Monday, April 10, 2006

My very humble impressions of homosexuality in Jordan

As promised...homosexuality in Jordan. I hope I made sense. Feel free to comment, as I would love to have some sort of a discussion. Next post...either Oman (I leave the day after tomorrow!) or local opinion of Saddan Hussein. Keep checking! By the way, I'm doing much better, especially after a refreshing trip to Madaba. The Bedouin hospitality always does a sould well! Anyways, the post...

The issue of homosexuality in the Middle East is certainly not discussed openly, leaving one to assume that it remains irrelevant. However, during my 7 months here in Irbid, Jordan, I‘ve had a small glimpse into this odd world of same sex relationships. In fact, it is probably inappropriate to label it as a ‘world of same sex relationships’ per se, as in fact, I’m talking about something entirely different. Instead, I am referring to seemingly straight men engaging in homosexual acts with other seemingly straight men. Strange? Perhaps, but there are real explanations.

First of all, I should say that I am only writing about men. When I had an American friend of mine who is living here read this post, he accused me of being a chauvinist and denying women’s sexuality! Ouch. I’m not trying to do that, but I just have no idea about women and this issue! Furthermore, I would still maintain that IN GENERAL, men are more sexually motivated than women. That may be culturally encouraged, of course, but it seems to be true. Okay, on to the real issue.

In terms of sexual expression, this culture is quite repressive (keep in mind that I am speaking of Irbid, which much more conservative than Amman), and I think two crucial factors provide the basis for this sexual repression. First, the norm for men is to marry as late as 35, when they are sufficiently stable financially to provide for a family. According to the Jordanian Department of Statistics, the average age for a Jordanian man’s marriage is 29.3 (both Will and I think this is too low), more than two years older than the average American man. Therefore, this late age of marriage means that unless they are engaging in pre-marital sex, men are waiting an extremely long time to have sex. Because celibacy is so important for women, usually, men aren’t engaging in ANY sexual activity, even kissing. Regardless of what any religion says, this is a period of fighting your own biology!

Second, unlike those in the United States who choose to remain celibate until marriage, celibacy here is not really a choice, but is culturally mandated. This cultural pressure is not merely limited to parental disapproval or something like this, but it permeates the entire culture. Of course, men can engage in physical activity with women, but it certainly requires searching and high amounts of risk, thus dissuading the majority of horny men from partaking. The combination of these two factors are brutal for men’s sexuality (and for women, too), as you have a large number of men unable to satisfy their desires, not necessarily by choice. Of course, there are also many men, perhaps the majority, who are committed religiously to this still celibacy. Regardless, the fact remains that many men are 'forced' into sexual purity.

While the obvious parallel is with Christians in the United States who wait until marriage to have sex, I must reinforce the many differences. First, oftentimes these American men may not be having sex, but at least they are enjoying some sort of sexuality, even kissing. Here, for the majority of men, nothing. Second, for the many Middle Easterners who are only marginally pious, their waiting until marriage to engage in any sexual activity is not a matter of major religious significance. It is culturally forced upon them. They cannot share the ‘us against mainstream culture’ pride that many Christians in the US have. Finally, there is a fairly obvious trend amongst Christians in the US to marry early, which I think is directly related to the desire to have sex (no one take that personally!). Once again, people here are waiting until 30 to have sex.

So that’s the situation. Men are men everywhere, and this sexuality must come out somewhere. Prostitution is available, but there is also a surprisingly normal activity amongst young men whereby they engage in sexual acts with each other. Opportunities for same-sex sexuality are increased by the close physical relationships that already exist between members of the same sex. I cannot be entirely certain of its pervasiveness, either culturally or in terms of numbers; but it is definitely present throughout the Middle East. I have a gay American friend here in Jordan who has engaged in various forms of homosexuality with a number of men, men who are not gay in a strictly-defined sense. These are men who may have a girlfriend, men who hope to get married. These are men who know that it is highly unlikely that they will be able to express themselves sexually with women in the near future, and they have decided that this simpler alternative must suffice.

Perhaps this phenomenon merely reflects a society that better understands the broad range of human sexuality, a society that consciously or secretly has decided that the labels of ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ are insufficient at best. That would be cool. Perhaps, as foreigners, we attract that population that is either gay, or at least desperate for anything. Regardless, it does produce some strange results. Last week, for example, I went over to the home of a new ‘friend,’ only for him to come on to me quite aggressively. A few months ago on the bus (granted it was a seedy, late night bus), Will and I saw two men fondling each other from under a coat.

Although this type of stuff seems highly antithetical to an extremely religious culture, especially considering Islam’s strong condemnation of homosexuality, I guess it is a cultural concession to an otherwise overwhelming problem. In the past, of course, men married much earlier. It would be interesting to hear the perspective of religious scholars, who condemn ‘homosexuality’ in the strongest language. Perhaps they would merely deny its existence. Certainly they view this strange cultural phenomenon of non-gay men engaging in gay activities with disdain. Whether it is considered better than the alternative of women potentially losing their chastity, voluntarily or by rape, I am not certain. I am sure, however, that it will remain a relatively secret issue.

Before you laugh to yourself about the hypocrisy inherent in this model (of which there is plenty), reflect on our own society. I guess all societies must deal with the drones of horny men (and women!) in their own ways! Ours has generally chosen to disregard chastity and sexual purity all together, leading to problems with premarital pregnancies, abortions, AIDS, and a general apathy towards the importance of sex beyond physical pleasure. However strange it may seem, this is one solution, one that certainly avoids many of the pitfalls of our own society.

2 Comments:

Blogger Scotter said...

I was going to tell you that the Cubs might have a chance to get swept by the White Sox in this year's world series, but then Derrek Lee got hurt, Zambrano is clearly still insane, and Wood and Prior are hurt. Well at least Greg Maddux is 4-0.

As far as homsexuality, similar cultural aspects developed in Victorian England. Men and women delayed marriage. To mid thirties and late twenties respectively. While the seperation of the sexes may not be as extreme, physical contact was still off limits as was serious conversation. Prostitution became extemely popular because of sex for sure, but also for female companionship not limited by cultural expectations. Men took prostitutes riding or to the theatre. The clear difference is that men were allowed to be in the public company of women in Victorian England.

To what extent is this behavior a unique development of the current culture or a remnant of hellenistic culture? Have you seen similar behavior in Egypt, Syria, or Oman?

2:56 PM

 
Blogger Robin Bobo King said...

Actually, that comparison with Victorian England might be a good one. The mixing of the sexes is actually very common here, especially in and around a university. That mixing, however, is rarely intimate or sexual. Homosexuality as I described it seems to be relatively common throughout the Middle East, although I have no way of guaging exactly how common. Wierd.

Oh the Cubs. I was sad when I read about Lee. I have to remain ever optimistic...'just wait until next year.'

9:13 AM

 

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