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A Missed Opportunity

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 - 07:00

Sometimes an article looks really intriguing and then you feel cheated by the actual content. This isn't necessarily the fault of the author -- sometimes it's the fault of my pre-conceptions that "read in" assumptions based on my own interests. I find this happening a lot with novel descriptions. Because my social media feeds combine streams with different defaults (SFF, queer, romance, historical) I have a tendency to fill in any unmentioned characteristics in a book description with my own particular interests. If the book is a historic romance and the blurb doesn't specifically indicate that it's m/f, my brain will tend to default to filling in a f/f story. And so on. My assumptions aren't anyone else's fault. (Though they do help me exist within a world of queer female possibilities that aren't always fulfilled.) So when an article is titled "Playing with Homoeroticism in The Arabian Nights" and specifically mentions the story of Princess  Budur, I'm going to make some pretty strong assumptions. Which, alas, were not fulfilled in this case.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Bosman, Frank G. 2021. “’I Am Not Good at Any of This’ Playing with Homoeroticism in The Arabian Nights” in Religions 12: 480.

This article looks at two stories within the 1001 nights that set up scenes of apparent homoeroticism due to gender disguise. In two romances—that of Qamar and Budur, and that of Ali Shar and Zumurrud—the woman disguises herself as a man during a period when the lovers are separated, and then when they are reunited and the disguised woman is in a position of greater social power, she teases her lover (who has not recognized her or even realized she is a woman) by demanding that he submit to her sexually (believing he is submitting to a man). The focus of the article is on how scenarios like this play with the idea of homoerotic encounters, while returning to, and reinforcing heteronormativity in the story’s conclusion.

I confess I was disappointed that the article focuses almost entirely on apparent male-male interactions. The discussion of the part of Budur’s story when she marries and has a sexual relationship with the princess Hayat is treated dismissively—even though it is the one scenario of those discussed that involves a knowing, consensual same-sex relationship. The author describes their relationship as “unintended—a strange convergence of circumstances” framing the cross-dressed Budur as a “victim,” asserted to be in contrast to the dominant position of the cross-dressing women when dealing with their oblivious male lovers.

I feel that the article missed the chance to draw some more interesting conclusions due to what I consider to be a bias on the part of the author against taking female same-sex desire seriously.