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Iranian gay and lesbian lexicon

July 27, 2004

I read the "Watch your language" piece in the Shorts section. "Queer" has tentatively been termed faraahanjaar by a group of Iranian queers. To get the theory behind it, refer to Homan magazine No.18, introduction (You can contact Homan L.A. for a copy if you don't have it). Also, In the lexicon section of a queer women's site,, there is a list of terms in Farsi.

I say faraahanjaar is tentative (even as it has been taken up and coopted by some queer groups already) because it is a word under construction and was introduced as a term that could yield to more appropriate terms. It was certainly NOT introduced as a short-hand for a long list of identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, etc., but has been used as such.

Some of us have been talking about the way hamjensbaaz, because of it's negative connotations, could be re-signified by Iranian queers, the way "queer" has been owned up in the U.S. by queer theorists. However, more carfeul work on the history of the term hamjensbaaz and it's uses is needed before one makes such a move. Otherwise, this form of "translation" may risk a form of ahistorical copying.

(Time permitting, this fall, I am hoping to do some work on the discursive production of baazi, jens, and hamjens, their historical uses, and their roles as supplements, in the Derridean sense, in the reification of Iranian nationalism. If I get anywhere with it, I'll let you know. For now, Afsaneh Najmabadi's forthcoming book Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards has an excellent section on transformations of sexuality in Qajar Iran, where she talks about "fokoli" and effiminate figures as essential to imagining the nation in Modern Iran.)

Also, kooni is not really translatable as "asshole," but signifies an association with koon (of "ass"). It connotes a deviation from the "proper orifice", if you will. More often that not, it was (and still is) used to refer to the one who is penetrated and not the penetrator. So long as the penetrator is not subjected to such "unmanly" deeds as being penetrated by another man, he does not count as kooni in heteronormative discourses. It has to do with notions of "manhood" and what takes to be demasculinized. It is curios how the Iranian man's manhood is constructed in his koon!

You are right about the prevelence of the term hamjensgaraa among a large number of Iranian queers. Interestingly, because women's sexuality is all together erased in Iranian popular discourse, hamjensgaraa, has come to have a masculine designation. That is, used on its own, hamjensgaraa often connotes a male homosexual. Attaching zan becomes the way to get around this linguistic problem (Zanaan-e hamjensgaraa). The term is also exclusionary as it does not really account for those who do not fit within the naturalized and hegemonic heterosexuality, but are not solely attracted to their same sex either (some transgenders, bisexuals, etc.).

To make the long story short, there is no "correct" word to name non- normative sexualities, and as it is always the case, words are constantly resignified as they are circulated. Who knows, maybe hamjensbaaz will one day become a more common term reclaimed by Iranian queers than the terms hamjensgaraa or faraahanjaar.

As it is expected, there are many hamjensgaraas who would not agree with me on this. There are many who do not want to be called "queer" or "faraahanjaar" and insist on identifying as "hamjensgaraa." There are also those who use the word "queer" because it is perhaps the "chic" of diaspora these days. It makes one seem "cool" to be queer! Perhaps, as a friend once said, it is because of the desire for innovation in modernity that terms lose their political usefulness as they are appropriated.

Lastly, with a term such as "dyke" or "homo," it obviously depends on who uses it and how. Being called a dyke by homophobic bigots is being bashed by hate speech, but being called a dyke by a friend could even be a term of endearment. (As you know the march before the Gay Parade day in San Francisco is called the "Dyke March").

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Inside Iran
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