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August 25, 2003

"We are here, We are queer, Get used to it"
Hossein Khiabanian  [info|posts]

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[...] Those who study trends say living side by side in more places - the 2000 Census showed gay couples living in 99.3 percent of the counties in the United States - has produced a tremendous shift in social attitudes over the past decade.
[...] The General Social Survey, done by the University of Chicago, found that the percentage of people saying intercourse between people of the same sex is "always wrong" has dropped by 21 points in the last 10 years, to 56 percent from 77 [...]
from the New York Times - Aug. 23, 2003.

Recently, I've been thinking about the degree of acceptance of Homosexuality in religious societies like America and Iran. Lately, American network and cable TVs have started a flow of gay shows that some of them like "Queer Eye for a Straight Guy", a make-over show in which five gay guys make a straight guy ready for a special occasion, have been major hits. The interesting thing about this show is specially at the end of the show, the straight guy (even the ones who seemed to have a little bit of homophobia) appreciates what these gay guys have done for him and somehow embraces their culture (or whatever is known to public as "gay" culture).

Despite the negative talks of the Bush administration and conservative Republican Party leaders about homosexuality and same-sex marriage (for example, remember the controversial statement by Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania) the rate of acceptance of homosexual behaviour, in the body of American public is increasing (Note the statistics presented in the the beginning of this post). I think this is mostly because American people have been mostly exposed to the gay culture in the past few years. And this is not just happening in media. More and more "settled" gay couples are moving to conservative neighbourhoods every day and they are gradually disproving the infamous stereotyped image of homosexuals, such as paedophilia, promiscuousness and lack of care (and/or respect) towards family values.

My point is, being with and talking about people with different life styles - in this case homosexuals - and getting exposed to their existence and their way of life plays the most important role in accepting them which would eventually result in treating them equally.

This is an example of the culture of change discussed before in this weblog. Having a constitution ensuring the freedom for all people, especially minorities, is essential but not enough to make everyone respect the freedom. The more exposure a nation gets to a certain minority group, the more it embraces their culture.

Here I just wanted to mention a personal experience. I usually have a long chat with my mom on Saturdays and we talk about almost everything. In the past few months, occasionally I’ve mentioned gay people and we’ve talked about them. At the beginning, she, being a liberal woman but still quite religious, couldn’t deal with the fact that they are just natural people like everybody, but now if in one week we don’t talk about anything "gay", she jokes about it and says "no gay talk today?" She has accepted them, which makes me very proud of her and myself!

Comments
Senior Grad at August 25, 2003 12:43 PM [permalink]:

You seem to have a predilection for bringing up controversial issues, Hossein; don't you? I was recommended to watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (on Bravo, Tuesdays) and I did. It was okay, I guess. It was aired between two Boy Meets Boy shows, which made Bravo look like a gay channel.

There is a lot to be said about gays and how they should be dealt with in a professedly Islamic country. There are, I happen to know, male prostitutes in Pakistan who are tolerated by the general public (as long as they bribe the cops). Quite an interesting phenomena...

Parisien at August 25, 2003 12:53 PM [permalink]:

How long does your wife speak to her mom? 12 hrs every sunday as a revenge? ;-)

Old Fox at August 25, 2003 02:22 PM [permalink]:

There are two points when it comes to gay community in Iran:

1. Social factor: It will take time for the public to accept and co-exist with the official gay phenomenon. It will take time and effort (such as "exposure" you said, etc)

2. Legal/Political factor: The currect system in Iran will never ever "recognise" this phenomenon, because it is clearly against the teachings of the religion. So thinking about gay "rights" is pointless at this stage.

3. In any nation, the gay community itself needs to seek its rights through political and legal activities. It's impossible to do so before solving the problem mentioned in (2).

Kaveh Kh. at August 25, 2003 03:39 PM [permalink]:

The points about gay rights in Iran are well made but I think Hossein is bringing gays as an example of change via exposure and saturation. Consider for example "Hijab" in Iran and how most women deal with it. There are always women who are constantly pushing the limit of Hijab and since i was a kid, conservative people were aginst these women, but apparently there are far fewer of those conservatives these days in Iran ... Maybe one of the girls should write something about this phenomenon here ...

Elnaz at August 25, 2003 04:55 PM [permalink]:

I second Kaveh’s point. Also I wanted to add that I agree there are certain changes that would be much faster if laws were at least silent about them. But even when we have harsh laws prohibiting or slowing the rate of change, persistence can still yield to appreciable changes. Kaveh mentioned the phenomenon of Iranian women changing the definitions of the appropriate Hijab during these years. I also wanted to point out the gradual softening of society, though still quite small but nonetheless measurable, in another social taboos in Iran. Consider divorce for an example. Two generations ago it was out of question. For our parents it was hardly possible, now it’s still heavily frowned upon but the fact is you can see more and more incidents of it occurring in spite of the cruel laws and the social stigma. And I’m sure even if the regime in Iran doesn’t change in the course of the next generation, the growing number of divorcees would force the society in general and the law makers to at least soften if not change the laws regarding issues such as child custody, alimony, etc. Which supports Hossein’s argument (remember that Sodomy was illegal in some states until a few months ago, which means basically being gay was illegal) that the more incidents people see, the more they “get used to it”.

reza at August 25, 2003 06:11 PM [permalink]:

Just want to say Iranian culture is not that much against homosexuality. I remember when I was in high school some students were bragging about having homosexual relations with other students. They only needed to tell us that they were the "man" of the relation.

Senior Grad at August 25, 2003 07:31 PM [permalink]:

I appreciate Elnaz's detailed commentary/observations on how a social phenomenon finds its way amid all the objections of large portions of a society. Examples are well-chosen. One thing though, that I think you wouldn't disagree with me on: The process of change is not always without backlashes, as we have seen, time and again, regarding the case of Hijab in Iran. Some freedom is tolerated for a while, but all of a sudden we have thugs turning the clock back to square one (sorry about mixing up the metaphors).

The subject of Hijab deserves to be dealt with in a separate article. I personally have no clue what the Islamic Republic is going to make of it in future. Thanks (I'm being sarcastic) to Hijab's being mandatory, Iran is deprived of the otherwise great tourism industry that it could have enjoyed, and this is but one instance of how Iran is quite absurdly deprived of being part of the international community. We cannot even host am international scientific contest in Iran.

Homosexuality in Iran, and teens being proud of it, as reza points out. It's not easy to define homosexuality in exact terms. Thankfully, we have two terms in Persian for homosexual: HAMJENS-GARAA and HAMJENS-BAAZ. These terms may be used interchangeably, but they need not to. There is no question that some men have effeminate tendencies (I defer talking about women with macho tendencies), but the phenomenon that is widespread in some societies is that due to the shortage of available women men naturally resort to other "resources" for satisfying their basic primal needs, for example, other men or in rural areas even animals. (I have to add here that this is the case in some European countries as well!) I suppose this can be labeled az HAMJENSBAAZI, without being HAMJENSGARAA.

What about the issue of homosexuality (shall I coin a word here, "unipolar homosexuality", where the receiver is always a receiver and the lover is always the lover) in old Persian literature? From Obayd Zakani, to Sa'di, to Hafez, unipolar homosexuality seems to have been something of a *norm* among certain bearded scholarly old men...

Senior Grad at August 25, 2003 08:49 PM [permalink]:

I just did some research (God bless Google!) and found the word "ephebophilia"! For more details see:

http://www.glbtq.com/literature/mid_e_lit_persian.html

Siavash at August 25, 2003 10:32 PM [permalink]:

1.Dont forget media, almost all sitcoms these days have a gay character or at least talk about gay-issue in almost all episodes. Tomorrow's culture can be seen in today's TV.

2.Economical factors should also be considered, coroporates are among advocates of gay life-style.

Shiraz at August 25, 2003 10:53 PM [permalink]:

This is an interesting subject, thank you Hossein. Is metrosexuality the next topic :-)!?
I would like to separate two different issues here.
1- In some cases the law is against the flow of the society and it is bound to change somehow. An example is the issue of hijab or the fact that women are allowed to study whatever they want compared to couple of years ago when “some” majors were inappropriate for women :-| !
2- In the opposite case, the law doesn’t prevent something but the moral values and traditions make it a taboo like the divorce mentioned above. As much as I know, a guy can divorce his wife whenever he wants to (but it is not considered appropriate of course).
3- Unfortunately the issue of homosexuality is a combination of both. It is a completely weird issue for the traditional society. And also the law doesn’t back them up. A similar issue is if a girl and a guy decide to live with each other without any commitment (legal or religous).

To senior grad: thanks for the link it was amusing and depressing. The fact that pedophilia may be more accepted than homosexuality is sick.
And also according to the following link we shouldn't have any “hamjensbaaz” in Iran for a while! http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/forum/030815_a-iran-wedding1.shtml

Elnaz at August 26, 2003 12:31 AM [permalink]:

Shiraz,

Thanks for the clarification. I forgot to mention that I was talking more about the women's right to divorce and their social status after divorce. (getting custody specially over male children is not a big problem for a father who is say, not addict.) I accept that there is negative social value for men who divorce their wives as well but from my observations (non scientific at all. mostly gatherings from the way people talk) the effect of this negative value is still much larger for women.

Just a spontaneous idea: maybe if people start to form supporting groups and publicize their services, the moral support (which is the least these groups can do) would accelerate the change and ease the burden on individuals.

Hazhir at August 26, 2003 01:22 PM [permalink]:

Thanks Hossein for starting this interesting discussion. I think your point about the importance of interaction between the minority and majority in recognition of the rights of minority is very important and well articulated. Meanwhile, I can also think of several cases were such coexistence has not been as helpful. You can think of Afghanies in Iran, Turks in Germany, etc. My point is that to get deeper into this discussion, we need to specify mechanisms that facilitate/hinder such recognition of rights of minorities, even if there is a reasonable level of interaction (when there is not so much interaction, e.g. Iranians in US, we are dealing with a fairly different phenomenon).
I havn't thought about or studied this issue, so I just toss out some raw ideas. The collective and organized efforts of minority should be influential. For example, in case of gay community in US, they are one of the best organized groups. They have fought very hard and have gained their rights step by step (look at the newspapers from 70's, they are abundant with hate crimes against gays).
Another factor is the political-judicial system. For example, here in the U.S. the case-based method of practicing law opens up the possibilty that a minority group can influence future treatment by focusing on a single case and winning it.
Media is also playing a very significant role: by bringing the questions into the public and talking about the arguments of the both sides, the minority gets a very much needed legitimacy to be heard.
These are just a few possible mechanisms to distinguish between cases of successful or unsuccessful social change (in presence of minority-majority interaction). I am pretty sure you can add other mechanisms as well.

Senior Grad at August 26, 2003 02:15 PM [permalink]:

I enjoyed reading the new comments above, because they were well-thought-over (as opposed to my own rather arbitrary, somewhat irrelevant comments). I have a big issue, though, with the overall feel of Hazhir's purely *mechanical* approach to the issue of gays in Iran. I think the case of minorities cannot be easily given a general grand formula. Any attempt at such sweeping generalizations is bound to miss the point (or at least, *a* point!) The case of the gay minority is a far cry from the case of, say, Kurdish minority, which is in turn very different from the case of Baha'i minority. I believe that these cases must be dealt with completely differently, because the parameters are simply too numerous for the phenomenon at hand to be easily "engineer-izable".

Hazhir at August 27, 2003 01:31 PM [permalink]:

Good clarification senior grad. I didn't want to trivialize the issue or over-generalize it. In fact my comment was in the same direction: we can't say from observing the gay situation in the U.S. that in general interacting with minorities is enough/necessary/the main factor to change the relationship of minority and majority. My speculation over a few possible reasons for differences across cases was also in the same line (that we need to specify more dimensions in order to understand the phenomenon across different cases).
However, you may be alluding to something more general, that we can't use the case of gay community to learn so much of useful generalizations/anologies which inform us on the case of Kurdish minority in Iran. I think I would disagree with this possible interpretation of your comment. The whole field of social movements is created based on the premise that we can learn enough commonalities across different instances of interaction between minority and majority, to make it feasible as a coherent subfield of sociology. Following this premise, people have been able to find several similarities between black movement, environmental movement, gay rights movement, AIDS activism, Womens right movement, among others and these lessons have inspired several successful cases of activism in the U.S.. Nevertheless, I agree that the comparisons become more tricky when we try to export the generalizations of these studies across cultural borders.
Anyway, if you are interested to get a feel for the practical lessons of such generalizations, I suggest Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals".

bahram at September 8, 2003 05:29 PM [permalink]:

As an outed iranian gay i want to say something. Recently in a essay a french historian said that freudian sexuality doesn't exist in Rome empire. Means that everybody had sex with others men or women. Tabou was to have sex with people who are not in the same social position. i beleive to this opinion that we are all bisexual and because our religious culture, christianity, judaism or islam they push people to choose between gay or straight. Sa'adi, shakespear, Mowlavi, and many others let proof about their bisexuality. Hope one day our nature could win our culture behavior.