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Good old-fashioned sexuality
Among the "old-fashioned" one finds more openmindedness

By Naghmeh Sohrabi
May 9, 2001
The Iranian

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 an orgasm.

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.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Naghmeh Sohrabi

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