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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #102b Habib 2009 "Reading the Familiarity of the Past"

Full citation: 

Habib, Samar. 2009. Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality: 850-1780 A.D. Teneo Press, Youngstown. ISBN 978-1-934844-11-3

Publication summary: 

This book makes a good companion volume to Habib's other works as it provides a comprehensive set of the texts she's working with. (The relevant parts of them, at least.) It also includes the text of two lectures that provide background and context for the texts themselves.

Reading the Familiarity of the Past

No time for an introduction today, sorry!

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This essay is included in the book in English, Arabic, and French. It concerns itself not with homosexuality as a “problem” but with the articulate and literate voices of the women themselves that shine through the writings, even when mediated through male authors. These voices describe the pleasures and attractions of “grinding” as well as speaking to the social context in which it occurred.

The glimpses of female homosexuality in medieval Arabic society relate closely to modern queer theory in embracing variation and instability of categories. But modern scholars studying them may misunderstand the material and focus on the extremes of hypothetical punishments or attempt to impose an arbitrary periodization on the literature to associate eras with praise or censure of homosexual practices.

The medieval texts focused to a large extent on categorization, trying to understand (and perhaps control) transgressive sexuality by means of cataloging. For example, writers take note of the trope of the hyper-clitoral (or intersex?) lesbian, similar to the motif found in Western sources. But neither “negative” or “positive” texts can be read straight-forwardly. Within a given author’s work, both may be used to explore (and sometimes to disprove) these popular but fictitious tropes.


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