April 08, 2009

Gay is not homosexual

An addendum to Evan McLaren’s comment on The New York Times piece, Iraq?s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder.  I generally think that the semantic quibbles of anthropological types who caution against comparing societies as if terms are equivalent is a rather useless exercise, but in this case I believe some clarification is warranted.  It seemed implicit in The New York Times piece that there is a distinction between homosexual behavior, and an open gay subculture.  Whether it is taboo or not, homosexual behavior exists in many human societies. In fact because of sex segregation in much of the Islamic world homosexual behavior flourishes.* See this piece from The Atlantic about homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. But it is likely that most men who have engaged in homosexual behavior in Saudi Arabia are as gay as most prisoners who have engaged in homosexual behavior; not very.  The point is that the violent reaction to gay subculture in Iraq from traditionalists is less about homosexual behavior per se, as opposed to the emergence of a gay subculture which seems to be modeled on its Western variants.  In fact some scholars, such as Camille Paglia, have argued that the gay culture as we understand it in the West is a relatively new phenomenon which is qualitatively distinct from variants of homosexuality which are extant in the historical record, from ancient Greece down to Tokugawa Japan.  The rise of the gayness internationally, and the subsequent backlash, can therefore be viewed as simply another clash between Western values and non-Western values.

* The Sultan of Oman seems likely to be exclusively homosexual in his preferences.

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