Elevate Difference's Reviews > Islamicate Sexualities: Translations across Temporal Geographies of Desire

Islamicate Sexualities by Kathryn Babayan
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Jan 10, 09

Read in January, 2009

On choosing Islamicate Sexualities: Translations across Temporal Geographies of Desire from a sprawling list of review items, I was hoping to find some answers to my questions about the diverse manifestations of sexualities and gender identities outside of the overwhelming focus on the Western LGBTQ experience. After reading this book, I've found that I came out of it more bewildered and questioning than ever.

As a reader far from the doctorate level of the academic hierarchy, I found it very difficult to navigate the abstruse language and the general emphasis on the journey of Islamicate LGBTQ identities into the limelight of historiography and queer scholarship. In this anthology, various scholars and researchers investigate particular aspects of Islamicate sexual history in eight articles.

As a proud overanalyzer of popular history and the ways in which the past has been recorded in a hierarchical fashion, one of my favorite pieces in the entire collection was "The Past is a Foreign Country? The Times and Spaces of Islamicate Sexuality Studies." In the article, Valerie Traub discusses the tendency of Westernized scholarship to place other cultures, namely those in contrast to Western norms, on a separate temporal plane due to their "foreign" nature. In the piece, she enlightens readers on a common habit that recorders of history indulge in, which is the "first in Europe and then elsewhere" structure of time. She explains how this practice constructs a value system, which places European traditions and practices as the main lens with which to approach history, leaving all other cultures to act as subordinates in comparison.

The pieces "A Handsome Boy Among Those Barbarous Turks: Cervantes's Muslims and the Art and Science of Desire" and "Cross-Dressing and Female Same-Sex Marriage in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures" explore the origins and manifestations of nontraditional sexual and social practices between members of already nontraditional cultural groups through influential sources of literature. The anthology, in general, provides meticulous investigation into the often subtle exhibitions of sexuality and gender variations in multiple time periods and locations such as Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Spain. The book weaves together intricate unspoken histories that illuminate the errors and blind spots of dominant assumptions on the realities of the "Muslim world," both past and present.

Although the Islamicate Sexualities may incite a sense of intellectual inadequacy for those not well-versed on the pedagogic representation of the Islamicate queer experience through the ages, I’d recommend it to anyone having done prior reading or research on the subject. Personally, my next step after tackling this mammoth compilation of intricate theoretical postulations is to retroactively seek out information on the topic that is layperson-friendly in preparation for a revelatory second stab at this collection.

Reviewed by Renee Leonowicz
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