While page 99 of my dissertation (see below) seems far from its focus on sex apps and digital media among queer men in Beirut, the connection is palpably beneath silence as an analytic of queer freedom and possibility within dense social constraints put upon queer intimacies. Silence, as the strategic offspring of constraint, suggests a struggle between violent social homophobias and the everydayness of gay sex and intimacy in Beirut. In the digital age, this queer silence is never perfectly achieved because of all the personal and sexual information queer men circulate within dense networks of sex app users who could be anyone behind the screen. Perhaps silence has never been perfectly achievable, but just a tool within liberalism for striving toward the idyllic antonym of constraint: freedom. While silence may structure queer men’s interactions within heteronormative time and space, this dissertation examines how men use sex apps and social media to bombastically announce their queer desires and arrange gay sex within the everydayness of Lebanese cultural politics and social constraints.
This research examines how, over three decades of telecommunications’ infrastructure development in Lebanon, gay sex has become more integrated into men’s everyday lives. I argue that gay sex in Beirut is not extraordinary simply because it exists against a set of marginalizing forces, but rather that it is ordinary because of its imbrication in everyday life, habits, and routines via the functions and structures of digital media, and all manners of communicating in the digital age. Via ethnography, I map the media practices, logics, meanings, categories, and debates queer men in Beirut have developed to live with one another sexually and relationally. I show how men’s engagements with sexy information – those pieces of information men circulate to describe themselves and their desires to others – has shifted the social and political conditions of queer male intimate life in Beirut. Information encompasses a set of political questions about queerness in Middle East: the degree to which men’s information ought to reproduce Lebanese cultural politics within their intimate lives or enable novel and unexpected formations to fuel new kinds of everyday intimate possibilities.
My page 99:
Through Rasa, Haddad connects queer secrecy and discretion to the Arabic word ‘eib, which roughly translates as shame, but is more: it encompasses a broad moral order that structures everyday social relations. He writes, “the implication of ‘eib is kalam el-nas, what will people say, and so the word carries an element of conscientiousness, a politeness brought about by a perceived sense of communal obligation… I’ve come to realize that if worn correctly, the cloak of ‘eib is large and malleable enough to allow you to conceal many secrets and to repel intrusive questions” (Haddad 2016: 26). In Lebanon, family members and family friends know a lot about one’s life, and ask detailed, prying questions. And men have to devise plausible stories for how strangers enter their lives. To Haddad, ‘eib speaks to a queer freedom based on silence. If one does not talk about one’s queerness, families and social networks do not inquire, thereby not stirring speculation and gossip as a form of policing within a moral order. I recall one man, Khadim, in his late 30s who thought that because of his Arabness, people would not accept him if he came out, and he would lose his job as an educator. So, he, like many other men, was selective with who he told. He cultivated a feeling of security before he disclosed his sexuality by carefully raising the topic and testing reactions. He particularly chose people he trusted not to disclose his sexuality to others. He also did not want to disappoint and possibly cause physical trauma to his ailing mother, for whom he was in Lebanon to care (he received Canadian residency a few years before but never emigrated). There is a strong social obligation to remain tied to the family and to be there to support the family, through material, financial and emotional means. Khadim empties Lebanese homophobia (as Merabet [2014a] calls it) from its cultural and historical meaning, reducing it to a quality of being Arab. Discretion is not always out of fear of risk, but also sometimes an act of love and care.
Mathew Gagne. 2020. Gay Sex and Digital Media in Beirut: The Social and Erotic Life of Information. University of Toronto Phd.