Pervert Travels in the Middle East

July 28, 2009 § Leave a comment


(A photo I took in Beirut in summer 2008, it reads, “Who’s a fag? Your Mom’s a fag. I’m gay.”)

In Arabic, there are two words used to mean gay: Mithli and Shaz.

I was introduced to the term mithli in an Arabic class and adopted it as the standard term for gay in the Arabic-language. The root meaning is “similar” or “same.” When I moved to Damascus, I stopped hearing mithli and only heard shaz. When a Syrian explained to me the difference between shaz and mithli, it was explained to me that shaz was more of a street-term and more offensive. For example, when Arab male friends want to call a guy a “fag” they will call him shaz and this is not meant to be nice. Then when I came to understand that shaz literally means a deviant or pervert and that this term was used widely in the mainstream Arabic press, I strictly adopted mithli.

An article from Menassat (in English) sums up some very interesting views on the semantics debate, like whether or not shaz can be appropriated for positive use and how individuals are pushing Arabic-language media outlets to adopt mithli instead of shaz. All of this comes to the surface after a case of awkward translation: an English-language book called “Gay Travels in the Middle East” is translated into Arabic literally as “Pervert Travels in the Middle East” since the editors used shaz.

Personally, I’d be keen to read about pervert travels in any country.


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