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The Effeminates of Early Medina

Everett K. Rowson
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 111, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1991), pp. 671-693
DOI: 10.2307/603399
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/603399
Page Count: 23
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The Effeminates of Early Medina
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Abstract

There is considerable evidence for the existence of a form of publicly recognized and institutionalized effeminacy or transvestism among males in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabian society. Unlike other men, these effeminates or mukhannathūn were permitted to associate freely with women, on the assumption that they had no sexual interest in them, and often acted as marriage brokers, or, less legitimately, as go-betweens. They also played an important role in the development of Arabic music in Umayyad Mecca and, especially, Medina, where they were numbered among the most celebrated singers and instrumentalists. Although they were subject to periodic persecution by the state, such measures were not based on any conclusions about their own sexual status-they were not assumed to be homosexual, although a few were-but on their activities as musicians and go-betweens, which were seen as corrupting the morals of society and especially of women. A particularly severe repression under the caliph Sulaymān put an end to the mukhannathūn's prominence in music and society, although not to their existence.

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