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Queerness in Translation: Women’s Homoerotics and Gender Play in pre- and post-Revolutionary Iran


This work aims to reframe how we think of subjectivity by approaching queerness from the context of the Islamic world, which historically embraced rather than eschewed homoerotics in practice and poetry. While much of queer theory takes the opposition of “hetero” and “homo” for granted and, after Foucault, treats sexuality as the privileged site of identity as defined by the state and individual, I build upon recent work that “provincializes” Western queerness to interrogate such foundational assumptions. Analyzing women’s homoerotics and gender play in a multilingual corpus of Iranian feminist literature and documentary and feature films from 1966 to present, produced both domestically and in diaspora, I theorize queerness as deviance, as female masculinity, and as anti-respectability politics. This study uses practical and theoretical questions of translation to think through such politically urgent issues as how gender and sexuality are deployed in service of state and class power and how whiteness functions locally and globally. I resist claims of untranslatability, which too often foreignize non-Western Others, and instead argue for an ethical translation that attends to, rather than erases, difference. If transnational queerness is an oxymoron because of the way it divorces the subject from her geographic and historical context, then translating queerness, I argue, becomes all the more crucial in a globalized world.

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