Monday, November 21, 2005

References to Iranian Homosexuality


"In the latter part of the twentieth century, as a result of greater contact with Western culture and sexual practices, a new discourse developed in Iran and many other Middle Eastern countries. The West was branded as "immoral" for ostensibly two reasons: female nudity and open adult male homosexuality. In part, this new discourse was the result of an expansion of the tourist industry and increased exposure to western media. Parts of North Africa - Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and the Muslim Coast of Kenya - bcame favorite tourist spots for European men and women. Such overt conduct by western homosexuals made the task of local gay and human rights activitists more difficult in the traditional Middle East. Homosexuality and pederasty remain significant cultural practices, but members of Middle Eastern communities would not dare declare themselves gay. There are homosexual men in high positions - ministers, deputies, Islamist leaders - who remain married, have families, and maintain same-sex relations outside the home. The community ostracizes those who stop camouflaging their homosexuality.

There is a lso a long tradition in nationalist movements of consolidating power through narratives that affirm patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality, attributing sexual abnormality and immorality to a corrupt ruling elite that is about to be overthrown and/or is complicit with foreign imperialism (Hayes 2000, 16). Not all the accusations leveled against the Pahlavi family and their wealthy supporters stemmed from political and economic grievances. A significant portion of the public anger was aimed at their "immoral" lifestyle. There were rumors that a gay lifestyle was rampant at the court. Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda was said to have been a homosexual. The satirical press routinely lampooned him for his meticulous attire, the purple orchid in his lapel, and his supposed marriage of convenience. The shah himself was rumored to be bisexual. There were reports that a close male friend of the shah from Switzerland, a man who knew him from their student days in the country, routinely visited him. But the greatest public outrage was aimed at two young, elite men with ties to the court who held a mock wedding ceremony. Especially to the highly religious, this was public confirmation that the Pahlavi house was corrupted with the worst kinds of sexual transgressions, that the shah was no longer master of his own house. These rumors contributed to public anger, to a sense of shame and outrage and ultimately were used by the Islamists in their calls for a revolution. Soon after coming to power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini established the death penalty for homosexuality. In February and March 1979 there were sixteen executions for crimes related to sexual violations. At the same time, in the new, sex-segregated Islamic Republic, the greates transgression became dating and sexual relations between unmarried or unrelated men and women. To this day, hundreds of such "criminals" are arrested, flogged, tormented, forced to pay a penalty, and sometimes held in prison each year. In a culture where kissing, hugging, and holding hands between men and between women are perfectly acceptable social customs, traditional cover homosexuality has continued to exist and is even protected by sex-segregated institutions and public spaces." 161 - 162


Afary, Janet, Kevin Anderson, and Michel Foucault. Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Hayes, Jarrod. Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2000.


"The figure of Westoxicated woman as the focus of a cultural critique of prerevolutionary Iran was itself a figure of double displacement. It was a displacement of the figure of European woman onto an Iranian figure, but it was also a displacement of the "sex troubles" of Iranian modernity; woman had come to act as a masquerade for amrad( numa). A number of twentieth-century transformations, central among them the compulsory unveiling campaign of 1936 - 41, made the over-Europeanized woman the privileged excess. Yet the figure of the fukuli was never far away. Recall that Amir 'Abbas Huvayda, Iran's prime minister in the last decades of Muhammad Riza Shah's reign, was rumored to be a Baha'i and a homosexual. Whether or not he was, the two designations were figures of Iranian modernity's alterity and excess. He was thought to be not only politically impotent and passive but also a passive homosexual. His marriage was considered a ruse, and jokes about his sexual life were but a barely concealed topic of satire and social gossip. He was always meticulously shaved and immaculately tidy. He wore an orchid on his coat pocket. All these details linked him with the figure of fukuli, a mimic man, always already under suspicion of being an amradnuma.

Our post-1979 concentration on a critique of cultural construction of gender for the formation of Iranian modernity and the price that many women have paid for this project have continued the screening work of "remembering woman to forget the amrad." For example, from the initial months of the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, a great deal of popular energy was directed against what were perceived as cultural markers of the old regime. As part of this "cultural purification," as it was called, women's veils and men's beards became the recommended (for the beard) and the compulsory (for the veil) visible markers of state-sponsored masculinity and femininity. Men were also highly pressured into not wearing a tie. Often considered simply a symbol of Europeanization, the necktie has its own chain of association, through the bow tie, with the figure of the fukuli. Though much has been written about women's veil, little has been said on men's beard and tie.

The issue of women's veil and unveil, compulsory or consensual, in Islamicate societies and communities has taken center stage in discussions of "the status of women" in these societies on an international scale. The veil, in its hypervisibility, has come to serve as a sign for more than gender; it has come to be read for "the state of modernity." This hypervisibility has compounded the erasure of that other excess figure of Iranian modernity by continuing the prior work of making woman stand as a privileged mark of modernity.

It is now vital for these connections to be made if Iranian feminism is to retain its critical edge, especially as current Iranian culture wars have become explicitly articulated around a concept of cultural imperialism and the West that is focused on "moral corruption, sexual excess, and homosexuality."


Najmabadi, Afsaneh. Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards : Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity.
Ewing, NJ, USA: University of California Press, 2005. p 243.


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