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Out of the Closet: Representation of Homosexuals and Lesbians in Modern Arabic Literature

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Although a great deal of research and criticism has been done on homoerotic desire in Arabomedieval adab literature, very little has been written on its representation in modern Arabic literature. In order to address this scholarly gap, my study poses the following questions: why is there an increase of homosexual and lesbian characters, at this contemporary juncture, in Arabic fiction? And what are the effects of such an exposure on the status of Arab gay rights? I argue that depictions of male homosexuality in contemporary texts draw on power dialectics of master/slave, active/passive and local/colonial, and as such reflect a sense of overall powerlessness, inferiority and alienation from the political process, while underscoring the Arab male's loss of manhood and of self. In contrast, female homosexuality remains locked into traditional, heterocentric discourse which claims that lesbianism exists only as a prelude to, or as a temporary replacement of “normative” heterosexuality, thus undermining the validity of lesbian body politics. Contrary to the medieval tradition which allowed more fluidity in the depiction of same-sex definitions and practices, and acknowledged the variants of homoerotic desire and action, contemporary Arab cultural and literary engagements of the topic overlook the biological aspect of this desire. Furthermore, they project gay encounters as a symptom of the social deterioration caused by political and economic oppression of the Arab citizen. I conclude that more attention must be given to the biological essence of sexual differentiation, to the body politics rather than gender politics, if the emergence of a recognized, outspoken Arab homosexual or lesbian identity is ever to be realized.

Affiliations: 1: University of Virginia


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