In the winter nothing ever dries in Lisbon. Laundry hangs wet for days, married to its moisture. Clothes, blankets, bedrooms, and restaurants all carry the musty smell of damp. In the spring, as the Jacaranda trees bloomed in a magnificent explosion of purple, we opened a suitcase we had stored in our closet to find that the clothes inside had grown damp and moldy. (“It’s an old city,” Portuguese friends said with an inevitable shrug, when we told them what had happened.)
One of my favorite television shows growing up was a Ramadan special featuring an Egyptian performer called Sherihan. One year she had a Ramadan special called 'Sherihan Around the World', a twenty-minute singing and dancing extravaganza, which had her dressing in exquisite costumes from around the world and performing elaborate song and dance routines. Sherihan was a woman, but she was the best drag queen I had ever seen: camp, self-aware, and fabulous. She had planted in me, without my knowledge, the first seeds of my own gay identity.
From ISIS to Sisi, masculinity in the Arab world is being performed and negotiated in different ways. But what does it mean to be a man in the Arab world today? And what are the consequences of performing-- for failing to perform-- certain notions of masculinity?
Earlier this summer, a young French writer at a literary conference I attended in Berlin said that it was presumptuous for writers-- particularly writers of fiction-- to assume their work held any power to change the world.