Islam, Masculinity, and Homoerotica

The Muslim holy month of Ramadhan is finally over. If there is a bizarre lesson to be learned, I think it is to problematize how the month always becomes the gayest of the year. Now in case you are one of those who would get offended and start imagining hate mail and violent attacks, cool down for a moment and take a look at the category this is posted under. Yes, I am here not talking about Islam in general, but instead of films produced specifically under the Islamic context in Indonesia. Whether this applies to other Islamic films as well will need more analysis on my part (or if you have any info, feel free to comment away!).

In Indonesia, there is every year films produced specifically for the month of Ramadhan. What is of particular interest to me is how in many of those films the entire coordinates of masculinity change. One needs not be an expert to notice how, suddenly, we have all sorts of stupid themes of a friendship of two men who go on an adventure helping people out and finding the meaning of life, etc. We no longer have the standard stereotype of men with all the toughness and individuality that poke fun at friends, women, and life in general. Instead, we have a couple of men that are casual but never poke too much fun at anything if that may cause them to miss out on God’s more important issues — and all the while the two of them go out and do everything (“discover life’s meaning”) together.

Yes, I understand that of course the men are not homosexual, they sometimes depicted having interest in women, even in some cases their friendship is nothing but a cause of them being brothers, etc. But nonetheless the spectacle remains: two men always loyally traveling together in romantic primeval settings (nature, villages, tranquil city spaces, small mosques, etc.) telling their what life and truth means to one another — unless depicting characters who are gay, would one such a setting be possible in a homophobic society such as the United States?

Islam becomes interesting when looked at this way. All the terrorism associated today with Islam in fact could not apply to these “soft male” film personas — for terrorism, one needs a militaristic, dominant masculinity. In many Muslim films, on the other hand, one gets figures of an effeminate, careful male and his couple companion as the main characters.

Who are the audience of the films? Presumably, as with all TV drama series, 80% of them are women. So I am not saying that these are films made specifically for sexually repressed men to secretly fantasize homosexual activities. The phenomena is much more complex — something more resembling homoerotic fanfiction of Japanese manga, more commonly known as yaoi, in the sense that it is women who enjoy them more. Does the Freudian notion of women constantly fantasizing themselves to be men not resonate perfectly in such phenomena?

It turns out that Islamic films give a perfect chance to do this, by giving fiction contexts that enact a romantic, emotional bonding of two men under a search of a transcendent, spiritual mysticism — a perfect female fantasy. And what do we have here? Suddenly, all the gender questions arising within the complicity of Islam, erotica, and film culture becomes much more interesting and problematic. So much for religious homophobia!

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