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L, G, B and T February 18, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Concepts, Homosexualists, Islam.
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If you’ve been reading other articles here, you may have gathered by now that I have a problem with the idea of identifying people according to their sexual inclinations. I consider such feelings as something experienced by a person, not something that should define who the person is.

Here’s a brief sketch of how I perceive sexual attraction from a Muslim perspective. The norm that God has placed within His creation is the attraction between opposites in a pair, including between male and female humans. Thus the presence of opposite-sex attraction (OSA) is the base-line that does not demand explanation wherever it exists. As for same-sex attraction (SSA), it is a phenomenon that exists to varying degrees in many people, for one reason or another. So I believe we could ask in each case, “Why the presence of SSA?” – and whether or not we find the answer, there is a cause. That cause might even be genetic (I don’t believe so), but it is, in the wider scheme of nature, an aberration.

WAIT,” I hear one of you shout, “Did you just call me an aberration?” Well no, I didn’t. I’m talking about same-sex attraction, and I don’t regard that as part of your innate identity. So I’m not even talking about you – don’t take things so personally! You may well disagree with me vehemently, but at least hear me out. For my part, I am ready to listen to you too.

So, wherever these SSA develop, they could be to varying levels, at various stages of life, and interpreted by the individual in a variety of ways. If they are small and insignificant, the person may live a “normal” heterosexual life without giving the SSA much thought. If very strong, the person may choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, and adopt that as an identity. The OSA would, in that case, be greatly diminished. [Of course, there are people with low OSA without having SSA either – such people are described as “asexual”. Nothing wrong with that, but again, an aberration!] As for those who have SSA but also OSA in roughly equal measures, these could experience or be inclined towards both types of sexual experience, and call themselves “bisexual”.

A friend sent me this little summary from a medical textbook, outlining how homosexual identity develops (from studies in North America):

I.   Identity Confusion:
      o Sexual arousal present
      o Exposure to ideas, attitudes and emotions about same-sex couples
      o Confusion of identity begins

II.  Identity Assumption:
      o Looking up to people in same-sex relationships
      o Making contact with same-sex couples
      o Self-definition as “homosexual”
      o Self-tolerance and acceptance of new identity
      o Same-sex sexual exploration

III. Commitment to Identity:
      o Adoption of homosexual lifestyle
      o Satisfaction with homosexual identity
      o Commitment to a same-sex relationship
      o Disclosure of sexual identity to heterosexuals (coming out)

Anyway, the point in this post is mainly to question the common wisdom surrounding definitions of “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender”, and the relationships between these categorisations. At some point, “gay rights” became “LGB rights”, and then a ‘T’ was added on. [The National Union of Students recently voted to change the name of its LGB Campaign.] I’ve even seen the Al-Fatiha Foundation use the term “LGBTIQ”, the last two meaning “Intersex and Questioning”.

Even if we accept that sexual attraction should be considered an indicator of “orientation”, which is an aspect of personal identity, we need not go along with this “LGBT” notion. It seems to me that the reality of SSA (and what causes it) is considerably different when comparing the phenomenon in men and in women. So what do lesbians have in common with gay men, exactly? One group is attracted to women, the other to men. The same could be said of the population overall. As for the bi category: that could be considered of two parts, B1 and B2. B1 is a subset of L, and B2 is a subset of G!

As for transexuals, I fail to see why they should be brought into this particular discussion at all, as what they face is a different issue altogether. Yes, the matter of gender confusion can be common between people experiencing SSA who retain their biological gender, and those who actually try to change themselves explicitly by lifestyle, or even by surgery. But why include the T in with the LGB? And why limit ourselves to just T, when any number of sexual or psychological problems (or maybe I should be neutral and say “states of being”) could equally be added to the acronym?

Clearly, this is a matter of politics and campaigning. In the fight for rights, the L’s need to work with the G’s, as they are arguing the same thing: “Allow us to do with the same sex everything you do with the opposite.” I strongly suspect that the G’s far outnumber the L’s, although I haven’t looked at any figures on that until now: please do enlighten me. The B’s can be lumped on here quite easily, given that they are not very appreciably a distinct category. As for the T’s, I’m rather baffled, but they can find common cause on the “sexual minorities” bandwagon, since they too are stigmatised and considered to engage in unnatural pursuits, linked to “gender bending”. Strength in numbers, as they say.

I belong to some minority categories myself, including a religious minority in the UK. So I am not unsympathetic to the cause of minorities, and am interested in how these are defined. There is no longer real dispute over the idea that racial minorities should be protected, and there is general agreement about religious minorities, though the parameters are still being hotly debated (e.g. the question of legislation against incitement to religious hatred, or the question of blasphemy laws).

But I am really sceptical of the idea of sexual minorities, in the sense defined by a term like “LGBT”. I am uncomfortable with the very idea that lesbians (by which I mean SSA women) should be considered a “community” – and the same applies to SSA men (“gays”), less-SSA men/women (“bisexuals”) and transexuals. So I am multiply uncomfortable that these should all together be considered a big community, or a specific-protection-worthy minority.

As always, your feedback is welcome.

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Comments»

1. Razia - April 10, 2006

A very interesting perspective and great blog! I was pretty confused about some stuff last year and joined a group called TransMuslims out of curiousity. Well just yesterday the group owner posted something that a bit of it is relevant to your points here, so I'll paste that bit in:

>Don't let the fundamentalists drive a wedge between
>trans Muslims and other queer Muslims. Even those of
>us who are heterosexual ought to be straight allies
>for lesbian, gay, and bi Muslims who often have to
>struggle for survival and live in danger of death.
>Especially in Iraq these days, where the
>fundamentalists taking over the country, what's left
>of it, are drawing up lists of gay Iraqis and
>methodically assassinating them. Trans Muslims, beware
>of being used to persecute your homo brothers and
>sisters.

>Work for queer liberation in Islam. For ALL queers.
>
>In solidarity,
>Sister Janna

You might wonder what is meant by "being used" so here's a bit of what was written beforehand…

>As we discussed in some depth here last month, beware
>of Islamists that allow transsexual transition. They
>are suspected of using transgender for ulterior
>purposes, namely to crush homosexuality. They imagine
>by taking a lesbian and making her a man, or taking a
>gay guy and making him a woman, the "problem" of
>same-sex orientation will be "solved."
>
>A red flag should go up in a tranny's mind seeing
>that, an alarm should go off. Remember the Benjamin
>Standards of Care? The conservative Islamist anti-gay
>approach to transgender is a total violation of those
>standards. What a tragedy it would be for a gay man to
>be pushed into genital modification surgery only to
>realize later he's really a man after all. Expect a
>rash of suicides if this happens much. The BSOC were
>instituted to prevent such tragedies based on a
>misunderstanding of transsexualism and gender
>identity.

So really there can be an overlap of issues, but it does seem that political strategy plays a big role in the idea of GLBT.

2. Rasheed Eldin - April 30, 2006

Thanks for that Razia. I wrote my thoughts without having read anything specifically on this issue, but it turns out that there are other sorts of dissenting views to the “LGBT” idea.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT#Controversy

3. Bentropy - October 16, 2006

Well, I’ve read a fair bit of your site. It seems like you’re mixing together a modern, rational perspective – appealing to statistics, science, medicine and so forth – with a pre-modern religious perspective – based purely on belief and cultural conditioning, i.e. prejudice – and jumping between one and the other where it’s convenient to your argument, and generally confusing things for yourself and your readers.

Your view of what you call SSA as an aberration from nature isn’t scientifically defensible, at all. And when we’re talking nature, we’re talking science, not belief. It seems like the view is based on the erroneous assumption (common to some religions, e.g. “be fruitful and multiply”) that sex is purely employed by nature for reproduction. Reproduction – good, sex for anything else – bad. A god that worries that humans aren’t reproducing enough is a blind god, indeed.

What could be termed homosexuality appears in various species throughout nature. Our genetically closest living relatives – chimps and bonobo – are quite pan-sexual. It is, therefore, no surprise that we are too. Homosexuality/SSA seems to be *universal* in some form to all human societies. So, the view that its an aberration from nature, human or more broadly, couldn’t be further from the truth. In some species (e.g. mice), homosexuality seems possibly to be triggered or encouraged by conditions of overpopulation. That might make sense, no? Nature can’t sustain – doesn’t “want” – limitless reproduction and finds ways to fit populations to their environment and available resources.

Why, then, isn’t everyone gay, if it’s not unnatural? Why doesn’t everyone look or act the same, congenitally? Why are some people very talkative, others quite shy, seemingly from temperament at birth? In a population, there’s distribution curves of certain characteristics. Having features which a minority have doesn’t make an individual aberrant; it may be perfectly *normal* as part of the distribution within a population. Sometimes, a majority feature or homogeneity may be maladaptive and create a disadvantage for survival. There is no evidence that nature designed us to be homogeneously heterosexual, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

from Webster’s:
Main Entry: ab·er·ra·tion
Pronunciation: “a-b&-‘rA-sh&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin aberrare
1 : the fact or an instance of being aberrant especially from a moral standard or normal state
2 : failure of a mirror, refracting surface, or lens to produce exact point-to-point correspondence between an object and its image
3 : unsoundness or disorder of the mind
4 : a small periodic change of apparent position in celestial bodies due to the combined effect of the motion of light and the motion of the observer
5 : an aberrant individual

You’ll notice, aberrant isn’t a biological term. Having to do with humans (#1, #3), it’s a moral term, and thus relative and totally dependent on cultural belief. The ‘disorder of the mind’ definition, in terms of homosexuality, hasn’t been scientifically sustainable and isn’t accepted anymore by the medical/therapeutic community consensus.

I get the feeling you’re a person that experiences SSA and feels some shame, assumably due to your upbringing. Hence your mentioned discomfort with the ideas of “gay” identities, orientations, and gay communities. You don’t feel good about what you find inside yourself, so you project that self-dislike to others outside you. You’re right that some of these constructs stem from political reality and necessity, as well as history. They are constructs, not absolute realities. I get the sense that you take for granted, in your ability to identify as SSA, the hard-won rights and opportunities for which, frankly, you owe thanks to the gay rights movement. You seem quite dismissive of people you really ought to respect and appreciate, since their struggle and sacrifice allowed your perspective to emerge and be heard.

That said, your perspective is interesting. And I do agree whole-heartedly that people shouldn’t be forced into boxes. But I think you’re directing your blame for this, ultimately, the wrong direction. People haven’t been put in boxes by the gay rights movement so much as they find themselves put in boxes by society and hegemony. Simply pretending you aren’t in a box doesn’t liberate you from it.

4. Rasheed Eldin - October 16, 2006

Bentropy, thanks for your interesting feedback. I’ll respond to your points as far as I can at the moment.

What I was laying out here is a basic theory or philosophical position, without much detail. As I stated, I am basing it upon Qur’anic concepts, and not scientific research. But science also yields only raw data that must be interpreted, and nobody has held an “orientation” in their hand or printed an image of it, so for me to be convinced it exists (or is worth anything as a concept), philosophical work is required.

My main intent with this blog is to defend the Islamic position (and not necessarily the views of certain Muslims, however esteemed or otherwise knowledgeable). I can largely leave the other stuff to other folks.

Islam does not teach that sex is ONLY for reproduction, but clearly that is its main purpose. How can a rational mind conclude otherwise? Are you going to tell me that “science” says otherwise? But tell me what benefit a sperm has if it’s going to go up a colonic passage. Sorry to be crude, but it’s a serious question.

I don’t know much about animal antics, but here again is a religio-philosophical question: to what extent should we model our behaviour (or morality!) on other species? You didn’t quite make clear whether you think homosexuality in humans exists to limit reproduction. If so, why homosexuality and not (simpler) asexuality (and what implication does this have for people’s chosen actions)?

About “aberration” – no doubt, it is a contentious choice of word, but I used it to mean a phenomenon that requires an explanation, as opposed to one inherent to the design of the human. The quoted definition about “disorder” approximates to this, but I’m sure you realise that no dictionary is perfect! I won’t get into the debate right now about “medical…consensus”, but in brief I would reiterate that it is a philosophical position and not based solely on empirical research.

I think this debate requires serious scientific research, but what I was sketching was a religious view. I see you’re not particularly interested in that, and seem to look down on it, but it has a significance to me and many others. And that’s my speciality. I have (some) scientific training too, and certainly am interested in the intersection of methodologies. But surely I can’t go into everything at once!

I’m not terribly interested in your feelings about me, but whether I confirm or deny your theory, I presume your assumption will be the same. And this very answer can be taken in the way you want. One writer here says he has SSA. Another says he doesn’t. And a third chooses to be vague because it’s more fun!

I think your latter points might make more sense in the context of other posts, so feel free to share more feedback as you feel like. Maybe shorter comments will be easier to engage with though…

5. Gay Muslim NYC - October 17, 2006

With your last few paragraphs, I think you miss the point of gender and sexuality being intertwined historically, and not primarily by the gay-rights movement. In fact, most homophobic attitudes and actions are really transphobic attitudes and actions. Due to the rise of patriarchy in most societies, the sexual relationship between two men (or women, but not to much extent) were viewed through a masculine-feminine bifurcation. For example, the one recieving was considered feminine and therefore had his masculinity questioned and prohibited. By containing everything in this bifurcated system and valuing masculinity over femininity, society could effectively control people’s actions and lives. I agree that trans people (and especially muslims) go through a different and harder struggle than gay-muslims, but I also understand that due to the overwhelming transphobia put upon both communities, they unified in a similar struggle, and it is not simply a matter of politics and campaigning.

6. Bentropy - October 17, 2006

Hi Rasheed,
Thanks for your responses and thoughts.
I’ll try to be more compact, with so many ideas on the table.
We agree: sexual orientations are concepts or constructs, not absolute existents. But so are lots of things; god, truth, aberrations, for example. I guess the thrust of my argument isn’t that you subscribe to “gay”, “straight”, etc. as absolute realities; I certainly don’t. To say “it doesn’t exist” ignores the historical realities of why these ideas *do exist in culture*, why they’ve become important, much in the way that god exists in many of our minds and is held as important, despite the fact he/she/it can’t be printed or held.

Sexuality and all forms of contact and communication play roles in animal (including human) culture as important to survival as reproduction. Bonobos are fascinating examples of how we primates are inherently social and exhibit complex, rich behavior, that has allowed us to survive. I’m not proposing that we model human behavior or morality on animals. But neither should we ignore the significant connections and parallels. One point was that calling homosexuality and other putatively “immoral” behaviors “unnatural” is absolutely fallacious. To the contrary, when we actually study nature, rather than imagine it the way we please, it appears it’s quite natural to primates, like breast-feeding.

Another point was for tolerance – acceptance even – from religions for something that seems to be natural, ‘normal’ from a biological standpoint. What if we decided eating, sleeping, going to the toilet was unnatural, immoral, ugly, intolerable? Let’s make room for who we really are, insofar as it doesn’t hurt anyone. What reason can the gods, who we’ve created in our collective minds, really give for why 2 men or women can’t love each other, given that it hurts really no one? Give me a better reason than “because my book/god says so”. Killing, war, hierarchy, aggression…fine, let’s try to rise above our apparently somewhat natural tendencies or animal nature. But why repress love? People will still have plenty of children, so that’s a red herring. Life will still go on, but there will be one less group for us to hate, oppress and deny happiness to.

I’d like to look down less on religion, but it seems to have brought so many problems to humans. Not all religious people are violent, intolerant, hateful and war-like, but nearly all wars, hatred, intolerance, and violence in history is justified through religion, which has played along, if not led the way. I’m trying to learn more about religion, but it seems to provide support for quite a lot of irrationality, precisely because it’s a matter of belief – in that which can’t be printed or held – and not reason.

ok, done.

7. Rasheed Eldin - October 17, 2006

Friend, these are the blessed last days of Ramadan, so I’m going to have to come back to you a bit later. 🙂

8. Bentropy - October 19, 2006

No problem; respond whenever and if ever you feel inspired and have time. I’ll check back.
Have a peaceful, spiritually-enriching Ramadan (“Happy Ramadan” sounds inappropriately superficial, based on what little I understand of the holiday’s significance and function) and a festive Eid ul-Fitr.

9. adnaan - April 28, 2015

Sexual orientation means the orienting / inclining / converging of thoughts on a particular sex . Sure, there are people with EXPERIENCES IN LIFE that will urge them in the future to think about a particular sex . For men with SSA , these SSAs can be attributed to sexual abuse , sexual frustration , desire for male affection and acceptance , narcissm etc . But then , there ARE people for who these significant and consistent attractions cannot be particularly attributed to any such problems .

Such consistent feelings HAVE a basis in innate personality , just like different people have different levels of temper or anger or preferences for taste since being toddlers . I think introvertedness and extrovertedness maty also be a part of innate personality .

Of course , these personality characteristics can be subject to change by social pressure and the child may take up different preferences accordingly , but the true innate personality will still be there , though suppressed by external human force .

Yes, certain characteristics do need to be contolled to prevent harm to self or individual ( like anger ) . But i fail to see what harm homosexual attractions , in their essence , can bring . If they are used to sexually abuse a child or rape someone , then definitely they need to be controlled in that regard .

You say SSA should be suppressed because God wants us to ? Well , if you’re going to accept and believe what your scholars think and perceive of the subject because they are ‘experts’ or they have ‘reliable authentic credentials ‘ , even when God gave you a brain to utilise the ability to rationalise , then I dont think I should say more .

God prohibits something because it is significantly harmful and if you coclude that SSA is significantly harmful , you KNOW you have all the freedom to do whatever you want regarding that .

Regards .


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