Our Gay Culture
Excellence of taste in fine arts and humanities, also known as high cultureAn integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group.
Culture is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is a fragile phenomenon. It is constantly changing and easily lost because it exists only in our minds. Our written languages, governments, buildings, and other man-made things are merely the products of culture. They are not culture in themselves. For this reason, archaeologists can not dig up culture directly in their excavations. The broken pots and other artifacts of ancient people that they uncover are only material remains that reflect cultural patterns–they are things that were made and used through cultural knowledge and skills.
LGBT culture is a culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. It is sometimes also referred to as Queer culture. The term gay culture, though not synonymous, is sometimes also used though this may also apply specifically to a culture of homosexual men. LGBT culture varies widely by geography and the identity of the participants. Elements often identified as being common to cultures of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people include:
- The work of famous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgenderedpeople. This may include:
- Present-day LGBT artists and political figures;
- Historical figures who have been identified as LGBT. It has often been questioned whether it is appropriate to identify historical figures using modern terms for sexual identity (see History of sexuality). However, many LGBT people feel a kinship towards these people and their work, especially to the extent that it deals with same-sex attraction or gender identity. This is evidenced by websites such as VictoryFund.org which are dedicated to supporting homosexual politicians.
Arabic literature LGBT culture
Abū Nuwās, of mixed Arab and Persian heritage, studied in Basra and al-Kūfah, first under the poet Wālibah ibn al-Ḥubāb, later under Khalaf al-Aḥmar. He also studied the Qurʾān (Islāmic sacred scripture), Ḥadīth (traditions relating to the life and utterances of the Prophet), and grammar and is said to have spent a year with the Bedouins in the desert to acquire their traditional purity of language.
Abū Nuwās, also spelled Abū Nuʾās, in full Abū Nuwās Al-ḥasan Ibn Hāniʾ Al-ḥakamī (born c. 747, –762, Ahvāz, Iran—died c. 813, –815, Baghdad), important poet of the early ʿAbbāsid period (750–835).
A Boy Is Worth More Than a Girl
For young boys, the girls I’ve left behind
And for old wine set clear water out of mind.
Far from the straight road, I took without conceit
The winding way of sin, because this horse
Has cut the reins without remorse,
And carried away the bridle and the bit.
Here I am, fallen for a faun,
A dandy who butchers Arabic.
His forehead, brilliant like a full moon,
Chases away the black night’s gloom.
He cares not for shirts of cotton
Nor for the Bedouin’s hair coat.
He sports a short tunic over his slender thighs
but his shirt is long of sleeve.
His feet are well-shod, and under his coat
You can glimpse rich brocade.
He takes off on campaign and rides to attack
casting arrows and javelins;
He hides the ardor of war, and his
Attitude under fire is magnanimous.
Comparing a young boy to a young girl, I am ignorant.
And yet, how can you mix up some bitch
Who goes in monthly heat
And drops a litter once a year
With him I see on the fly.
How I wish he would come
Return my greeting.
I reveal to him all my thoughts
Without fear of the imam, or of the muezin.
Abu Nuwas, Le Vin, le Vent, la Vie,
(tr. Vincent Mansour Monteil), Sindbad,
Paris, 1979, p. 91.
Abu Nuwas and the Wily Young Man
Abu Nuwas loved to reminisce. “When I was still young,” he told us one day, “I fell head over heels for a youth of Basrah, and I was possessed with burning desire to make love to him. One time I ran into him on the Mirbad, where the philosophers were wont to gather. I begged him to look with favor on my passion.”
“If that is truly your wish,” said he, “then first find us one of those foxy songstresses who’s skilled at her trade, and get her to receive me.” Just then a shapely young woman passed by, and he exclaimed, “There! That one is precisely the condition of our meeting. Are you up for it?” I jumped up and could not help putting my hand on the woman’s arm. Immediately she started to scream and call for help. Right away a crowd gathered, so that we were surrounded on all sides. Hands were raised to seize me. The youth in the mean time had edged away, and I could see him not far off, trying to hold in his laughter. I had to resort to all the treasures of my cunning to get out of that bind.
Retold after the French version of Ahmad al-Tifashi’s The Delights of Hearts, tr. Rene Khawam.
Abu Nuwas wrote about the way he lived. His chief topics were wine and pederasty. The Persian poets of a later era used wine in their poems only as a metaphorical symbol, but for Abu Nuwas the glories of debauchery and dissipation could never fully be expressed. He depicted with humorous realism his experiences in life, admitted his sins with remarkable frankness, and wrote that he would never repent although he recommended that others not follow his example. With ironic tones he composed a dirge for his own body wasting away from bad habits. He closed one poem by stating that he never expected his sins to be found out by God because he was too unimportant for God to take notice of his actions.
Abu Nuwas is considered one of the greats of classical Arabic literature. He influenced many later writers, to mention only Omar Khayyám, and Hafiz — both of them Persian poets. A hedonistic caricature of Abu Nuwas appears in several of the Thousand and One Nights tales. Among his best known poems are the ones ridiculing the “Olde Arabia” nostalgia for the life of the Bedouin, and enthusiastically praising the up-to-date life in Baghdad as a vivid contrast.
his freedom of expression especially on matters forbidden by Islamic norms continue to excite the animus of censors. While his works were freely in circulation until the early years of the twentieth century, in 1932 the first modern censored edition of his works appeared in Cairo. In 1976, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in honor of Abu Nuwas
Omar Khayyam‘s full name was Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami. A literal translation of the name al-Khayyami (or al-Khayyam) means ‘tent maker’ and this may have been the trade of Ibrahim his father. Khayyam played on the meaning of his own name when he wrote:-
Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,
Has fallen in grief’s furnace and been suddenly burned,
The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,
And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!
Omar Khayyam was best known in his time as a mathematician and astronomer. His theorems are still studied by mathematicians today. His poetry really only became widely read when Edward FitzGerald collected several quatrains (rubaiyat) attributed to Khayyam and translated them into English as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
The common view in the of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is that it is a collection of sensual love poems. Although some scholars debate this question, many people assert that Omar Khayyam was a Sufi, as well as a poet and mathematician, and that his Rubaiyat can only be truly understood using the language of mystical metaphor.
For whatever Reason, however, Omar as before said, has never been popular in his own Country, and therefore has been but scantily transmitted abroad. The MSS. of his Poems, mutilated beyond the average Casualties of Oriental Transcription, are so rare in the East as scarce to have reacht Westward at all, in spite of all the acquisitions of Arms and Science.
There is no copy at the India House, none at the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris. We know but of one in England: No. 140 of the Ouseley MSS. at the Bodleian, written at Shiraz, A.D. 1460. This contains but 158 Rubaiyat. One in the Asiatic Society’s Library at Calcutta (of which we have a Copy), contains (and yet incomplete) 516, though swelled to that by all kinds of Repetition and Corruption.
So Von Hammer speaks of his Copy as containing about 200, while Dr. Sprenger catalogues the Lucknow MS. at double that number.*5 The Scribes, too, of the Oxford and Calcutta MSS. seem to do their Work under a sort of Protest; each beginning with a Tetrastich (whether genuine or not), taken out of its alphabetical order; the Oxford with one of Apology; the Calcutta with one of Expostulation, supposed (says a Notice prefixed to the MS.) to have arisen from a Dream, in which Omar’s mother asked about his future fate. It may be rendered thus:
“O Thou who burn’st in Heart for those who burn
In Hell, whose fires thyself shall feed in turn,
How long be crying, ‘Mercy on them, God!’
Why, who art Thou to teach, and He to learn?”
The Bodleian Quatrain pleads Pantheism by way of Justification.
“If I myself upon a looser Creed
Have loosely strung the Jewel of Good deed,
Let this one thing for my Atonement plead:
That One for Two I never did misread.”
With regard to the present Translation. The original Rubaiyat (as, missing an Arabic Guttural, these Tetrastichs are more musically called) are independent Stanzas, consisting each of four Lines of equal, though varied, Prosody; sometimes all rhyming, but oftener (as here imitated) the third line a blank. Somewhat as in the Greek Alcaic, where the penultimate line seems to lift and suspend the Wave that falls over in the last. As usual with such kind of Oriental Verse, the Rubaiyat follow one another according to Alphabetic Rhyme – a strange succession of Grave and Gay. Those here selected are strung into something of an Eclogue, with perhaps a less than equal proportion of the “Drink and make-merry,” which (genuine or not) recurs over-frequently in the Original. Either way, the Result is sad enough: saddest perhaps when most ostentatiously merry: more apt to move Sorrow than Anger toward the old Tentmaker, who, after vainly endeavoring to unshackle his Steps from Destiny, and to catch some authentic Glimpse of TO-MORROW, fell back upon TO-DAY (which has outlasted so many To-morrows!) as the only Ground he had got to stand upon, however momentarily slipping from under his Feet.
Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan
Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan bin Ali bin Othman (1383?-1455), the fourteenth century Egyptian poet and mystic, was also known as Shams al-Din, “Sun of Religion.” His nickname, and all indications about him, suggest he was a pious and respected citizen of medieval Cairo. A native of the city, he studied law there under the master al-Damiri. In later years al-Nawaji taught the Hadith (1), at the Islamic colleges of al-Husayniyya and al-Jamaliyya, and led the mystic prayer sessions, which suggests he was a Sufi.
A Queer poem by Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan bin Ali bin Othman (1383-1455)
“For a Turk”
I have chosen from among the sons of the Turks
A young male gazelle.
In my burning desire to possess him
I have consumed my life to no purpose.
I asked him one day
“What will put out the fire
That you have lit in me,
O, most fearsome of men?”
He answered, “My lips.”
His devotional life, which included two pilgrimages to Mecca, did not prevent him from immersing himself in intellectual occupations. At that time Cairo, under Turkish rule, was experiencing a period of freedom as well as great opulence. As a Sunni of the Shafiite rite, al-Nawaji would have been tolerant and open to intellectual debate. This is borne out by his studies of natural history and his writings, a book of poems which opens a door onto his other interests, and reveals that to an educated man of his day the erotic was inseparable from the divine, as is evident in the following poem:
To a beautiful youth on pilgrimage to Mecca
You who have left to visit the ancient House,
And abandoned me here, hostage to sadness;
One last visit before departing,
Would not that have been better?
You go on pilgrimage to follow the precepts,
But that doesn’t at all keep you
From putting a Moslem to death!
May I be your ransom! Rather than wander
The roads of the pilgrim,
Better you should spare Allah’s creatures.
His tolerance and open-mindedness is also reflected in his lack of racial bigotry, a characteristic that mars many otherwise fine works of Arabic literature of the period, such as the Arabian Nights. Here’s one example of Shams al-Din’s appreciation of black men:
For a beautiful black boy
Aroused, he exhales
The intense perfume of his musk.
The sight of his face, lit by a ray of light
So arresting is his beauty,
So limitless its power,
That the gaze of those parched for love
Envelops him in tenderness,
And the caress of all those black eyes
Has daubed his body
With their magic color.
Love seems to have been the engine driving relations between men and beardless youths, giving rise to a social scene that brings to mind the Athens of Socrates and Alcibiades. In that economy of love, paying for one’s pleasure in gold was not well regarded. Men instead rewarded their favorites with a well-turned verse, and books of such poems were worth their weight in gold. In this collection we discover verses for every occasion, even for diametrically opposed needs. For those whose lover has dark skin, he offers:
If the stars glitter white
In the dusk of night
Against the black body of a sky
Whose robe has slipped aside,
Their opposite is even more beautiful;
For here on earth are other orbs:
You, black men,
Shining stars of our days.
But, equally solicitous of those who favor light-skinned boys, he says:
Those who dare set
The swarthy man before white boys,
Marvels of grace, prove to me
They are weak and ill of eye.
What use is sight
To our brothers’s eyes
If to them light and dark
Are one and the same?
Much medieval Arab poetry is marked by certain conventions: the gazelle-like youth with his crescent smile, the scorpion-like black curls. . . to a modern eye the cliches soon grow tiresome. In the ensuing selection, however, we have tried to minimize repetition, and to gather a varied a bouquet as possible.
To a handsome boy with ink-stained lips
Before this mouth smeared with ink,
A precious box filled
With adorable pearls, I cry out,
“What is this strange sign?
A talisman to avert the evil eye
From him we cherish . . .
Or a seal for the mouth of the jar
Enclosing the wine of pleasure?”
For a milkman
Ever since I bound myself
To a milkman,
The very picture of seduction,
I tell him over and over,
“Be generous and grant me
A swallow of you,
O delectable milkman.“
For a maker of arrows
Friend, our fletcher,
With the arrow of his glance,
Intentionally wounded onto death
This heart of mine, which went out to him.
Why does the censor blame me
When my soul, pierced by love
Is target for this whittler of arrows?
For a pretty seller of cucumbers
God! How beautiful, this young
Cucumber seller, and a face to make
The sun itself blush at noontime.
The day he agreed to a tender meeting
I was overwhelmed.
Ah, how I savored
That mouthful of cucumber.