ahb ab does not address itself exclusively to the Arab (gay and lesbian) community. 24. This view promulgated by orientalist-leaning critics has been dubbed an Islam de jouissance by Fr edr eric Lagrange (2008). 25. On these debates over modernity and the consequences they have had in suppressing homoerotic literary texts, see Massads careful analysis (2007, esp. chaps. 12). 26. This explanation is posted on the Bintelnas website, http://www.bintelnas.org/aboutus.html. 27. In a useful article questioning the existence of lesbian identity in Arab culture, based on the premises of Western feminist discourse, Iman al-Ghafari reminds us that the feminist discourse that turns lesbianism into a political choice is not liberating. Instead, it puts lesbians in a troublesome position where they have to play a major role in fullling the desires and fantasies of some heterosexual feminists at the expense of their true lesbian desires (200203, p. 87).

REFERENCES
Ahb ab. Available at http://www.glas.org/ahbab/. Accessed 2 April 2010. Al-Aswany, Alaa. 2004. Yacoubian Building. Translated by Davies, Humphrey. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press. Amer, Sahar. 2008. Crossing Borders: Love between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Amer, Sahar. 2009. Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-Like Women. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 18(2): 229232. The American Gay Rights Movement: A Timeline. Available at http://www. infoplease.com/ipa/A0761909.html. Accessed 15 November 2009. Aswat. Available at http://www.aswatgroup.org/content/publications. Accessed 2 April 2010. Bareed Mista3Jil: True Stories. 2009. Edited by Heinrich-B oll-Stiftung Middle East. Beirut, Lebanon: Meem. Bassam, Bassam. 2003. Glossary and Translators Note. Available at http:// www.bintelnas.org/10muqadeema/transl-eng.html. Accessed 15 November 2009. Beeston, A.F.L., ed. and trans. 1980. The Epistle on Singing-Girls of J ahiz, Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips. Bintelnas. Available at http://www.bintelnas.org/aboutus.html. Accessed 18 March 2010.

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Butler, Judith. 1993. Imitation and Gender Insubordination. In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, Edited by: Abelove, Henry, Barale, Michele Aina and Halperin, David M. 307320. New York: Routledge. Al-Ghafari, Iman. 200203. Is there a Lesbian Identity in the Arab Culture. Al-Raida, 20(99): 8490. Guidi, Ignazio. 1900. Tables alphab etiques du Kit ab al-Ag an i, Leiden: Brill. Habib, Samar, trans. 2007. Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations, London, Routledge. Hitti, Philip K. 1968. History of the Arabs from the Earliest Times to the Present, 9th ed., New York: St. Martins Press. Al-Isbah an i, Abu al-Faraj. 1927. Kit ab al-Agh an i [Book of songs]. Vol. 2. Cairo: Dar al-Kutub. Jacquart, Danielle and Thomasset, Claude. 1988. Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages, Princeton: University of Princeton Press. Al-J ahiz. 1980. Ris alat al-qiy an [The epistle on singing slave-girls]. Istanbul MS Damad 949, fols. 177v188v. Al-K atib, Abul Hasan Ali ibn Nasr. 1977. Encyclopedia of Pleasure. Edited by Khawwam, Salah Addin. Translated by Jarkas, Adnan and Khawwam, Salah Addin. Toronto: Aleppo. Khal il, Ab u. 1993. A Note on the Study of Homosexuality in the Arab/Islamic Civilization. Arab Studies Journal, 1(2): 34. Kilpatrick, Hilary. 2003. Making the Great Book of Songs: Compilation and the Authors Craft in Abu al-Faraj al-Isbah an is Kit ab al-Agh an i, New York: Routledge. Lagrange, Fr edr eric. 2008. Islam dinterdits, Islam de jouissance, Paris: T era` edre. Luongo, Michael T, ed. Gay Travels in the Muslim World. New York: Routledge, 2007 Mansour, Elham. 2008. Ana Hiya Anti [I am you], Beirut: Riad El-Rayyes. Martin, Ben L. 1991. From Negro to Black to African American: The Power of Names and Naming. Political Science Quarterly, 16(1): 83107. Massad, Joseph. 2007. Desiring Arabs, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Murray, Stephen O. and Roscoe, Will. 1997. Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature, New York: New York University Press. Al-Nad m. 1971. Al-Fihrist [The catalogue]. Edited by Tajaddud, Rida. Tehran: Yutlabu min Maktabat al-Asad wa-Maktabat al-Ja`far al-Tabr z . li-Tafs r al-Junusiyya [Considerations to interNahas, Omar. 1997. Nah . w Namudhag pret Junusiyya], Roermond, The Netherlands: Bureau Arabica. Pellat, Charles, ed. and trans. 1963. Les Esclaves-chanteuses de G ahiz. Arabica, 10: 12147. Rowson, Everett. 1991. The Categorization of Gender and Sexual Irregularity in Medieval Arabic Vice Lists. In Bodyguards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, Edited by: Epstein, Julia and Straub, Kristina. 5079. New York: Routledge. Al-S a` , Ibn. 1968. Nis a al-Khulaf a [Women of the caliphs]. Edited by Jaw ad, Mustaf a, Cairo: Dar al-Ma ` arif. Al-Samaw` ul , Abu Nasr bin Yahy a bin Abb as al-Maghrib . N.d. Kit ab Nuzhat alAsh ab f Mu` ashar at al-Ahb ab [A promenade of friends in the art of intimacy]. Ph.D. diss., Friedrich-Alexander-Universit at Erlangen-N urenberg.

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Al-Suy ut , Jal al al-D n. 1989. Al-Mustazraf min Akhb ar al-Jaw ar [Courtly tales of slave girl stories]. Edited by al-Fattah Tamm am, Ahmad Abd. Cairo: Maktabat al-Tur ath al-Isl am . Al-Tif ashi. 1992. Nuzhat al-Alb ab f m a l a Yujad f Kit ab [A promenade of the hearts in what does not exist in any book]. Edited by Jum`a, Jam al. London: Riad el-Rayyis. Al-Yemen . 2002. Rushd al-Lab b ila Mu `a b [An intelligent mans guide sharat al-Hab to the art of coition]. N.p.: Thala li-l Tib a `at wa-l Nashr.

CONTRIBUTOR
Sahar Amer (Ph.D., Yale University) is Professor of Asian Studies and Adjunct Professor of French and Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is particularly interested in cross-cultural encounters, gender and alternative sexualities, contemporary Arabs and Muslims in the diasporas (Europe and the United States) and postcolonial identities. She has published Esope au f eminin: Marie de France et la politique de linterculturalit e (Rodopi, 1999), and Crossing Borders: Love between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), awarded the 2009 Aldo & Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies by the MLA. She is currently completing a book entitled What Is Veiling? forthcoming with the University of North Carolina Press. She has co-edited three volumes (Yale French Studies, Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, and New Francographies) as well as one art catalog. She is recipient of several national awards, including a National Humanities Center Fellowship and a Fulbright.

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