In this haunting collection of seventeen short pieces, editor Michael T. Luongo introduces us to the sights, sounds, and smells of the Muslim
world. Interweaving the personal with the political, this book looks at homosexuality, Islam, and the world we find ourselves in through the personal experiences of gay men in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Ranging from the sensual and the poetic to the informative
- and also to the heavily didactic - this collection gets right to the heart of what it actually means to be "gay" in Muslim societies. From Morocco to Mauritania, to Oman and then on to Bangladesh, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Gay Travels in the Muslim World gives us
a unique window into what, at first glance, seems to be a closed and deeply closeted world.
In the first account, "It All Began with Mamadou," a nice Jewish boy joins the Peace Corps and is posted to Mauritania.
It is here in his social and sexual interactions with the local men that he comes to
the realization that people who live elsewhere in the world live and deal with a far more fluid definition of sexuality than we experience in the West.
In David Stevens' short offering "I want Your Eyes," a young blond Westerner leaves his hotel in a noisy suburb of Muscat, Oman. With his heart pounding, and all around him the pulse of Hindi movie music and the yapping of wild dogs, he wanders the streets on the hunt for a man.
Do all of these young men stare at him because he is different, or do they gaze in desire?
In "A Market and a Mosque," Martin Foreman takes us all the way to the provincial city of Sylhet and the various problems associated with the Bangladeshi sex industry.
In this country, sex between men may be widespread but is often unacknowledged. Here the men, who are quick to preserve the chastity and fidelity of women, turn to other men to slake their lust.
Perhaps relying on his own sense of survival, Michael Luongo gets himself into a sticky situation in
"Adventures in Afghanistan," where he falls into danger of being passed around "as a party favor at an Afghan orgy."
With so many men holding hands in Kabul, and from being wooed with everything
from flowers to stories of wartime bravery, his trip to this part of the world ultimately proves to be the most oddly romantic time he had ever had with other men.
Each account is infused with the need for survival in a hardscrabble, poverty-stricken world where sex between men is often well accepted privately but mostly frowned upon by the wider culture. One American man finds love and commitment to a married Turkish man; other men lust after rent boys and find sex that is laced with violence, all of it coming at an expensive price of either money, or life, or both.
The collection also touches on the political and the fusion of homosexuality with some of the conflicts in the world at large. Luongo makes the case that homosexuality has been intertwined throughout all of the current issues and main events over the last decade or so, especially many of the geopolitical events that have taken place since 9/11.
At the core of this book, however, is the issue of "gay identity" and the wider differences between how the East and the West view homosexuality. In the West, such desires are considered to be the very definition of a person,
creating an identity that separates him or her from the rest of society. In much of the Islamic world, however, these desires and acts are simply one aspect among others, "something people do but not something that defines a person above all other traits."
While the smaller pieces provide small, poetic vignettes of anticipation, the longer
contributions tend to be more informative and instructive. In one story, a character remarks that "we don't have those kind of gay people here, the kind that demonstrate in the streets for their equality, petitioning their governments for the right to marry, setting up house together so they can live independently as a couple, by contrast men who have sex with men is something totally different."
The stories certainly tell us much about these cultures where everyone is expected to marry and raise children, where familial respect comes not only with age but also from adhering to cultural expectations. In the end, these are communal societies in which the cultural, religious and intellectual conditions are respected and a person does not head out into the world, like he does in the West, on his or her own to make an independent life for himself.
While some pieces do come across as stronger and more compelling than others, this anthology undoubtedly offers a fresh, unique perspective on the issues of sexuality and gender identity in Muslim world, where for some the Muslim religion and culture is just too toxic to non-marital sex and this very "Western" idea of men who need to have sex with men.