Monday, June 05, 2006

crusade to liberate gays

If it is true that I belong to a worldwide gay people (or a queer nation?), it makes sense that I work to free my oppressed brethern. Joe Massad writes about these gay missionaries and their "this assimilationist project":
Organizations dominated by white Western males (the Inter­national Lesbian and Gay Association [ILGA] and the Inter­national Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [IGLHRC]) sprang up to defend the rights of "gays and lesbians" all over the world and to advocate on their behalf. ...
The larger mission is to liberate Arab and Muslim "gays and lesbians" from the oppression under which they allegedly live by transforming them from practitioners of same-sex contact into subjects who identify as homo­sexual
Describing his adventures in Morocco and southern Spain, Bray states that "at least one guy expressed a longing to just be gay and not have to live within the prescribed sexual behaviors, and he said that there were others like him." Seemingly convinced by this one conversation, Bray declares: "I believe this longing is universal." ...
Although the advent of colonialism and Western capital in the Arab world has trans­formed most aspects of daily life, efforts to impose a European hetero­sexual regime on Arab men have succeeded among only the upper classes and the increas­ingly Western­ized middle classes. It is among members of these wealthier segments of society that the Gay Inter­­national has found native informants. Although members of these classes who engage in same-sex relations have more recently adopted a Western identity (as part of a more general, classwide adoption of every­thing Western), they remain a minuscule minority among those men who engage in same-sex relations and who do not identify as "gay" or express a need for gay politics.
It is this minority and its diaspora members who staff groups such as the U.S.-based Gay and Lesbian Arabic Society (GLAS), founded in 1989 by a Palestinian in Washington, D.C. Indeed, as members of the Gay International, this minority is one of the main poles of the campaign to incite discourse on homo­sexua­lity in the Arab world. GLAS defines itself as "a networking organization for Gays and Lesbians of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries. We aim to promote positive images of Gays and Lesbians in Arab communities worldwide. We also provide a support network for our members while fighting for our human rights wherever they are oppressed. We are part of the global Gay and Lesbian movement seeking an end to injustice and discrimination based on sexual orienta­tion." ...
The Gay International and this small minority of Arab same-sex prac­titioners who adopt its epistemology have embarked on a project that can best be described as incitement to discourse. As same-sex contact between men has not been a topic of government or journalistic discourse in the Arab world of the last two centuries, the Gay International's campaign since the early 1980s to universalize itself has incited such discourse. The fact that the incited discourse is characterized by negativity toward the mission of the Gay Inter­national is immaterial. By inciting discourse on homosexual and gay and lesbian rights and identities, the very ontology of gayness is instituted in a discourse that could have only two reactions to the claims of universal gayness: support them or oppose them without ever questioning their epistemo­logical underpinnings. Indeed it is exactly these reactions that anchor and strengthen and drive the Gay International's universal agenda. In a world where no one questions the identification of gayness, gay epistemology and ontology can institute themselves safely. The Gay Inter­national's fight is therefore not an epistemological one but rather a simple political struggle where the world is divided between the supporters and opponents of gay rights. ...
The Gay International has succeeded in inciting discourse by attracting antigay Islamist and nationalist reactions to its efforts. While the premodern West attacked the Muslim world's alleged sexual licentiousness, the modern West attacks its alleged repression of sexual freedoms. Representations of the Arab world in the discourse of the Gay International, which includes the popular publication Spartacus, an "International Gay Guide," range from the horrific to the splendid, the latter on account of the availability of Arab men willing to engage in insertive anal intercourse with Western (read white) gay men. In the context of an Arab anticolonial nationalism or the more recent Islamism seeking Western technological moderni­zation while preserving its version of cultural or religious authenticity, the Gay International is correctly perceived as part of Western encroachment on Arab and Muslim cultures. ...
Faisal Alam, the Pakistani American founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, a new U.S.-based organization for gay and lesbian Muslims, tells his Western audience that Islam is "200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues." Alam, not surprisingly (like Robert Bray, who was quoted above), is a field associate with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. ...
Ramzi Zakharia, the founder of GLAS, wrote a letter to the editor [a prestigious London-based Arabic newspaper] in protest. Zakharia insisted that the term deviant "insults me as an Arab who desires people of the same sex as it insults millions like me." Zakharia explained how deviance does not describe people like himself since homo­sexuality is "genetic" and since his relationship to his sexual partner is not based only on sex but also on love. Zakharia declared that his group's goals in the Arab world are like those of the feminist movement, namely, to "remove the old and tribalist patriarchal system which has strangled and continues to strangle our people. . . . This system is based on the use of 'traditions,' and 'honor,' as weapons to repress pluralism in our societies in order to make democracy in them practically impossible, and to maintain the tribalist mentality whose effects are very clear in the contemporary Arab world."
Massad depicts these organizations as causing trouble:
Arab columnists began to rail against the "lobby of deviants" in America who want to impose their debauchery on the rest of the world.
More recently, the Egyptian authorities have begun to crack down on Cairo locations where Western­ized Egyptian gay-identified men and their European and American tourist cohorts congregate. On 11 May 2001, the police raided a discotheque housed in a boat on the Nile in the upper-class neighborhood of Zamalik and arrested fifty-five people. ... This crackdown followed an increasing visibility of Westernized, Cairo-based, upper- and middle-class Egyptian men who identify as gay and consort with European and American tourists, as well as the related increase in Internet activity among these men to arrange for meetings. It should be noted that the police were able to pursue these men mostly through monitoring their Internet correspondence. The most prominent of the Web sites,, is in English and features tips for European and American gay tourists coming to Egypt. Clearly most Egyptian men who practice same-sex contact neither know English nor have the where­withal to afford Internet access, much less know how to use it. This is important in that the police do not seek to, and cannot if they were so inclined, arrest men practicing same-sex contact but rather are pursuing those among them who identify as "gay" on a personal level and who seek to use this identity as a group identification through social and public activities. The campaign of the Gay International misses this important distinction. The point being that it is not same-sex sexual practices that are being repressed by the Egyptian police but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness that these gay-identified men seek.
The arrests prompted a torrent of media collusion with the government, condemning the practice of "deviance" as a new Western imposition–ironically, the hysteria that gripped the Gay International and their local agents only further ignited the rhetoric. IGLHRC was joined by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in condemning the arrests and in orchestrating a letter-writing campaign to Egyptian officials. ... Western diplomats and the Western press, who are usually silent about most human rights abuses in Egypt as well as the poverty that afflicts the country, flocked to the trial hearings in droves and registered their horror at the proceedings. The reaction of the Egyptian press and of the Egyptian government was swift: more vilification campaigns of deviant sex as an imperialist plot, as evidenced by the real alliances that the Gay International makes with imperialists–Al-Fatiha's activities were seen as particularly egregious. Indeed, the vilification campaign against these men intensified precisely as a result of the actions of the Gay International and the Western politicians whose support it solicited. During the hearings, the prosecution frequently referenced the Gay International's campaign, pledged to defend the "manhood" of Egypt against attempts to "violate" it, and wondered what would become of a nation who sits by idly as its "men become like its women" through "deviance." The press and conservative Islamists have begun to call for explicit laws criminalizing same-sex practice. The Gay International and its activities are largely responsible for the intensity of this repressive campaign. Despite the overwhelming evidence that gayness, as a choice, is proving to bring about more repression, not "liberation," and less sexual freedom rather than more for Arab men practicing same-sex contact, the Gay International is undeterred in its missionary campaign.
By inciting discourse about homosexuals where none existed before, the Gay International is in fact heterosexualizing a world that is being forced to be fixed by a Western binary. Because most non-Western civilizations, including Muslim Arab civilization, have not subscribed historically to these categories, their imposition is producing less than liberatory outcomes: men who are considered the passive or receptive parties in male-male sexual contacts are forced to have one object choice and identify as homosexual or gay, just as men who are the "active" partners are also forced to limit their sexual aim to one object choice, women or men. Most "active" partners see themselves as part of a societal norm, so heterosexuality becomes compulsory given that the alternative, as presented by the Gay International, means becoming marked outside the norm–with all the attendant risks and disadvantages of such a marking.
Also, most Arab and Muslim countries that do not have laws against sexual contact between men respond to the Gay International's incitement to discourse by professing antihomosexual stances on a nationalist basis. This is leading to harassment by police in some cases and could lead to antihomosexual legislation. Those countries that already have unenforced laws have begun to enforce them. Ironically, this is the very process through which "homosexuality" was invented in the West.
It is not the Gay International or its upper-class supporters in the Arab diaspora who will be persecuted but rather the poor and nonurban men who practice same-sex contact and who do not identify as homosexual or gay. The so-called passive homosexual whom the Gay International wants to defend against social denigration will find himself in a double bind: first, his sexual desires will be unfulfilled because he will no longer have access to his previously available sexual object choice (i.e., exclusively active partners, as in the interim they will have become heterosexual); and second, he will fall victim to legal and police persecution as well as heightened social denigration as his sexual practice becomes a topic of public discourse that transforms it from a practice into an identity.
When the Gay Internationalincites discourse on homosexuality in the non-Western world, it claims that the "liberation" of those it defends lies in the balance. In espousing this liberation project, the Gay Internationalis destroying social and sexual configurations of desire in the interest of reproducing a world in its own image, one wherein its sexual categories and desires are safe from being questioned. Because it has solicited and received some support from Arab and Muslim native informants who are mostly located in the United States and who accept its sexual categories and identities, the Gay International's imperialist epistemological task is proceeding apace with little opposition from the majority of the sexual beings it wants to "liberate" and whose social and sexual worlds it is destroying in the process. In undertaking this universalizing project, the Gay Internationalultimately makes itself feel better about a world it forces to share its identifications. Its missionary achievement, however, will be the creation not of a queer planet but rather a straight one.
As a social constructivist Massad concludes:
In contradistinction to the liberatory claims made by the Gay International in relation to what it posits as an always already homosexualized population, I argue that it is the discourse of the Gay International that both produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist, and represses same-sex desires and practices that refuse to be assimilated into its sexual epistemology. ... this discourse assumes prediscursively that homosexuals, gays, and lesbians are universal categories that exist everywhere in the world, and based on this prediscursive axiom, the Gay International sets itself the mission of defending them by demanding that their rights as "homosexuals" be granted where they are denied and be respected where they are violated. In doing so, however, the Gay International produces an effect that is less than liberatory.


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