translator's note: positive expressions in arabic |  bassam

In Arabic
Glossary of Arabic Terms

While translating the tenth issue of Bint el Nas magazine into Arabic, I have used the following positive expressions:
Arabic Translation English Expression
ahrar el jins queers
ahrar el jins;
M.M.M.M. (misliya, misli, mozdawij, moghayir)
L.G.B.T. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender)
junusiya misliya; junusiya homosexuality
misli el jins; junusi homosexual male
misli gay man
misliyat el jins; junusiya homosexual female
misliya lesbian; gay woman
izdiwajiyat el moyool el jinsiya bisexuality
mozdawij el moyool el jinsiya bisexual man
mozdawijat el moyool el jinsiya bisexual woman
moyool jinsiya sexual orientation
hawiya jinsiya sexual identity
hawiya junusiya homosexual identity
hawiya misliya gay identity
hawiyat el jins gender identity
moghayir el jins female-to-male transgender or transsexual
moghayirat el jins male-to-female transgender or transsexual
izdiwajiyat el jins intersexuality (for humans)
izdiwajiyat el jins hermaphrodism (in the animal kingdom)
izdiwaji el jins intersexual (human)
izdiwaji el jins hermaphrodite (animal)

Adopting Positive Expressions

The Arabic language does not have positive words to express the emotional or sexual relations between two people of the same gender. The known expressions in formal or classical Arabic are negative and degrading: "shouzouz jinsi" (unnatural or abnormal sexuality), "loowat" (the homosexual act among men, in reference to the story of Prophet Lot in the Bible or Lut in the Koran), and "sihaq" (the homosexual act among women). However, during the last years of the twentieth century, some sociologists, psychologists, and journalists whose professional conscience was alive, started to use the positive expression of "junusiya misliya", which is an accurate translation for homosexuality -- a word that was first used in the European languages around 100 years ago.

The word bisexuality has no positive translation in Arabic as far as I know. I have used in this issue of the magazine the expression "izdiwajiyat el moyool el jinsiya." Thus, a man who likes men and women to different degrees is called "mozdawij el moyool el jinsiya" (bisexual man), and a woman is called "mozdawijat el moyool el jinsiya" (bisexual woman). I have made sure to differentiate between the adjective "izdiwaji el jins" (hermaphrodite; intersexed) and "mozdawij el moyool el jinsiya" (bisexual). Like "izdiwaji el jins" in the animal kingdom (hermaphrodite), "izdiwaji el jins" in the human race (intersexual) is a person who has male and female reproductive organs and/or genes, and it is a special medical case that should be acknowledged and respected even if it is not the subject of any article in this magazine. On the other hand, a woman, for instance, who is "mozdawijat el moyool el jinsiya" (bisexual), possesses female reproductive organs and genes only (like any other heterosexual or lesbian woman) but her heart and her sexual desires are directed sometimes towards another woman and in other times towards a man.

The expression sexual orientation ("moyool jinsiya") is the key term when mentioning a homosexual ("misli") or a bisexual person ("mozdawij el moyool el jinsiya"), as well as a heterosexual person (someone who is solely attracted to the opposite sex). But when we discuss the people whose perception of their gender is different than their biological gender, then we should use in Arabic the positive expression "moghayir el jins" (transgender; transsexual) instead of the negative term "khanis." The person who is born with male reproductive organs but identifies more as a female is called "moghayirat el jins" (male-to-female transgender), and we refer to her with feminine adjectives out of respect to her wish, whether she has undergone a corrective surgery or not. Similarly, someone who is born with female reproductive organs but identifies more as a male is called "moghayir el jins" (female-to-male transgender), and we use masculine pronouns when writing about him. We should note here that some transgender-identified individuals have written for this issue and previous issues of Bint el Nas.

The writers of this magazine have used numerous times the word "queer." In the past, it was a degrading expression used to mock homosexuals. But during the last two decades of the twentieth century, it was adopted by homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people in the English-speaking countries to express their rebellion against social norms that had chained them so far. The word queer now is used as a synonym for or replacement of fours words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). The word queer means in Arabic "shaz" (different or unnatural). Unlike the LGBT movement in the West that had embraced the negative word queer and had made it positive, we chose a new, inherently positive expression to replace the word "shaz". This new expression is "ahrar el jins," which can be translated in English as "sexually free" instead of "queer." Those who are sexually free may be lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, or even heterosexual allies who are open minded and know well that sexual repression is dangerous, and it results in mental depression and self-hatred on the personal level and hate on the societal scale.

Finally, I would like to thank each of Dr. Nayla M., Ramzi Zakharia of the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS:, and Dr. Omar Nahas, Director of the Yoesuf Foundation that provides studies about Islam and homosexuality (, for their feedback on positive Arabic expressions. I would like to extend my deep appreciation to Dr. Nadeem G. for coining the expression "ahrar el jins" as a translation for queers. I am very grateful to Maria who has helped me in typing the articles of this issue in Arabic.

July 2003

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