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Contagious heartaches: relational selfhood and queer care in Amman, Jordan


This article studies the relationship between care, family connectivity and queer selfhood in a Muslim-majority context. Based on fieldwork in Amman, Jordan, the article explores how queer people find themselves in demanding circumstances figuring out how to care for—and be responsible to—their family members, whilst caring for themselves at the same time. Drawing partly on Suad Joseph’s patriarchal connectivity and Lotte Meinert and Lone Grøn’s contagious kinship connections, I argue that if we are to understand queer selfhood in Jordanian and other Arab, Muslim-majority contexts in more nuance, we need to look at the relations and emotions at stake in care. Through selected ethnographic cases—in particular one that deals with heartaches—we take a closer look at how queer selfhood is constituted in response to, and up against care and control dynamics in the family. This exposes the interrelated and emotionally contagious qualities of kinship, sexuality and gender. It moves us beyond an understanding of queer subjectivities at the margins of a Muslim community, and towards an understanding of what care and queer selfhood in Muslim and Arab contexts also involves becoming through the hands and hearts of others.

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  1. All names of the people as well as some locations in this article have been altered to protect their identities.

  2. Teta is used in colloquial Jordanian and Lebanese as an endearing word for grandmother.

  3. Queer is often used as an umbrella category for people who share non-normative sexual orientations or gender perceptions, but the term queer in this article is not limited to gender or sexual identity. I use it as an analytical and ethical concept that allows people who challenge and reinterpret dominant norms to take centre stage (for other examples of this, see e.g. Halperin 2003; Dave 2012).

  4. By queer orientation, I mean questioning and challenging gender binaries, but in subjectively different ways and bound up in different experiences and social positions.

  5. For examples of discussions on a political level, MPs like Dima Tahboub have criticised information outlets about non-heterosexual life in Jordan, e.g. the online Magazine My.Kali (

  6. Unemployment rates were around 18% in late 2019, only increasing since then, according to the Jordanian Department of Statistics (

  7. According to UNICEF census data, Jordan has one of the youngest populations in the world (


  9. One example is the advocacy of the Jordanian Women’s Union.

  10. Arranged between the two families. The groom and groom’s family pay most expenses related to the marriage. This is not to say that “traditional” marriages are per definition not romantic in Jordan. But the general idea is that even though love (and sometimes romance) can develop over time; it is not the initial motivation for marriage.

  11. Amman is said to be constituted of “two parts”: East Amman and West Amman. The eastern part of the city consists generally of lower income areas and large refugee populations. West Amman is architecturally superior and wealthier, enjoying far more investment in terms of tourism and infrastructure.


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Correspondence to Marie Rask Bjerre Odgaard.

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Odgaard, M.R.B. Contagious heartaches: relational selfhood and queer care in Amman, Jordan. Cont Islam 15, 187–199 (2021).

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  • Queer care
  • Family
  • Jordan
  • Sexuality
  • Selfhood
  • Connectivity