Luongo snapped this shot in an Afghani steam room. Note the classical pose.
AB: You and I have the benefit of living in a Western country – we more or less fit into the spectrum. Your book looks at a lot of countries where men who have sex with men are not spoken about. It happens, but it’s not spoken about because of religion, among other reasons. At the same time that it’s not spoken about – it’s prevalent.
ML: The thing about most Muslim countries in the Middle East – and I’m making a generalization – within the Middle East, men can have sex with men – it’s tolerated, it’s part of the culture – but it’s not described as gay. Gay is a western concept that began to develop during the Victorian period, when we got the word homosexual. We created a gay identity, a gay icon. Within these countries, the concept of gay as we know it [doesn’t exist]. Two men having sex with each other isn’t necessarily a gay thing. Sometimes it’s about power, active and passive. Sometimes it’s about an older man with a younger man, but very often it’s a lack of access to women. People are sexual and when people are intimate with each other in intimate spaces, sex can happen.
AB: The social gendering facilitates man-on-man action.
AB: But it’s not spoken about?
ML: Well, actually, it quite often is.
AB: In what context?
ML: People will bring it up in conversations.
AB: “Me and home boy had sex?”
ML: I can think of many examples in Afghanistan, where people talk about homo-sex. A man will find another man attractive and they’ll want to have sex and they’ll just mention it. This would happen very often in conversations where you would interviewing a political figure and they would talk about someone that they work with that likes to have sex with other men. These things come up in conversation. It surprised me.
AB: So, that seems pretty chill to me: it’s just “I want to have sex with that dude”.
ML: Well, it’s not always like that. As a specific example, I was photographing a very handsome man on the streets of Kabul and these older men, these turbaned men with no teeth – and I’m at a mosque – kept pushing him on to me and were talking about “homo-sex”. Clearly they were trying to negotiate a sexual interaction with me and him: this is on a public street in Kabul at a mosque. It doesn’t really get more public than that. These things happen. I’m not going to say it’s always going to happen that way in a place like Jordan… It really depends on where you are. It can happen.