HEADPHONES STRONGLY RECOMENDED!
Geography and Class
The Jordanians we’ve met often speak of two Ammans: The poorer, more densely populated eastern section of the city, and the more affluent West Amman. Books@ Café sits atop westerly Jabal Amman, a historically aristocratic neighborhood once home to dignitaries, at one point including the royal family.
The neighborhood represents the burgeoning cosmopolitan character of the city with restaurants such as “Shawermize It,” while, save for the relatively small downtown area and the Roman ruins, East Amman is rarely referred to as a safe place for visitors.Before questioning Madian about the implications of Books@ being in a more westernized and (let’s face it) privileged area, it seemed that its location partially mitigated its revolutionary potential. Surprisingly, Madian posits that it is perhaps easier to be gay in East Amman, because questions of social standing are muted by the economic struggle at the forefront of people’s minds.
According to Madian, intolerance of LGBTQ identities in West Amman is a function of being higher on the socio-economic hierarchy. However, such an idea seems to assume the flatness of the social landscape in East Amman, which has classist implications.
Intimately linked to class privilege, language is an important factor in LGBTQ identity in Amman. Because most literature about LGBTQ rights isn’t in Arabic, a knowledge of English is key in finding a vocabulary for sexual identity. Identifying as L/G/B/T/Q is considered emancipatory by many, but also seems to be a social remittance from the West.
Social remittances are commonly defined as “macro-level dissemination of global culture” including “ideas, behaviors, identities, and social capital that flow from receiving- to sending-country communities” (Encyclopedia.com). The phenomenon of identifying with a certain sexual orientation may be a case of “playing by the rules” of western cultural norms, and not necessarily something that falls within the natural course of socio-sexual liberation in Amman. Because this issue is so nuanced and delicate, expounding on it in this post would be premature, so I’ll address it in depth later.
Sexuality and Gender Glossary, Helem
With Jordan’s population having the highest concentration of refugees in the world, the country functions as a haven for those seeking sanctuary not only from political violence, but also from social persecution. An obviously important consideration in seeking refuge is the degree of safety a host country can afford, and such a factor is paramount for LGBTQ refugees. Because there is no law restricting homosexuality in Jordan, as Madian notes, Jordan acts as a haven for LGBTQ refugees. The Penal Code of 1951, later solidified into law in 1960, decriminalized private consensual acts of sodomy between those over the age of sixteen.
However, given Article II of the Constitution establishing that “Islam is the religion of the state,” the dominant interpretations of Islamic codes condemning homosexuality, and no hate crime laws in place, nothing guarantees protection of the LGBTQ community.
Still, with the exception of Iraq, Jordan is the only Arab country in which private homosexual activity is legal. For most other countries in the Middle East, imprisonment and death are standard punishment for gay sex.
Madian’s article about the closing of Books@ Café