Male sexual expression in transition in the backdrop of economic growth:
The article titled ‘Hairy Chest, Will Travel…’ by Jared McCormick is a scholarly yet light-hearted foray into the world of sex-tourism that is developing in the Middle East. Lebanon and Syria are especially acquiring a reputation for gay-centric tourism, with Beirut proving to be the epicentre of this commercial and cultural phenomenon. The best feature of the article is its ability to expose how conventional cultural stereotyping has very little relevance in the face of rank commercial opportunism. For instance, the society of Beirut, despite its history tendency toward religious orthodoxy, has developed this thriving semi-clandestine market for sexual interaction. The industry is now so well-established that even specific sexual orientations are being targeted. For example, The LebTour program specializes in offering exotic sexual opportunity for ‘bears’ – a particular strand within the larger male homosexual group. The bears are marked by their hyper-masculinity – thick muscular body types with abundant hair in face and chest serve as symbols for this classification.
In contrast, the article by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer titled ‘Sexuality in Morocco…’ doesn’t merely address changing masculine identities but also attempts to review “several domains of research – studies of Islamic doctrine, anthropological research on sexuality, ethnographies of Muslim countries, as well as recent studies of sexual behaviours and attitudes in Morocco.” What I found most impressive about the article is how the case of Morocco typifies similar demographic attitudinal and lifestyle shifts in other parts of the Middle East, including Lebanon and Syria. The country’s integration into the global neoliberal project (globalization) has caused tension between its traditions and modern compulsions. It is interesting to note that such tensions are not to be witnessed in Lebanon vis-a-vis its LebTour program. If anything, the social friction witnessed in Morocco is akin to that happening in Iran and Israel.
While Mahdavi’s article implicitly lauds the progressive mindset of Iranian women, its main concern is about the associated ‘risks’. In this regard Mahdavi is echoing the concerns raised by Yael Ben-zvi in her article ‘Zionist Lesbianism and Transsexual Transgression…’, where even emancipated women face social ostracism/political backlash for expressing their views freely. In this scenario, what is conspicuously absent in these women-centric scholarships is the possible solutions and recommendations to alleviate said risks. In the absence of such positive suggestions in the article, the implications of the sexual revolution in Iran and elsewhere become frightening. In other words, allied to its potential to liberate, the sexual revolution in Iran also places women at unprecedented risk – social, political and personal. The rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) are rising among heterosexual Iranian women. The “distribution of educational information related to the health risks of sexual activity is extremely low, while the few existing sexual education programs are reserved for couples who are married or engaged.”