CAIRO: The feature titled “Honey, I’m homosexual” which ran on Dec 5, in my opinion, perpetuates myths about homosexuality and, in doing so, contributes to the culture of intolerance in Egyptian society.
The tone is set from the angle of the article itself, with its focus on the closet gay men who, unable to resist their desires, break up marriages. While this angle isn’t necessarily problematic, its execution in the article is, as I hope to explain below.
Take for example this reference to Islam Online:
“But a wife with a homosexual spouse is no longer uncommon judging by the frequency of such cases and the scores of Arabic websites, including religion-based ones like IslamOnline, that discuss the issue openly.”
How has the author reached the conclusion that homosexual spouses “are no longer uncommon?” Has he conducted a study of the appearance of “such cases” on Arabic websites? Over what time period? If they are now no longer uncommon, when were they uncommon? Before the creation of Islam Online, for example? We are not told.
The article purports to use “scientific” and/or “expert” opinion to back up its assertions, which is what makes it dangerous rather than merely lazy journalism.
None of the so-called specialists interviewed seem aware of the fact that homosexuality was removed from diagnostic guidelines as a psychiatric pathology in 1973. Psychiatrist Mostafa Hussein, suggests that its replacement with “ego-dystonic homosexuality” was a political move.
Ego-dystonia is the compulsion to perform behavior in conflict with one’s ego, or one’s ideal self-image. The labeling of homosexuality as ego-dystonic is thus political because societal norms are clearly implicit in its categorization as such.
Homosexuality was removed entirely from the WHO diagnostic guidelines in 1987 i.e. it is no longer regarded as an illness by the international psychiatric community.
And yet the bulk of the contributions selected by the article’s author perpetuate the idea that homosexuality is “abnormal”, or a “disorder” requiring treatment without presenting the other side of the argument. While this may reflect attitudes in Egyptian society, it is an inaccurate, or incomplete, presentation of psychiatric approaches. Even worse, it neglects to present the sinister side of the treatments described in the article.
“Treating homosexuality is a black spot in the history of clinical psychology and psychiatry,” says Mostafa. “The behavioral treatment, aversion therapy, is a cruel method that involves — as written in the article — trying to sexually arouse a person with photos of the opposite sex but what is not mentioned is the common use of electric shocks while viewing photos of nude men. Hence the name aversion therapy.
“Military forces in several countries in the 1970s would use such methods for their homosexual soldiers. In Egypt parents still panic about homosexual children and take them to get treatment from psychiatrists who claim that they can treat the condition.”
In addition to ignoring its sinister aspects, the article also fails to point out that such treatment, the attempt to “straighten” gay men, has largely been discredited as ineffective.
“Aversion therapy was used widely in the 70s in the US,” continues Mostafa. “It was later found ineffective. Modern psychological therapy for gay people acceptable by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association is called Gay Affirmative psychotherapy, which helps people with conflicting beliefs towards their sexual orientation to come to terms with it and accept it. I am not sure if it is practiced in Egypt.”
Why was this crucial point left out of the article? The fact that homosexuality is rejected in Egypt is no excuse for such an oversight. Efforts should have been made to find Egyptian psychiatrists who do not endorse the idea of homosexuality as a disorder in order to give some balance to the article. The exclusion of the role of societal norms in defining psychiatric attitudes towards homosexuality is inexcusable.
In a previous article that ran in Daily News Egypt, psychiatrist Nasser Loza’s says: “Is this still being debated? We’re in 2006. Homosexuality is not a disease.”
If you chose to run this story because you wanted a “fun” peek into the strange world of homosexual men and their “red underwear” then I suggest the pseudo-science should have been left out. Its inclusion is damaging.
Egyptian society’s rabid attitude towards homosexuality (which the media seems to do all in its power to stir up) results in incidents such as the Queen Boat case, when gay men were rounded up and tortured because they were gay or assumed to be gay, and in the persecution of a group of men living with HIV/AIDS convicted of “debauchery”.
“Honey, I’m homosexual” contributes to the myths surrounding gay men, encourages their exclusion/isolation and “backs up” its ideas with allegedly expert opinion.
Note that the basis of my criticism of this article is not that its author, Daily News Egypt readers or Egyptian society should accept homosexuality. The author’s own attitude towards homosexuality should have been irrelevant, but alas was made all too clear in the moralistic and extremely subjective tone of the article.
Originally published in Daily News Egypt on 9/12/2008, my sodding birthday.