Good old-fashioned sexuality
Among the "old-fashioned" one finds more openmindedness
By Naghmeh Sohrabi
May 9, 2001
It seems that now our highly-regarded and closely-watched sharm and hayaa
are flying out the door ["Little
sharm va hayaa"]. A publication catering to Iranians has published
an account of a woman, masturbating ["Bahram"].
It has made the publication vulgar, it has embarrassed "us" in
front of our non-Iranian friends, it goes against our "non-sexually
explicit" Iranian culture. *gulp*... We're becoming like Americans.
If there is any sharm and hayaa to be lost, it is lost in the folds of
hypocrisy that surround many Iranian-Americans, people who have been lucky
enough to have the opportunity to embrace not one but two cultures and yet
stick to a xenophobia and puritinism that can only come from insecurity.
"Call me old-fashioned," is their tiresome motto. I would call
you old-fashioned if I thought it was a swearword but it isn't. Among the
"old-fashioned" one finds a lot more openmindedness and tolerance.
I don't want to give them a bad name.
Graphic sexuality was and has been part of our culture. Iraj
Mirza is merely the best known case. Many 19th century texts are replete
with words such as kos and koon, and acts of sexuality both heterosexual
and homosexual. This by some of the leaders of "modernity." Bibi
Khanum Astarabady in her book Ma'ayib al-Rijal is actually quite
comfortable using explicit sexual language. So is Rustam al-Hukama, the
highly humorous author of Rustam al-Tavarikh. So are many others.
What is interesting actually is that our current squeamishness regarding
sexuality and more importantly, its public expression, is part of our "modern"
identity and if you want to find a foreign culprit for it, you could look
to Victorian England. Iran's becoming modern led to a division between "high"
and "low" culture whose benefits we reap today. The Constitutional
Revolution press was quite Victorian, censoring words that were now deemed
unfit for public consumption, stifling a sexuality that has and still does
exist at least among a more traditional class of society.
To say our culture does not allow for sexual explicitness is to define
"our" culture as the culture of the upper-class elite. How truly
modern of you.
And well, yes, we are becoming like Americans in their puristinism that
balks at open sexuality, especially when it comes to women's sexuality not
couched in victimized terms. We have no problem telling sexual jokes, especially
if it's about Rashtis ("Is anyone Rashti here? No, well, yek rooz,
Rashti-yeh finds his wife in bed with someone else..."), we have no
problem telling gay jokes if it's about Qazvinis, we have no problem telling
sometimes sexually violent jokes if it's about Turks. We have no problem
discussing OTHER people's sexual lives ("Folani ro meegee? Oon keh,
excuse me, jendeh-ast.") as long as it is whispered and in hush hush
tones. Now we get our undies in a knot because someone, in a tale that was
meant to reveal certain levels of hypocrisy in our community, said she had
How about something other than a knee jerk reaction at any and everything
sexual? How about some appreciation of the kind of space that being in two
cultures has allowed us? How about worrying a little less about what others
are going to think of us and more how we look everytime we look at ourselves?
I don't know. I guess I'm just old-fashioned.