Monday, August 20, 2007

An Answer for Fiona

Fiona just posted a question to me that deserved a little detail for its answer. So, here goes.

I don't think love, sex, child-bearing or child-rearing is any different here than anywhere else. Life is all about finding a place where you can be yourself.

This is a decidedly modern viewpoint, one that I have to disagree with. Tradition is very inflexible. Child-rearing and child-bearing are markedly different from place to place.

The rules genuinely matter. Indeed, they are all that matters.

Finding a place where you can be yourself is a thing that has only very recently become possible for human beings. This is one of the gifts of capitalism.

If you can find someone to share it with, so much the better. It's a lot easier for me in that regard, and I'm not just talking about the red-necked homophobic tendencies here. I found love before I got here. Makes it a little easier than trying to find someone from scratch.

But you have a choice. This is a novel and precious thing, quite remarkable, and still not common in much of the world. Most of my cousins have had arranged marriages. I don’t think that anyone in my father’s family has been forced to marry someone they generally did not like, but this is nothing like finding someone and falling in love.

OK, I have to ask: What's wrong with dating Arabs? I ask out of pure ignorance, having never had the pleasure myself.

Not Arabs per se, as much as any male from a deeply traditional society. Traditional masculinity is a cumbersome and, yet, fragile façade. For a man to be powerful, so much rests on a woman’s obedience. Indeed, no one can emasculate a man as well and so easily, as the façade rests so entirely on a woman’s cooperation.

There’s a great movie in Arabic and Hebrew called A Wedding in Galilee. A Druze Palestinian family living under the occupation want to have a wedding for their son `Adil and his fiancé, Samiyya. Of course, free assembly is strictly governed by the Israelis and the family must apply to the local military governor for permission to host so large an event. `Adil’s father is the village mukhtar, a traditional mayoral title antedating the San Remo settlement in 1920. Being called mukhtar is still a token of respect. Anyway, Abu `Adil (Arab men are given a name after their eldest son, Abu `Adil means “Father of Adil”) goes to the military governor to ask for permission.

The Israeli governor thinks he’s going to be clever, and decides to tell Abu `Adil that they can hold the wedding if the Israeli military governor can attend. Abu `Adil is in a complete bind. The military governor is clearly his enemy, however, Abu `Adil is a traditional Arab. No true Arab refuses a request for hospitality. He naturally replies, “Please stay with me until the very end of the wedding.”

The Israeli military commander and his entourage attending this wedding is of course the central conflict in the very complicated plot. It’s a great movie (crappy production values, but great characters and plot). But `Adil, an ardent Palestinian nationalist, is outraged by his father’s decision to show hospitality to Israeli soldiers occupying their land. But he wants to get married (it’s not like you get any before marriage in the Arab world), so it’s a catch-22.

Well apparently, the Druze have a custom where the bride and groom consummate on the wedding night and the sheet with the blood stain from the woman’s hymen is displayed for all to see. No Muslim or Christian Arabs I’ve ever heard of have this custom, so I found it novel. At any rate, Abu `Adil needs to display the sheet. But `Adil is so choked up that he goes impotent. Dad is going berserk and cousin Khalid, the sensible one, tells his uncle, “Look. We’ll get a sheet, make a small cut on the cow, get a blood stain and show the people. Then tomorrow, we take `Adil to the doctor.” Dad will have none of this, so `Adil and Samiyya are stuck in the room and the people are beginning to talk. Samiyya says, “Look, clearly this isn’t happening tonight.” `Adil won’t come out, but, on the other hand, he’s not getting it up either.

Samiyya realizes that something has to be done to save male honor, so pressing the sheet into her vagina, she says, “I take my virginity with my own hand.” `Adil throws his face into her lap sobbing.

Masculinity, that kind of masculinity, is so fragile. It’s not just the Arabs. There’s a great gay movie called Wedding Banquet about a gay man from Hong Kong named Wai-Tung who is an immigrant success story in Manhattan. The catch is that he’s gay and has an American partner named Simon. His parents don’t know and are determined that he will marry. Wai-Tung and Simon have a mainland Chinese tenant, a starving artist named Wei-Wei. Wei-Wei is about to be deported. So they concoct the perfect solution. Wai-Tung marries Wei-Wei enabling her to stay in the country and allowing him to get his parents off his back. The comedy of errors begins.

But in both movies, the women make sacrifices for the men’s honor. Except in Wedding Banquet, Simon gets to be one of the women. I saw the movie early in the process of coming out and decided that I was not Simon. Hence, I never dated Arab men, not that there are that many to meet at your average gay bar.