I was just writing about xenophobia (www.dictionary.com: “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers, or of that which is foreign or strange”) with respect to the covered-in-public Islamic female combo of burqa (for the body), hajib (hair and head) and niqab (face, with a narrow slit for the eyes). The niqab’s slit is covered by a crocheted mesh grill in Afghanistan, and the latest salvo from Saudi Arabia indicates their morals police suggest Saudi women wear a grill, too. Considering that Saudi Arabia prides itself as the purest of Muslim states, it’s more than odd that Saudis would imitate the fashion sense of the country cousins. It’s rather like Paris looking to Toulon for runway ideas.
My thesis is that when women are either absent from public life, or are present but looking less like people than like survivors of a Bed Bath & Beyond explosion, they are perceived by men as less than human. To their male neighbors, they become strange and foreign, and, in insecure men, xenophobia takes root. Out of fear of “the other”, men deride women, shun them, attack them. The less that women are visibly human and present in public venues, the more that men hold them in contempt.
Then I remembered a story I’d heard several years ago, about a young lesbian who remarked to her friend – the one relating the story to me – that “men have such sharp corners”. Wow, I thought, there is so much in that one sentence. In the first place, men aren’t 3D geometric shapes. They have no literal sharp corners. Secondly, even regarding her description as metaphor, it cannot be true that every man has “sharp corners”. That would be way too global. Thirdly, so what? So some men are sharper than most women . . . so? That means what? That the woman speaking couldn’t deal? That she regarded herself as incompetent to cope with “sharp corners”, or that she was incapable of telling such a man to back off, or that she couldn’t trust herself to defend against harm?
What she was saying, I realized, was “I’m afraid of people I perceive as having sharp corners, as different from me, as strange”.
Which brought me to consider homosexuality in general. Sexual partner preference seems to me neither wholly inborn nor wholly choice-driven, if we’re talking about an entire population. Individuals, you might be able to define, but start counting past ten and you’ve lost definition. Things get hazy. Yet one aspect that has not been researched is how much xenophobia, the fear of the stranger, the foreigner, the “not-like-me”, especially where it’s unconscious, might be driving sexual preference. Perhaps that’s why photos of gay couples marrying seem so often to show two people who might well be siblings, they look so much alike. Perhaps they’ve found their mirror image, the one who’s reassuringly similar.
The one who doesn’t look different and non-human, like women swathed in black sheets, invisible except for their eyes.