Nepali Men Holding Hands

„The anger at European readings of Iranian social and sexual mores began to reconfigure structures of desire by introducing a demarcation to distinguish homosociality from homosexuality. Iranians began to find themselves ‚explaining‘ to European visitors that at least some of the practices that the latter read as homosexuality, such as men holding hands, embracing, and kissing each other in public, were not so: the Europeans were misreading homosociality for homosexuality. Disavowal of homosexuality out of homosociality — a cultural work that has continued into the present — set in motion two seemingly contradictory, yet in fact enabling, dynamics. It marked homosociality as devoid of sexuality, thus making homosexuality ‚homeless,‘ endangered because denied. At the same time, by insisting on that exclusion, it provided homosexuality a homosocial home for masquerade. […] Naming through denial and disavowal was productive through negation: ‚What you see is not how you name it and categorize it‘ produces a particular it as a distinct form of desire. Formation of homosexuality through denial and disavowal becomes its condition of possibility and reproducibility. The denial of any overlap between the now separate domains of homosociality and homosexuality paradoxically provides a shelter, a masqueraded home, for homosexuality. We can continue to hold each other’s hand in public because we have declared it to be a sign of homosociality that is void of sexuality.“

Arab Men Rubbing Noses

Denial and disavowal was only one response to coming under the European gaze. Dissimulation and ‚cross-representation‘ was another: the disappearance of the male beloved from visual representation, like his disappearance from love poetry in the same period, may have been an alternative resolution to the moral and cultural challenges posed by European judgments. As ‚another gaze‘ entered the scene of desire, as if an intruder had entered one’s private chamber, the scene of homoerotic desire had to be disguised.“

Afsaneh Najmabadi, Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 38.