September 25, 2007

Iran: Gay Free Since Forever

Among the many hilariously insane things Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during his recent trip to Columbia University, the top contender surely is when he announced that there are no homosexuals in Iran. I suppose that is his way of saying that while it's completely inappropriate to execute gays, it's fine and dandy to execute non-gays who have sex with men. [Mahmoud, of course, has a lot of supporters on that issue here in the United States, where some on the Right believe being gay itself is no crime, but having buttsex is worth a stoning.]

Obviously, the miniature despot is insane. He won't answer the pointed question about the execution and persecution of homosexuals by simply declaring that they don't exist. This is a semantic argument and not one that anyone in the world is likely to be sympathetic too.

But Andrew Sullivan has produced a bizarre post on the subject. I first read this post last night, when it was titled "The Queer Left Backs Ahmadinejad."

The clear implication of the title is that the "Queer Left" supports Ahmadinejad's regime and his treatment of homosexuals.

But then Sullivan quotes from an e-mail sent out by the Columbia Queer alliance that explicitly condemns the Ahmadinejad regime but also suggests that cultural difference make it particularly difficult to identify any kind of "gay" community in Iran. The e-mail doesn't appear to do more than make a gloss of these differences but the gist of the e-mail is absolutely correct. Homosexual behavior is not uncommon in Iran or the Middle East. But self-identified homosexuals are really fairly rare, for a lot of reasons. Obviously the public executions are one of those reasons. But an entirely different cultural conception of sexuality is also in play. One certainly can't accurately call Hellenic pederasts "gay." Ancient Greek sexual mores and philosophy were radically different form our own. And there's ample evidence that a similar difference in experience exists in many non-Western cultures.

Sullivan dismisses this as a "pomo kneejerk" (which he blames vacuously on Michel Foucault.) It's interesting how even the mildest attempt at understanding a foreign culture is now just "pomo kneejerk." Its also interesting to me how quickly the very, very recent Western conceptualization of homosexuality has become so vital to the identity of Western gays that we can't even imagine that homosexuality is not an innate, immutable trait as old as humanity itself. But that doesn't surprise me from Sullivan, whose extremely conservative social project requires homosexuality to have the status conferred by biological and historical absolutism.

What bothered me was the title of the post, for the above noted reason that it suggests the Columbia Queer Alliance thinks hanging teenagers for sucking dick is totally fantastic and to be applauded.

So I wrote him one of my typically grouchy, lecturey e-mails saying more or less what I said above although probably less coherently.

And lo and behold, suddenly the post has been edited and reposted. It has a new title. "Queer Left Echoes Ahmadinejad." The actual content of the post is unchanged other than the addition of the words "Just ask the Queer Studies Department" to the final paragraph. While I'm sure I wasn't the only person to complain about this, I will nevertheless take all the credit.

The edit, while never explaining why he removed the original post and changed the title, removes the worst excesses of his original. The only problem is, I'm still not convinced it's fair the CQA. Their e-mail never claims that there are no "homosexuals" in Iran. It merely cautions journalists and students from using those words to describe same-sex relationships in Iran and to understand that things are much more complicated than glib references to "Iran's oppressed gays and lesbians" lead us to believe.


  1. I had a similar reaction to yours when I read his posts. There were a few today that seemed like needless foot-stamping to reassert his conservative cred (the canon one also bugged me).

    And it was weird, because I thought he'd posted the same thing twice, one without that ending phrase, one with, at two separate times. I'll have to go back and look and see that he actually edited it.

    My first thought when he got grouchy was "When Iran has their first Stonewall, then I'll concede the point." Which, in itself, is guilty of the same silly reductionism Sullivan engaged in. It also had unpleasant echoes of BushCo's "Where are their Thomas Jeffersons?" so I still sorta like it in a smug kind of way. I'm not proud.

    Ahmadinejad may also have been slightly misinterpreted. It's possible he said, "We don't have gays there *like you do here,*" which could still mean the same thing or could simply be his way of saying they don't parade around and have television shows. Given that they're tortured and executed if they make themselves at all known, this sounds like a satisfactory state of affairs to him. Either way: douchebag.

    But taken as a reminder that there are some serious cultural differences between the West and Iran, and that both deliberate and indeliberate neglect of this awareness between the West and Iraq has led to some fucked up shit as we plowed ahead in Iraq facts-be-damned, I don't find much fault in it. Jeez, isn't Sullivan the one who goes off on "the end of gay culture?" At least he occasionally recognizes that it does exits, though it's pretty clear he'd like it mostly to go away.

    Taken as an uncessarily sensitive pc throwback to the early 1990s, well, it's just going to be grist for the mill for rabid-anti-pc folks anyway. A non-committal nod or eyeroll was all that was really required, rather than a bogus equasion between queer studies and a murderous regime.

  2. P.S. Gnnnhhh. Now he's yawning at the Folsom poster. I think they were going for "arty" not "ballsy"; I seriously doubt they were sending up the Bible, as opposed to a well-known painting by a guy who liked guys! And "cheap?" Does he know how much all those sex toys costs???

    Seriously, his talk of endagering the event is asinie, given that the people who are complaining about it -- Concerned Women of America -- are the same people who complain about it YEAR AFTER YEAR no matter what the hell they do.

    P.P.S. I wonder what he thinks about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, given that one of them is in the picture.

  3. Columbia University Students Groups Issue Statements on President of Iran's Visit