Monday, 7 December 2009

Kotba Maltin: Homosexuality: Challenging the Stigma (Paperback)

Out of the depths of a nation that is traditionally rooted in religion and patriarchy, emerges a book that raises awareness of the plight of the Queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) community in Malta. Homosexuality: Challenging the Stigma by Bartolo and Borg (2003) examines the life of the Maltese Homosexual, contextualized against modern Western theories, discoveries and trends, in hopes of identifying the experiences and life of the Maltese Queer, and its similarities and differences from European counterparts. This review aims to critically analyze these contents and extend further notions of development that could contribute to future directions, discoveries and assertions. The author breaks these down into three components: compromising insider/outsider status in Maltese Queerness, the essential role of women and reconciliation efforts to the apparent oppressions described in the book. As a gay Maltese-Canadian educator/researcher, the author knows that writing about Queer struggles, challenges and livelihoods can be a complex task. Often there are many types of pressures that contribute to "boxing" the homosexual, into capitalist-based identity groups that determines right/wrong. This renders him/her without options and surviving through essential living to hide/hiding to live strategies. At times, it takes the heterosexual to defend/speak for/raise awareness of Queer issues. This books works well in this regard, as well as providing a concise historical overview of homosexuality. However, the identity of the authors asserts an insider/outsider binary that can be seen as positive step (heterosexual researchers speaking out in solidarity), yet could also disengage the audience (heterosexual researchers unknown of the lived experiences of Queers). "Coming out" does not simply mean telling the family, "I'm gay." It has transcended boundaries of sexual identity, and can now refer to revealing one's self in order to contextualize the insider/outsider status. While reading from heterosexual authors about Queerness does hold some value, Queer people needs to know their background so that they can relate to the author on a personal and/or professional level. There are elements of the being Queer, which are similar to being black, disabled, a woman, poor and young, that need the personal connection that only a fellow Queer person can speak to. It is important to encourage more Queer people to speak out of their experiences, so that these unspoken elements can become agents of change. For example, in rural Canada, where homophobia is still a social disease, a conference on Queer Issues in Education (University of Saskatchewan) uses recorded voices to share these stories. In liberal Brighton, United Kingdom, gay men still explore their identity through masks and storytelling. Speaking out does not mean coming out. Rather, it is coming out, through different powerful methods, that produces speaking out against existing structures that continue to promote the "heterosexual is normal/homosexual is evil" discourse. This question is similar to other marginalized people, especially women. In the book, Homosexuality: Challenging the Stigma, the voice of women, in particular Maltese Lesbians, are undernourished. While this is common for most cultures where patriarchy remains dominant, lessons learned from other Queer communities remark that the Lesbian community needs to be included in everything, or risk separation from the Gay male/Bisexual communities. Now, in certain circles, Lesbians do not welcome "outsiders" and maintains a "Lesbian Only" club. Since this book does not carry much on Lesbian literature/poetry/narratives, or many female authors, this book risks falling into the Gay male domain, despite its inclusive aim. The Lesbian community needs to be integrated into the Maltese Queer movement/ideology to ensure an equal representative change and a definitive force of solidarity. Solidarity can be an act/belief/thought that aims to liberate/develop another person or another person's community to promote social justice for all. For example, the author highlight the plight of women and racial minorities, appreciating their struggle as oppressed people. Acting out of solidarity is not an expression of pity, but out of a common interest achieve a fair and just world. This book carries research and stories that are written out of solidarity for Queer people, and it presents itself well in this regard. Solidarity, in Peace Education, is viewed as a bridge for reconciliation and social healing. Queers feel rage, just as another marginalized group of people, towards their oppressors (non-Queer people) over actions/beliefs that promote intolerance and social isolation. However, acting/believing out of solidarity re-shapes the homo-hetero relationship in order to establish a more positive and constructive force to confront dominating and controlling structures. Solidarity could shape itself out of community conferences (such as the one that lead to the publication of this book), policy changes, support groups, and training on Queer issues. However, Queer citizens must be at the forefront, and in control at the whole time, or else the cycle of dominance continues. Further editions could explore the outcome of these initiatives, and inclusive of more Maltese Queer (including transgendered) experiences and expressions. This book puts the Maltese Queer on the right path, and hopefully, it will be Queer citizens themselves that will continue to steer the future directions of peace building, equality and mutual respect.

P. Attard's Note:
This also book contains a paper by Rev. Dr Renè Camilleri:
"Creating Identities: Beyond the Hermeneutic of Suspicion", published in: Homosexuality. Challenging the Stigma (Edd. Paul A. Bartolo & Mark G. Borg), Malta: Interprint Ltd 2003.

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