- Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture by Mehammed Amadeus Mack
In his polemical study Desiring Arabs, Joseph Massad shows how earlier orientalist stereotypes about Muslims have resurfaced in contemporary debates over sexual politics in the West. Such discourses pit European sexual modernity against the putative backwardness of Muslim countries and their inhabitants. In the case of France, the very notion of citizenship has been progressively redefined according to modalities of sexual tolerance and inclusion. At the same time, large swaths of the country’s Franco-Arab population have come to be seen as antithetical to such progress based on their supposed anti-modern attitudes concerning non-normative sexualities.
Mehammed Mack’s Sexagon provides a valuable contribution to these ongoing debates on immigration by exploring the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender in representations of communities of immigrant origin in France. Throughout the book, Mack demonstrates how the confines of the French nation-state—metaphorically rendered through the figure of the Hexagon—have become sexualized along ethnic lines in order to produce what the author terms “Sexagon,” a nation whose borders are defined “through values such as gay-friendliness, secular feminism, and metrosexuality” (2) at the expense of the exclusion of African and Arab (sexual) minorities. Mack’s study sheds light on the ways in which these minority subjects have nonetheless managed to queer normative conceptions of sexuality and gender in and outside the French banlieue. In [End Page 510] particular, the author shows how queer Franco-Arabs have opted for what he calls “willful clandestinity” (57) as a form of dissent against the racism and homonormativity of the mainstream (white) LGBTQ community. While Mack’s theoretical framework owes a great deal to feminist analysis and queer theory, it also marks a departure from the latter in its critique of queer theory’s universalizing tendencies. By so doing, Sexagon joins a new wave of queer criticism seeking to map out alternative forms of minority sexual politics independent from the tropes of visibility and the “closet.”
From the early 1980s to the 2010s, Sexagon surveys an impressive archive of literature, film, psychoanalysis, popular journalism, and pornography. Dealing with a heterogeneous corpus does not prevent Mack from keeping a tight focus on his thesis from one chapter to the next. In each of the five chapters, he presents the right balance of historical context, theory, and close readings of carefully chosen examples. Chapter one investigates how gay and lesbian activist journalism has represented ethnicity and gender in the French banlieue. By focusing on the theme of female virility, Mack invites us to dissociate it from its patriarchal connotations in favor of a more fluid concept of gender intersecting with urban stylistics. In the following chapter, the author explores the ways in which psychoanalytic discourses have participated in the construction of the broken immigrant family. Through an in-depth analysis of three widespread stereotypes—the juvenile Muslim delinquent, the veiled woman, and the impotent father—Mack illustrates how psychoanalysis has become a condition for assimilation into French republican universalism. Next comes a chapter devoted to the figure of the difficult Arab boy ubiquitous in the literary works of Moroccan novelist Abdellah Taïa and French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès. In a series of close readings, Mack examines the ways in which these authors situate queer masculinities outside the epistemological frameworks of Western society. The chapter also offers a unique perspective on social class as it interconnects with race and sexuality in contemporary France. Chapter four looks at the depiction of Franco-Arab masculinities in French cinema. The study of select feature films including André Téchiné’s Les Témoins and Jacques Audiard’s Un prophète complicates our understanding of virility and homosociality in various semiprivate spaces such as the prison and the banlieue. The final chapter challenges us to rethink pornography’s role in the consolidation of ethnic virile stereotypes. In a compelling analysis, Mack elucidates how ethnic porn productions move [End Page 511] beyond the fetishization of brown bodies...