Something cannot be discussed if there are no words with which to discuss it. According to a lecture by Professor Sahar Amer entitled, “Naming a Taboo; Recognizing an Identity: The Challenges of Homosexuality in the Arab World Today,” which is forthcoming by the International Journal of Middle East Studies, for many homosexuals in the Middle East and even Arab-Americans, the lack of neutral and/or positive terms to refer to themselves end an important discussion before it can even begin. Additionally, people have to decide whether to derive terms from pre-existing Arabic references, create a new Arabic vocabulary, or adopt Western terms such as “queer” in order to facilitate an open dialogue.
There is a rich tradition of relative gender fluidity in the Middle East and texts concerning same-sex relationships dating back to the Middle Ages. In fact it was European Medieval scholars who condemned homosexuality as a design of the devil. However, over time in Arab culture homosexuality has become increasingly viewed as a Western construct or a byproduct of children becoming too “Americanized.” Therefore, activists need to decide in which way to approach the naming of the LGBTQ movement in the Middle East and amongst Arab Americans.
In choosing to adopt English and French words, it is possible that homosexuality will become cemented as a construct of the West. This would imply that individuals are not LGBTQ by nature, but instead become so because of American culture. By deriving words from pre-existing texts and from history, Arab-American gays might become empowered and better equipped to claim their identities. Additionally, there are certain aspects of being a gay Muslim that mainstream LGBTQ communities are probably not well prepared to handle, and carving out a subcategory through labels, while potentially isolating, might also foster a culturally-sensitive niche for other Muslim gays and lesbians. It is important to fight the proliferation of words which are used to dehumanize and reclaim them in a manner similar to the way mainstream American activists have reclaimed the term “queer.”