Hello from Amman!
My schedule has been absolutely wild for the past month! I’ve been networking like mad, planning interviews that fall through at the last moment, and rushing to prepare for impromptu ones. Because the LGBT community is so guarded here, (and for good reason) I’ve really been at the whim of the social network. This respondent-finding method poses some methodological issues, for much of my interview data is coming from people who interact with each other, swap ideas, and perhaps have similar social tendencies. In the interest of representing as much of the story as possible, I’m currently brainstorming alternative methods for finding more interviewees. I’ve spent a lot of time on chat rooms, dating sites, and comment threads, contacting people to speak with me; however, this method has proven to be highly ineffective. And frankly, while sometimes tempting, it would be out of the question for me to approach someone on the street or in a coffee shop and ask for an interview. With such sensitivity surrounding the subject of LGBTQ identity here, and the respect question notwithstanding, such a method is out of the realm of possibility. Any suggestions regarding this are more than welcome!
In the interviews and informal discussions I’ve had about homosexuality in Amman, one topic that has piqued my interest is the question of gender in Ammani culture- specifically conceptions of masculinity. For many in the Middle East, masculinity is closely tied to acting as the penetrating partner in a sexual situation. Because the female is traditionally penetrated during sex, the dominant belief here is that men who “bottom,” or receive penetration during an encounter, are considered to be transgressing their masculine role. This poses many problems of identity for men who engage in homosexual relations in the Arab world. In browsing profiles on the popular gay dating website ManJam.com, I rarely come across men who claim to be willing to bottom for others, save male transvestites or transsexuals. It seems that a willingness to be penetrated is often linked to performance of other gendered acts, such as indentifying as an MTF (male to female transsexual person), WTM (woman to man transgender person), or transvestite. Upon speaking to people both in person and on the Internet, it has become clear that gender is not something that is subscribed to or enacted by part, (for example considering one’s self a man in the full sense, while also accepting penetration) but rather wholesale.
The Journal for Men and Masculinities elucidates the case of same-sex penetration in the Middle East in asserting that “The centrality of penetration marks sexuality and notions of masculinity in some areas in the region. In contexts where sexual relations are understood as relations of power, the male penetrator’s same-sex activity is not defined as homosexuality but rather as hypermasculinity” (Tapιnç 1992). It seems here that for one to “top” for another man is really to top his level of masculinity, and ascribe that quantity to one’s self. While on ManJam I found man whose entire profile consisted only of the command: “forget you are a man, I’ll make you feel like a woman.” This request is generally emblematic of the politics of male-homosexuality that I’ve encountered here in Amman.
All this is not to say that men who publically identity as trans(gender/sexual) or as transvestites are accepted in society. Quite to the contrary. People I’ve talked to on Manjam have told me that if they were to come out as trans, they would risk their family’s love, social reputation, and even their lives. The below is a private message I received from a man who crossdresses in a city near Amman.
“hi i am sissy boy u know what it mean it mean that i am not real girl wish if yes but what i can do i start to dress when i was 8 years old but in a very hard hidden life i live in arabian country where this not allowed if my familly will not accpte me if they know about my feeling that i like to be a girl may kill me and also the scoial all so i am very restricted my impossibe dream ( here in my country so it is impossible) is to be very hot shemale.”
Threat of death is not an uncommon state for those of the LGBT community in Amman. While this makes activism all the riskier, people still actively desire speaking out against the social injustice perpetrated against them. For this I am thankful- not only as a documentarian of the subject, but more so as a person committed to social equality.
Check back soon for more insight about LGBT life in Amman.