Global Gay: How Gay Culture Is Changing the World
by Frédéric Martel
Translated by Patsy Baudoin
MIT Press. 262 pages, $27.95
“IN IRAN, there are no homosexuals,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, famously said during a lecture at Columbia University when he was in New York to address the United Nations in 2007. Widely mocked for the remark—and rumored, in Iran at least, to be gay—Ahmadinejad is off the world stage at the moment. But the situation in Iran is far more complex than that, we learn in French journalist Frédéric Martel’s engaging book about gay life around the world.
Indeed, the section on Iran, the longest on a single place, portrays the basic contradiction of the entire Muslim world (though Iran is ethnically Persian, not Arabic). There are, in fact, lots of homosexuals in Iran, not to mention bisexuals, and straight men who will have sex with other men because of the strict separation of the sexes before marriage in Muslim cultures. Teheran, Martel learns during a drive around the city looking for a party with a gay fashionista and his friends, is divided into north and south. In North Teheran, the wealthy part, you can go to sophisticated parties at which you may be out; in South Teheran, you cruise the public parks. It’s as if the wealthy can be gay, while the poor are confined to homosexual acts. Even the drugs people take differ: speed and cocaine in North Teheran, crack and heroin in South Teheran.
Martel’s survey of gay life worldwide opens, however, with the June 2016 massacre at Pulse, the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that was popular with gay Latinos. At the time, it seemed like the act of one more maniac with issues of latent homosexuality, the son of an Afghan father who came across in the press as rather hard-nosed and unapologetic. (One suspects that 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta was another latent homo with an angry paterfamilias.) The shooting set a record for the number of victims—49 dead, 53 wounded—even in a country inured to lone gunmen shooting up movie theaters, kindergartens, and high schools.