Saturday, May 17, 2008

"There Is No Homosexuality In Iran": Gender Reassignment Surgery as a Solution To Illegalized Homosexual Activity.

I can be amazed with how the constructs of race, gender and sexuality manifest with such diversity around the world. On a personal account tip, my amazement was more like shock when I was travelling in West Africa, and Ghanaians would refer to me as... white. Apparently, a lot of the way that race is constructed there is that a drop of white blood makes you white. That got my head spinning. Also, by being from the United States, which is considered to be predominantly a "white culture", (and a culture of affluence), by default, all citizens of the United States are considered to be relatively rich- and culturally white. It was pretty shocking for my black butt to finally get to the motherland and then be called white, that's for sure. But it also definitely cemented the fact that these social assignments (in this case, race) are concepts that we create as we go along, whatever culture we are in. In a lot of the West, we have decided to believe that a drop of black blood makes you black. Shoo, in apartheid South Africa, Chinese were applying to be reassigned as Japanese so they could gain privilege, and more recently have been fighting to be considered black.

I say that to preface this phenomenon in Iran, where homosexuality is considered an illegal offense punishable by death- and gender reassignment surgery is encouraged to create the appearance of heterosexual unions. These unions are recognized by the government and society. So while the Supreme Court decision that was passed in California a couple days ago would not fly anytime soon in Iran, there are laws there that give transfolks the same status as biological men and women- and biological women gain a lot of privilege becoming what we call transmen. Last year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran shocked many when he said at Columbia University, “In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country.” But because of how gender and sexuality is constructed in Iran, essentially President Ahmadinejad was speaking a culturally determined truth.

Jessica Mosby of the Women's International Perspective writes about this, and the film covering this phenomenon called Be Like Others. Really a very interesting and enlightening read

In further research on the subject, I found a document called State Sponsored Homophobia that lists the laws in almost 100 countries that illegalize sex between consenting same sex adults. My own beloved Jamaica is in the list of course. The laws in Jamaica use leftover British colonial jargon like "buggery" and actually only criminalize men having sex with each other. If you ask me, which is a muuuuuuch larger conversation, the Jamaican brand of homophobia is directly related to a) being colonized by the Christian and Victorian "sex is dirty" British b) having a particularly harrowing version of slavery that included only having African men work on the plantations. After decades of men being worked to death, being raped as boys, and basically only really being able to have sex with other men (voluntary or forced), the plantocracy considered it to be more "profitable" to bring African women to the plantations as well, and having forced reproduction of slave labor instead. In my opinion, these two factors created misguided rage towards men who have sex with each other (and women who would dream of witholding sex from men), and til today there is an association in the collective unconscious that correlates the nightmare of slavery with homosexuality, making it something that needs to be "burned".

hmm. That will be another post discussed more in depth for sure.


Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine was telling me about his experiences in China. There, generally "white" = must have blue eyes, since the image of white folks is pretty much Hollywood. So for him, they mistook him for Uigher (an ethnic minority in China) and didn't believe that he was actually a white American.

Related to the second part, a lot of folks also believed that there "was no homosexuality in China", but when he brought up the fact that "if you were gay here, wouldn't you hide it from others?" and they went "OH!"...

The idea never occurred to them, which kinda tells you how deep the heteronorm is locked in.

Gina said...

Thinking about the relationship of race/racial constructions to performances of gender, I am constantly surprised by how my progressive friends (API and not) STILL respond to outspoken, direct Asian American women such as myself and my friends as "overly blunt or direct" or "tactless." Rather than recognizing that my choice of how I present myself is both *strategic and reflective of my own feminist politics* as a non-heteronormative Filipina American woman. I've heard other people characterize friends as a "loud, Chinese American woman," etc. and I wonder, do we have to be considered "loud" or "overly blunt" just because we speak our mind? Gonna post this to Facebook too...

richard said...

bankuei: That piece about the belief that there are "no homosexuals in China" reminded me of growing up in Jamaica. Cuz there was definitely anti-gay sentiments, but also next to zero visibility of gay folks. in my naivete it seemed like "nobody was really gay" or would make that "choice".

Gina: wow, feelin your ire for sure!! Have people really been to your face referring to you and others as "tactless, loud Asian women"(my rephrase)?!? Wow. I can see how that would be really frustrating, insulting, or even evoking of the "dragon lady" stereotype. I would imagine that it could be a struggle to be a feminist woman who speaks her mind, especially if people are sharing sensitive subjects where they could feel unsafe if you do not occupy a traditionally gendered "caretaker" role. Which i feel like i have witnessed. It seems like a precarious balancing act. Perhaps your API brothers and sisters are experiencing some kind of cultural dissonance associated with expectations? In any case, none of this is making excuses for anyone, i am just pondering what the factors might be... i hope that you posting this to Facebook or in person can bring about honest dialogue and closure for you.

Gina said...

Thanks for your response, Richard. Actually, I think all of this works on a really subtle level. Folks don't have to say things to your face for your to perceive it. And yeah, I have had at least a few Asian American female friends tell me that they have felt negative responses (what I think of subtle disciplining) due to people thinking they are "too loud" or "bossy." While if the exact same things were being said by a white man, it would be received completely differently. I think even within Asian Am. communities, folks are guilty of projecting their own expectations about what Asian Am. women should be (demure, subtle, etc.) This said, I also feel that there are significant differences between my experiences growing up in a Filipino family/community and other Asian Am. communities.

richard said...

hmm. i hear you. and i have probably been guilty of showing signs of surprise around things you have said-- but usually i am amused (NOT in a minimizing way, more in a "wow, she brought it!" kind of way), such as when you identified me and someone else as "the only feminist men"-- in front of a third man that doesn't identify as such. That's bringin' it!

i have more thoughts and would go deeper into this, but perhaps a phone call might be better. I invite you to keep writing though!

in closing, i hope you don't feel like i universalized the AsAm experience to you. I will holla when i am back from visiting fam in Florida! blessssss

Anonymous said...

Hey Gina,

There's also this way in which the assertive (or, outright aggressive) asian woman is known to asians, but not to the Western stereotype.

Of course, generally I've found that being called "loud" or "rude" depends mostly on how much you're challenging the race/gender hierarchy.

Gina said...

Bankuei and Richard,

Thanks for your responses, and for letting me vent. I think my biggest source of frustration is feeling this from other Asian Americans (and other poc), especially from those who think of themselves as progressive. On this tip, I once had a guy (a poc, but not Asian Am.) suggest to me that I be more humble. I wanted to say, "Motherfucker, don't you know how much privilege YOU have as a light-skinned man working in a predominantly female field (social work). You can afford to be humble because you're already given authority! As a woman of color academic, I know my presence (in itself) in academic institutions is a threat the system." But I didn't say that, because I would have been accused of being "bitchy." :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I wrote in the other post about sexism how much it pisses me off when folks use social justice work as arenas to re-enact the hierarchies they're supposed to be dismantling.

"Justice for me" is just another name for being the slavemaster.

parami10 said...


I'm not really sure what you mean by this sentence:

"There's also this way in which the assertive (or, outright aggressive) asian woman is known to asians, but not to the Western stereotype."

Can you clarify? That seems like a very general statement. As a man of Taiwanese and Japanese ancestry, I certainly see different forms of gender in each of these cultures, ways women can act that are not possible in the US. However, this still happens in the context of Taiwanese patriarchy and Japanese patriarchy, especially Confucianist patriarchy.

This also includes within the diaspora communities here in the US, and also within Asian American activist/progressive circles. I think East Asian Americans have a lot of work to do around looking at how Confucian gender relations impact their lives.

ripley said...

This is another amazing post!

On the subject of racial "assignment," I remember several Cape Verdean students I met (who looked as "black" or more so -whatever that means- as any black American) insisting they were not black, they were Cape Verdean. I think class and culture fit in - the same way some Black Americans think Black British "sound white" or "act white" (or don't include Black Brazilians or others of african descent in their vision of Black culture). I recall someone Iknow who went to his father's home in Guyana and was called Whitey, he wasn't sure it was because of parentage or skin tone, but more because he was an American city kid.

on another note - the visibility of gay folks in JA. I found it interesting when I was there that I saw men's fashion that seemed to me like if I saw it in the US I would associate with gay culture - plucked eyebrows, other things coded as "flamboyant" in some ways that seemed familiar from SF and NY gay culture as I saw it from the sidelines.. But it didn't seem likely that it meant the same thing there in Kingston. I couldn't figure out who to ask or how to ask it.. is that new, fashion wise, in JA, do you think?

Anonymous said...

Hi Parami,

The actual patriarchy of asia is often distorted in an interesting way through the Western lens- for example, you never see the matriarch which can and does arise - ranging from family situations in which the man makes the money but the woman controls it, to the older matriarch

Again, these aren't universal, and don't negate the types of sexism in their respective cultures, but the role of the submissive wife isn't universal or true either.

richard said...

Ripley: yes, the fashion thing in Jamaica is fully paradoxical to me! a rude bway can have plucked eyebrows, and vaseline on his lips making them shiny. Its a relatively new phenomenon, meaning in the last 5 years or so, i don't know what to tell ya!

i do think that there are many paradoxes in Jamaica around gender and sexuality. I for one attended a Catholic high school in Kingston that had an annual drag competition, and everyone had a good laugh with it. Granted, it was an innocent apeing kinda thing, but umm... can you can tell me of a Catholic high school in the US that had drag competitions??