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Published in: January-February 2018 issue.

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Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture
by Mehammed Amadeus Mack
Fordham University Press. 344 pages, $27.


If France is shaped like a hexagon, then the study of sexuality in France leads to the word “sexagon.” In this lively study, Mehammed Mack proposes that the French goal of mixité, or assimilation, has been recast in sexual terms following the dramatic increase in Muslim and Arab residents since Algeria gained independence in 1962. Mack, who teaches French and gender studies at Smith College, offers his view of French attitudes toward “others,” defined by ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual identity. One provocative finding is that immigrants are being pushed to disclose details about their private lives, including their sexual lives, to demonstrate their aptitude for citizenship in today’s France. So, for example, North African immigrants living in Parisian suburbs may resist answering mental health workers’ questions about their family life, because exposure makes them feel vulnerable. LGBT Arabs and Muslims may be even more wary of self-disclosure. However, refusing disclosure has gotten harder in today’s France, because psychologists “pathologize the closet” and often adopt an “imperative of ‘outness’” toward sexual minorities. French newspapers, TV shows, and films criticize LGBT immigrants’ secrecy as well. But Mack found that porn films might be an exception. A porn film may start with an obnoxious cliché—for example, “homo thug” or “the veil as striptease”—but without a requirement to be politically correct. The result may be a largely accurate picture of sexual creativity in Muslim suburbia. Sexagon vividly portrays the context in which many French LGBT immigrants live now, under pressure for self-disclosure.

Rosemary Booth

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John R. Killacky