Perhaps it is an unfortunate coincidence to have encountered a distinguished Harvard scholar's article at the end of a bad day. It may simply be my bad luck to have read Afsaneh Najmabadi's ” Don't straighten the queers” sitting in my Apartment in Tehran. Geography and time, after all, have an uncanny effect on one's impressions of written words.
Just what exactly was she trying to accomplish? What was she after? Why would eloquence and erudition serve to humor and to demean what she acknowledges in the beginning as “Golnar Shirazi's well-wishing piece?” [See; Being straight on queers]
The unfrivolous, substantive segment of her critique begins with the fourth paragraph with an observation that once one starts with that dreadful phrase “let us stop hating… ” one has de-facto assumed two categories of people: the straight and the queer, with “us” going beyond the authorial “I” to include only the former. The consequence, she warns, is that the assumption of a straight audience immediately relegates those Shirazi wishes to shield from scorn to the margins.
Here starts off the inevitable proverbial descent to the pit of hell. First one is forced to speak of queers as parents do about children “in the third person as if they are not in the room.” This speech then sets the stage for validation of straights as “normal” and queers as “virtually normal,” thus rescuing some from the burden of having to offer an “explanation” for heterosexuality and its “constant public display as a sign of its need to state itself over and over again.”
What then emerges is a bizarre parallel universe in which nothing is as it appears. When Shirazi thinks she is promoting tolerance, she is actually only exhibiting her misgivings about homosexuality by having further legitimized heterosexuality, thus revealing only a begrudging acceptance of what is not liked and does not “belong.” Her plea only betrays her intolerance.
To speak in defense of the right some in the gay and lesbian community are choosing to exercise becomes the act of solidifying social norms which only serves to promote bigotry against the putatively “bad gays,” the “Queer norm resisters” who intend to prowl bars, visit bathhouses, and listen to techno music!
Even a rudimentary and omnipresent qualifier — the lowly “most” — becomes a dreadful weapon which only serves to perpetuate the existing “gender and sexual scripts” thus sanctioning “normal” as “natural.”
The article ends with the ghoulish specter of what was once a “well wishing piece,” having transformed into one that is “reinforcing marriage as normalizing institution in society,” and succeeding only in promoting intolerance (possibly violence?) towards those who refuse to “normalize,” the queer queers, the folks exemplifying “the stereotype of gay lifestyle.” Some, she alleges, have thus become “normaller than normal.” Their “otherness,” she taunts, has started “at the pages of Iranian.com.”
There you have it Ladies and Gentlemen. As in the ending of a macabre tragedy, all one can murmur is a stunned: “O bloody period! … All that's spoke is marr'd.”
Hers is an obscene world. Words have inverted meanings. Sympathetic speech becomes a destructive act. Actions themselves, audacious and loving gestures no doubt for some, come to have contrary meaning and adverse consequences. Which mere mortal dares navigate this amazingly puzzling labyrinth? Touching a flower, one begins to suspect, runs the risk of polluting and poisoning all life.
A simple reminder to our good professor: I can't help being in my own body. The exterior is the limit of my “I-ness.” All outside is indeed “other.” I do not have access to them as I do myself. And then there is that not so insignificant factor of an objective matrix of power, coercion and violence. I and countless others are forced to endure them. For this, I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to explain.
Najmabadi, I am sure, has endured her fair share as well. So, let's drop the pretense. Yes, you are the other. You and the countless others at the exterior of my body. My words reflect this simple fact. Big deal with the “otherness” bogyman. Enough is enough.
Did my words create homosexuals? Or did Shirazi's? Are we imagining that to be gay or lesbian is to risk life and limb? Am I imagining that some heterosexuals are responsible for most of the violence against/hatred of the queers? How will one address the issue? Let [WHO] stop hating…?
Where I live, the simple gesture of holding hands or kissing in public is officially forbidden. Our Harvard scholar views such gestures as “a sign of [heterosexuality's] need to state itself over and over again.” But I view them as incredibly audacious expressions of affection. Is my imagination responsible for this too?
Her rhetoric is modern day sophistry plain and simple. Her criticism lacks positive content. There is a certain Iranian savor to the whole construct. An exaggerated bravado serving to mask an objective weakness. A lion's roar coming from a mouse.
Like it or not, there is such thing as life in the margins. Shirazi did not invent it. It exists. It is real. We have to deal with the consequences every day. One might not be enthralled by it, but one cannot simply wish it away. To change the unpalatable, one must begin with the actual. And the actual stinks. Words often serve as the conduits for the stench. But a well meaning “us” does not ex nihilo margins make.
As Spinoza observes, people's rights are concomitant with their power. If some in the gay and lesbian community have mustered enough will and collective strength to try to win from the official society the “privileges that the legal contract of marriage bestows upon husband and wife,” more power to them. In due time, perhaps, others will marshal enough force to win “those social goods through — other legally recognized sanction.”
And that, my friends, might be welcome news for an Iranian man and his hirsute strap-on-wearing dominant Afghan lover, who having given up on the prospect of persuading the Iranian Community and the Islamic Regime of the perfectly normal and natural constitution of their desires and lifestyle, choose to one day illegally enter the U.S. and settle in the margins of a small town in rural Montana. The couple, I am sure, would be honored to have Shirazi on their side.
Until then, chances are those who can stomach reading all of Najmabadi's patronizing prattle are potential allies in the fights to come. I suggest a more measured tone and less of a bellicose rhetoric. Politics, after all, is the art of collective transformation. The moment we harass, insult, demonize or otherwise make others feel monstrous about having articulated certain thoughts, we have made human interactions needlessly arduous. We all lose.