Why Queer is not good enough to define Arab homosexuals?


The Arabic culture is still at a stage of evolution where it has little to no tolerance to human differences. Whatever is different, and whatever defies the norms is rejected and looked down upon. That explains the bad connotations associated to the word “shaz” which is a direct translation of the word queer.

“Shozooz” in the Arabic language is a term that is used to label anything that is different than normal; it is also used to mean that something is odd or weird which also holds bad connotations in the Arabic perception.

While the homosexual community in the west has been able to reclaim the word ‘queer’ – which is now being used with pride by some of the community’s younger members to describe themselves – it only happened because their culture was mature enough to embrace and celebrate people’s differences. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Arabic culture, and thus, Arab homosexuals face a dilemma of terms and labels in their battle towards gaining acceptance from their local societies. “What applies to the west doesn’t necessary applies to us” a sentence that many Arab gay activists believe in.

That is true in a way especially now that homosexuality itself is widely perceived in the Arab world as an imported construct that is against the general consensus of moral conduct. The issue here in the Arabic area is that people still insist on defining homosexuality by sexual behavior instead of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is a recent scientific discovery due to scientific advancements in psychology, human brain and behavior. It hasn’t picked up in the Arabic area due to different reasons; first because it is a new concept, second because it is a western invention that strongly challenges Arabic sexual moral values, third because only few Arabs actually read books and forth because it contradicts with what most people believe in of Islamic teachings.

In reality, same sex attraction and not behavior is what connect this wide pool of people. They self-identify as homosexuals rather than queer and thus are demanding to be called “Methlyeen” rather than “Shazeen”. While being queer – odd or weird – doesn’t necessary mean a bad thing, it is actually bad in the current perception of the Arabic mind, and thus it is kind of a word that offends most Arab homosexuals.

3 weeks ago, I was watching an episode of Desperate Housewives – season 4 -; they had this brilliant conclusion at the end of the episode related to labels and the way we – human beings – judge each other. They had a priest who used his power to tarnish the reputation of a woman and call her prostitute because she rejected his sexual advancements, they had a creepy child who was bitter and angry and caused many troubles to her family, they had a female drug dealer who rejected strongly marital disloyalty, and they had a man who was perceived as a villain for a horrible past mistake and who showed a heroic act of standing up for his wife.

They ended the show with a line where they asked: Can a priest be evil? Are children always innocent? Can a drug dealer be a good person? And can a villain be a hero? In the same line, queers can be good people, but until our societies become mature enough to see behind labels, homosexuals will keep on demanding to be called “Methleyeen”. Unfortunately we still literally apply the Arabic proverb “an envelope is known through its title” and judge people based on the label they carry.

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