Najmabadi's strange world
By H. Utanazad
March 12, 2004
Perhaps it is an unfortunate coincidence to have encountered a distinguished
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
time, after all, have an uncanny
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
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
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
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
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."
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
for some, come to have contrary meaning and adverse consequences.
mere mortal dares navigate this amazingly puzzling labyrinth?
Touching a flower, one begins to suspect, runs the risk of polluting
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.
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
heterosexuals are responsible for most of the violence against/hatred
of the queers? How
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
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
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
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
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
of persuading the Iranian Community and the Islamic Regime of the
and natural constitution of their desires and lifestyle, choose
to one day illegally enter the U.S. and settle in the margins
The couple, I am sure, would be honored to have Shirazi on their
Until then, chances are those who can stomach
reading all of Najmabadi's patronizing prattle are potential allies
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,
feel monstrous about having articulated certain thoughts, we have
made human interactions needlessly arduous. We all lose.