Friday, April 04, 2008

London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

Saw Parvez Sharma's A Jihad for Love. Incredibly moving. A film about queer Muslims who are trying to reconcile their sexuality and their faith. We social scientists use these conveniently ambiguous verbs like 'reconcile' and 'negotiate' all the time in ways that conceal the pain and trauma that lurks behind them. There is a fleeting shot in the film where one of the subjects, the gay South African imam Mohsin Hendricks (who spoke briefly after the screening) is trying to feed a seagull. The bird refuses to take the food from his hand, so he has to leave it on a rock and move back a bit. Only then does the gull begin to peck at the food. The shot is about 3 seconds long, but it could serve as a metaphor of sorts for the film as a whole. Edwin Cameron, who is one of my all-time heroes, once said to me: 'you've told your parents, now it's their problem.' He was wrong, I think. By telling them, it had become a shared problem - unless of course I didn't want to have anything to do with them ever again. But I didn't want to go down that route. Reconciliation, in my experience, is a mutually unsatisfying experience in which neither party to the transaction is completely happy with the outcome. Neither feels like they live in a world that is entirely to their liking, but both realise that their mutual unhappiness at not having entirely gotten their way is probably dwarfed by the misery that might result from mutual obstinacy.

There is another incredibly moving scene featuring a lesbian couple who live in Egypt. One partner is clearly having a very difficult time coming to terms with her sexuality as a believing Muslim. She and her partner buy a religious law book of some sort and look up its provisions on same-sex intercourse, only to find that lesbianism isn't explicitly mentioned as warranting punishment because it doesn't involve penetration (this is the point at which I want to say, but what about...) All that would happen, apparently, was that the women would be chastised. She is upset. I wish I were punished for it, she says, because it makes me feel so guilty. I wondered if there was a subtext to this: I exist dammit, put me in the book.

This is a really important film to watch, particularly at a time when queer Muslims are caught between the condescension and outright racism of 'white queers saving brown queers from brown homophobes' (you have to footnote me, with apologies - or thanks rather - to Spivak) and the homophobia of self-appointed leaders of the Muslim community. You can be both queer and Muslim, this film says. It is a difficult space to inhabit, but just by virtue of having made this film, that space has become less lonely. (I cannot resist a little parochial hurrah for the former NDTV reporter (I think?) who made this.) PS - I really don't feel like deconstructing.

And Spider Lilies by out Taiwanese lesbian director Zero Chou. Two girls: Jade, cute, back to school type, struts her stuff on a soft porn webcam; Takeko, *exquisite*, works in a tattoo parlour (her clients are these tough, mean looking men covered in - what else - tattoos; I love the scene where she works on a guy for a couple of minutes and then tells him to buzz off because Jade has arrived). Jade wants a particular tattoo (spider lilies) that only Takeko has. There is an incredibly poignant reason Takeko has it, so Jade's request opens up a well of sadness in Takeko's life. Things begin to head in the direction of disaster, and...I refuse to spoil the plot. This is a sad, happy, sweet, endearing, beautiful film that, oddly, manages to let East Asia look like a normal place instead of some parallel universe in which late capitalism does bizarre things to peoples' hair. (Maybe I've been watching the wrong kinds of films.)

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