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When we and several authors of the articles included here originally debated the idea of this special issue, our aim was to respond to what we perceived as a standstill that locks Middle Eastern queer studies into a premodern Eastern versus modern Western-oriented division. While the East is studied as a repository of tradition with an identifiable sexual and amorous nomenclature, the West is often presented as a fixed hegemonic structure distinct from the East, regardless of the long traditions of cultural exchange and the specific forms of translation and dialogue that take shape when the identities and models of desire associated with the West travel or are performed outside it or at its periphery. This division has generated a set of binaries pertaining to the applicability of terms (gay, lesbian, homosexual) and theoretical frameworks (queer theory) to Middle Eastern literary and cultural contexts. It is our belief that critical engagements with queer Arab and Iranian sexualities in literature and culture ought to situate current discussions in queer theory within debates and concerns arising from specific Middle Eastern social and political realities.

Corresponding author
Hanadi Al-Samman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; e-mail:
Tarek El-Ariss is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Tex.; e-mail:
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Authors’ note: We express our gratitude to IJMES editors Beth Baron and Sara Pursley for seeing this project through from its inception and for the many anonymous reviewers whose perceptive comments shaped and informed the arguments of our contributors. This special issue is dedicated to the memory of Ramzi Zakharia (1964–2010), a human rights activist who did so much to promote tolerance and justice on LGBT issues, Palestine, and women's rights.

1 Traub Valerie, “The Past Is a Foreign Country? The Times and Spaces of Islamicate Sexuality Studies,” in Islamicate Sexualities: Translations across Temporal Geographies of Desire, ed. Babayan Kathryn and Najmabadi Afsaneh (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Center for Middle East Studies, 2008), 2.

2 Amer Sahar, Crossing Borders: Love between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

3 Love Heather, “Queers___This,” in After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory, ed. Halley Janet and Parker Andre (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 182.

4 Pullen Christopher, “LGBT Transnational Documentary ‘Becoming,’” in LGBT Transnational Identity and the Media (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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