Published by the truly fabulous Saqi Books, Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East by Brian Whitaker is a non-fiction book about LGBT+ individuals living in the Middle East. I’ve wanted to read this for a while, because attitudes towards LGBT+ people is a perceived part of Islam and Islamic culture that is often denigrated, but rarely looked at in detail. So when I saw it at my local library, I knew that I just had to give it a whirl!
Obviously, there were always going to be flaws with this book. To give an account of the full experiences of LGBT+ individuals in every Middle Eastern country would be impossible. Similarly, there simply wasn’t the room to discuss the social policies of all Middle Eastern countries. He therefore focuses on specific countries, such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. While I totally understand why he did this, it would have been interesting to have a small breakdown of the different policies/social attitudes in various countries, and a look at any similarities or differences.
However, saying that, I was pretty impressed by Whitaker’s attempt to be non-biased, and to break down stereotypes both about Islamic countries and Western countries. His critiques on Western media and how Middle Eastern social policies are reported in the news are especially good. Although he clearly wishes for increased social and legal freedom for LGBT+ individuals in Middle Eastern countries, he in no way sensationalises the realities of life, which I greatly appreciated. There are gay clubs, organisations and people in the Middle East – and he did his very best to dispel all myths about what they might be like.
Also, this is a bit of a nerdy point, but it has a fabulous notes section at the back. There is a full list of all the non-fiction, fiction, and film that has been referred to within the book, as well as a glossary. I’m definitely going to be checking some of these out – I’d never heard of a lot of the LGBT+ Islamic fiction that Whitaker references.
I’d love to hear from anyone else who has read this – or from any LGBT+ people who live in the Middle East! This was a fascinating book, and I would love to talk about it further.