SOGI-related events that you should go to this week

Three events are taking place this week that are really interesting to those of you following issues of gender and sexuality.

(I am organizing two of them, so this is slightly a bit of shameless promotion..shhh)

1. Round table discussion on cases of “Transwomen’s Navigation of Arrest and Detention in Beirut”

The round table discussion will tackle the paper to be published by  Lebanon Support, written by Ms Qubbaia and Mr Saleh, which looks into detention practices as manifested in the cases of detained transwomen in the context of wider policing of gender and sexuality norms, bodies, and behaviors in Beirut

Held by: Lebanon Support
Date: Thursday 30th of October, 2004
Time: 6:00PM
Location: Adlieh, Beirut – Najib Azouri Street, Shaghouri Building (3rd floor)
Click for map

2. “Dardashat Jandariya”; Selling Sex: Intersections of Morality, Patriarchy, Violence, Consent, Freedom and Feminism

Where does Lebanese civil society stand with regards to the selling of sex? What is the Lebanese legal context with regards to commercial sexual services or performances? What are the major differences between commercial sex, trafficking, and exploitation and how can we disentangle them? What are potential implications of awareness-raising, organization, and criminalization? Finally, how do we ensure that such discussions do not exclude people who sell sex from representing themselves?

The talk aims to provide a space for an open discussion that encompasses sexual freedoms, feminism, patriarchy, and morality

Held By: Arab Foundation For Freedom & Equality
Date: Thursday 30th of October, 2014
Time: 7:30PM
Location: AltCity – Hamra, Montreal Building (1st/M floor)
Click for map

3. Article 534: Contesting Dominant Activist Discourse and Examining Alternative Strategies

– How has article 534 been interpreted and used by police forces, the
legal apparatus and activists?
– How do the rulings in the Batroun (2009) and Metn (2014) courts
shape these readings? How can we use these rulings for further
advocacy work?
– What are the dominant activist discourses and strategies on article
534? What are the fallouts and limits of these discourses and
strategies?
– Is working towards annulling article 534 the best strategy in
decriminalizing same sex acts and/or desires? How does it fit into the
broader efforts to counter and fight against the policing of
sexuality, sexual desires, and acts?
– What alternative and more inclusive strategies can be envisioned and pursued?

Held By; Helem
Date: Friday 31st of October, 2014
Location: AltCity – Hamra, Montreal Building (1st/M floor)
Click for map

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Visibility and Representation

A while ago I came across a comment on a page that featured an interview that LBCI did with me during the IDAHOT2014 event. The comment was made from an anonymous profile and the person was basically telling me how brave I am to go on TV without blurring my face and so on. I usually get that feedback from several people and I always find it very hard to come up with a reply to these comments. I do understand the good intentions that these people have so I’m writing this post to clarify my position on this matter.

Simply put, I do not believe that it is brave for me or anyone in my position to go on TV or any news outlet and talk openly about queer issues. I will explain a little more about positionality in this post but let me first start with the reason why actions of visibility like this are not courageous.

It would be brave for people to speak out against violations or matters of injustice when their actions would most likely result in a negative reaction to them personally. So it would be brave for a woman to report domestic violence or an assault and to talk about it publically since we live in a society that still largely subordinates women and views their actions as an assault in itself on the institution of marriage and family. Similarly a migrant worker who speaks out about racism would be considered brave since our society still denies that its laws in themselves are racist (Kafala system, class segregation…). Now when it come to queer speaking up about alternative sexualities, things are not as simple and this comes back to positionality.

Positionality is basically the circumstances that defines your status in society, your worldview and how the world/society views you. It is determined by circumstances that are related to class, race, social status, what you do for work, where you live, etc.

So let’s put those two concepts together; positionality and victimhood/marginalization. When we add the position of the person to his/her marginal status (queers, migrant workers, survivors of gender based violence, etc…) we end up with a spectrum or a gradient of marginalization. Your status in society will influence how far away or close you are to the margins set in society. Obsviously, the closer you are to the margins of society then the more likely that you will experience violations, policing of your body and so on.

Now let’s go back to me and look at my positionality a bit closer. I identify as a queer person which automatically throws me off to the margins of society. But I have some privileges working for me that I was socially ascribed to from birth. These privileges of being male, cis-gendered, coming from a middle class family and later on able to afford a higher education and getting a skilled job, end up pulling me closer to the mainstream/centers of power.  In short this is my positionality in society.

This positinality affords me several advantages. I am able to be speak out about my sexuality within my family settings, at work, at university and so on without any actual loss of status. So when I end up doing an interview somewhere, I know that I will not have to face any problems from anyone because of it. My family is not going to kick me out, the police station is not going to give me a call for questioning and I can still go down to the mini market at the bottom of my building and get whatever I need without the any remark or a smirk from the cashier. As a matter of fact, the only time that I got a remark after an interview was from the guy working at the bakery in my neighborhood. He just smiled and said that he saw me on TV and that was it.

So what is the problem with queer people going speaking out publically about queerness or about their own sexuality or about being “out”?! It is actually more about how they are perceived via these news outlets and how they are portrayed.

Queer Beirut (and the “arab” world and the MENA region) are the wet dream of media outlets looking at “Gay Arabs”. It is a question of representation. Most media will not go through the trouble of looking closely at who says what as long as they hear what they want to hear and the message is really simple; that it is really hard to be gay in the Arab world. They want us to show them how much discrimination we face and how backward out society is for not accepting us. In a recent article in queerty, they warned gay people from coming to Lebanon because it is so homophobic since we do not allow gay marriage, lack any anti-discrimination law and don’t allow queers to serve in the military. This is a very in-your-face example about the global LGBT movement trying to push notions of what gay people should be doing and what it is to be queer. 

At this point, I would like to stress that I am not trying to deny people their victimhood or their suffering. But I want us to be able to look critically about how we are represented and how we end up representing other queers. So these media outlets will come, interview those couple of people who fit into the messages that they want to send out and edit the parts that do not fit it.

Other than my queerness, I am to most extent very normative[1] and most people who are out in the region are also quite normative. I can never and should never claim that I can represent other queers and this applies to everyone else. Some people out there knows their politics and do not make any claims like this but sadly there are a lot of people who claim this representation. Normative queerness does not advance the movement much. It really does not do anything to make things better.

We can not take at face value the criminalization of same-sex relations by the Lebanese law. The police are only interested in the people who falls at the intersections of the different layers of class, race, sex etc… We clearly see this by examining the reports who usually gets arrested; non-Lebanese, trans* (even though there is nothing criminalized trans* bodies), refugees, etc… The people who we see on the TV and in interviews usually do not fit into these categories or have a certain positionality that enables them to transcend the interest of policing. In other words, the police are not really interested to go after employed, middle class gay guys as they would to poor, refugee, Syrian, trans* (etc…) queers.

 

Again, I am not denying anyone’s suffering or victimhood but if I see one more news article about a brave gay man being out in Lebanon I will literally throw up. It is important for queers who are “out” to speak about homophobia and transphobia (as well as other nasty phobias and –ists) but we all need to remember that they are not able in most cases to represent the queers of Lebanon. The real heroes are those queers who have to actually negotiate their positions in society over and over every single day.


[1] By normative, I mean being able to negotiate and pass through the social checkpoints easily and without social/legal penality.

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The ISF arrests people under the charge of “Liwat”

2014-06-18 11.52.14

For a couple of minutes, the Lebanese ISF twitter account featured a tweet that announced the arrest of two people without any identification papers under the charge of “liwat” or what is more appropriately termed homosexuality/same-sex attraction.  The ISF should brush up on the law since there is no charge as such. Article 534 that is erroneously being used to target same sex intercourse is only applicable to “un-natural sexual intercourse”.

The tweet was up for a while then taken down but not before it was caught by other news outlets. I came to knowledge about it via someone who follows their account. Whether this is a true incident or not remains to be seen.

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FIFA, the Olympics and the favelas

Brazil is in the spot light for these coming years as it is going to host the FIFA’s world cup this year (2014) and the summer Olympic games in 2016.

Both FIFA and the Olympic games promise the flux of thousands of tourists to the events. Numbers that will be impossible to accommodate without opening new spaces, building more stadiums, hotels, transportation systems, etc…

News articles are estimating that Brazil is spending from $63 billion to a a trillion USD in “infrastructure upscaling”, a process that is better known as urban gentrification (refer to Solidere’s gentrification of Down Town Beirut for a closer to home example) . You kick out and evict local residents that are usually poor and acquire the land to invest in more lucrative investments. Gentrification is needed to build the hotels and the spaces that FIFA deems acceptable for the World Cup to happen.

This is being done by a process that has come to be known as “pacification” as explained in the video above. For a better idea, check the pictures below.

A mom washes the blood of her kid, executed during the military occupation. There will be no investigation. (Revolution-news.com)

A mom washes the blood of her kid, executed during the military occupation. There will be no investigation. (Revolution-news.com)

In two communities, state forces have issued “collective” arrest warrants – that means any civilian could be arrested just because living there. (Revolution-news.com)

In two communities, state forces have issued “collective” arrest warrants – that means any civilian could be arrested just because living there. (Revolution-news.com)

Street vendors protest as police expel them from the area around the FIFA Fan Fest during the inauguration in Fortaleza, June 8, 2014. Fortaleza will host six soccer matches of the 2014 World Cup. Picture taken June 8, 2014. REUTERS/Davi Pinheiro

Street vendors protest as police expel them from the area around the FIFA Fan Fest during the inauguration in Fortaleza, June 8, 2014. Fortaleza will host six soccer matches of the 2014 World Cup. Picture taken June 8, 2014. REUTERS/Davi Pinheiro

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I never really liked football but what is going on in Brazil should make any hardcore fan disgusted at the sheer horror and inhumanity that is going on there.

Boycott FIFA!

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Gay Assimilation is Not a Joke

I stumbled on the below meme a while ago at the LGBT media monitor and I was pretty dejected about its message. To my surprise, it was originally shared by Helem. Following a simple inspection, it turned out to have passed unchecked to reach the Facebook page of the organization and later on shared by some individuals on their personal profiles.

Now the problem and the reason that I wrote this post up is that although the image was taken down, the debate that followed it and the attempts to justify this meme-picture were flimsy and ill-suited. And I believe it is very important that we address the whole normal/non-normal (natural/unnatural) argument practically.

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The meme shows two important messages. In the first (mid picture in the bottom row) it assumes that the media has moved from a portrayal of shame to that of objective support. In the second, it portrays “gays” and “lesbian” to be normal people and in that sense not to be effeminate (top left pic), into parties (top mid pic) or a bunch of girls with bad make up taking a selfie (top right pic).

The basics: what is gay assimilation

Gay assimilation is based on making [queer] people seem average and similar to the general population. Assimilation based strategies are based on normalizing gay men and women into the sphere of everyday life. Assimilation in western movements are based on the 4M’s; Marriage equality, Military enlisting, Media visibility and Making money (of these, we have locally capitalized on the latter two). In many assimilation rhetoric, bisexuals and Trans* people are usually left out as well as queers who intersect with other disenfranchised groups (refugees, foreign workers, women, elderly, etc…). This lack of inclusion might be because they usually can not fit into the (hetero/homo)normative system and expectations of the general society.

We should not “normalize” Trans*sexuality and/or Homosexuality

Queers that have long been outside the sphere of general society. We have been able to see what a sexist, racist, agist, and able-focused society that we live in (among many other lousy ists). We have witnessed the ease by which people are ostracized from their communities once they do not conform to this system.

So the reasons why we don’t want to normalize our bodies and our sexualities are three folds (at least as how I perceive them)

  1. The system is flawed. It is oppressive and unfair. To want to get back into it and assimilate into it means that we approve of such flaws and are ready to allow them to be practiced on other groups as long as they are not us, the normal people who obey and have become docile.
  2. Every inclusion is reciprocated by an exclusion. We only define the in-group by identifying the out-group. By normalizing trans*sexuality, we categorize the rules and regulations for trans* people to follow and those who do not adhere to these rules remain outside. For example, a trans* person can only apply to change the gender on their ID cards when they have underwent all the surgeries to achieve an appearance of the other sex which reflects a extremist binary perception of gender and those who don’t fall on these two extremes are left out of this inclusion.
    Normalization opens the way to “othering” those who do not conform to this new normal.
  3. By assimilating into a system, we feed it and it grows. We provide it with the needed legitimacy to uphold its position and its flaws in the face of other disenfranchised groups. It also makes it harder for these groups to penetrate the system and to dismantle as we all should be doing.

It is not a joke. It is not about being politically correct.

It would be very childish to brush off the meme as a joke and humor. Jokes that do not challenge existing oppressive systems but rather supports them and enrich them are damaging as they “normalize” the problem at hand.

Advocating for assimilation is a serious and grave matter. Assimilation is a lousy business that supports and gives rise to homonormative concepts that parallel the oppressive heteronormative system. Homonormativity assumes that queers want to be just like heteronormative people and follow similar rules as they do.

HOMONORMATIVITY:  “A politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption”
–(Duggan 2003)

So No. When we say that we do not want to be normal or nomalized, it means that we reject the idea to make docile bodies out of ours. It means that we reject the concept that we can say who is normal and who is not, who is illegal and who is legal and so on. Rejecting assimilationist politics means that we agree that we can not move forward by leaving other groups behind.

Basically assimilation sucks because it is always done along predictable lines of middle class, [Lebanese], male, able-bodied, straight privilege. So what is “normal” is usually very strongly associated with these meanings. Which then leaves out those of us who can’t be Lebanese, who can’t appear cis-gender because we don’t have the money to look cis-gender and probably never will, etc. It’s normalizing a certain ideal without actually admitting it’s a very narrow ideal that is inaccessible to many many many of us in the queer community. That’s why it’s not funny: it’s leaving so many of us out.
–Dree, a friend
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أكتب مثلي بالعربية: الحلقة الأولى BDSM

A joint post with blogger Belebnani on how how we perceive BDSM. It’s also my first post written entirely in Arabic; what do you think?!

BLebnani بلبناني

أكتب مثلي بالعربي هي سلسلة حلقات تدوينية أستضيف من خلالها مدونيين لكي نكتب سوياً بالعربي عن مواضيع نختارها، نروي من خلالها عن تجارب أو قصص حصلت معنا فنحييها بالكتابة ونشاركها معكم. المواضيع، وإن كانت في معظمها على صلة بمجتمع ال م.م.م.م. ستكون منوّعة وتتناول أفكار وتجارب نأمل من خلالها أن تفتح باباً لنقاشات تكون مثمرة ومؤثرة.  أهمية هذه التجربة أنني أجتمع مع مدونين يكتبون (بمعظمهم) باللغة الإنكليزية لنكتب سوياً بالعربية عن الجنس، والمثلية والتحول الجنسي والممارسات الجنسية، عن حياتنا الحميمية وعن المجتمع والسياسة والوطن والذكريات وغيرها من المواضيع التي ترتبط بماضينا وحاضرنا ومستقبلنا.

أستضيف في هذه الحلقة المدون “أحمد صالح” من مدونة Disclosed Reflections لنكتب سوياً عن ال B.D.S.M. أحمد، ناشط في المجال الإجتماعي وخاصةً في مجاليّ الحقوق الجنسية واستراتيجيات الحدّ من مخاطر استعمال المخدرات. بدأ في التدوين في عام 2012 بهدف ايجاد مساحة خاصة لأفكاره ومواقفه الشخصية. تعرفت على أحمد في شهر أيار من العام 2013 حيث…

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Dating Apps, (De)Constructed Desires and Non-Inclusive Screwing

“Gay men have forgotten how to have sex (…) For so long that was supposed to be something gay men were good at, but I’m not so sure anymore. They might be good at the technique but not the openness. Sex should be about opening possibilities, not closing them off.”

Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Imagine Grindr as bowl of fruits and each person is a different looking fruit; some of these fruit look appealing and other not as much. Now imagine that you remembered that you are still wearing your colored eye glasses and you take it off. All of the sudden, the fruits in the bowl look completely different. They are still not the same as each other but they all look as appealing and those couple of exotic fruits stopped being as more tempting as they used to. What I would like to look at through this post is how gay dating apps like Grindr, Scruff and Growlr in themselves, the way people use them and present themselves through them end up perpetuating forms of oppression and racism et al. (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny etc…).

We believe that our desires are real and natural since we usually experience them as strong, passive impulses from within and are usually unique to us. I argue that this sense of innate preference is in fact an artifact of social desirability and popular aesthetics; we are attracted to bodies that exhibit attributes that are considered positive and beautiful. In doing so, we create bodies that are not desirable. Moreover, I will try to show how we marginalize and “otherize” these non-desired bodies in patterns that are based on and also re-enact forms of discrimination and “sexual segregation”. By the end of this post, I would hope that you become convinced of the need to challenge constructed concepts of beauty by opening up to greater possibilities of encounters with bodies and persons that we would usually dismiss as non-desired.

Grindr has become a large cultural phenomenon within the gay community that offers an experience that may be both liberating and oppressing. (±)

These dating apps have been incorporated into the majority of queer spaces in Lebanon and many people are joining them every day. Although they are mainly regarded as “hook up” services, many people are discovering new and innovative ways to use them. Some people are making use of the anonymity of the cyber space to reach out and find a friend or a confidante whom they would otherwise find it difficult to connect to. Over the past summer, I have met one of my best friends over Grindr, met someone who showed me how to prepare a mojito drink and helped a tourist lost in Hamra find his way around among many other wonderful encounters.

But these apps also hold within them the possibilities and potential to be oppressive and marginalizing.

By exotifying flesh we otherize people (±)

Exotification of the body could work both ways. By praising certain bodies, we create their alternative reverse. If the masculine figure is held in high regards, it is kept there at the expense of devaluing the feminine one. If the able-bodied (including the athletic, the sportive…) raises interest and curiosity then the disabled one raises doubts about inconvenience. If the fit body is considered healthy then the “fat” body is considered lazy and sick.

In using these apps people are expected to disclose their sexuality and gender, but are also expected to disclose their body types (±).

In using these apps people are expected to disclose their sexuality and gender, but are also expected to disclose their body types (±).

People would not and do not fall on these exact binaries; fit vs. fat, able vs. disabled, masculine vs. feminine, but rather fall somewhere on the spectrum along these two end points. What we need to understand though is by praising and valuing certain body types, we do so by “othering” body types that do not fit that profile. Each construct that we create holds within itself its own reversal; its own nemesis.

A lot of hate when all we want is head (†)

If you have ever used these apps then you surely have noticed the amount of hate and oppressive speech on some people’s introductory profiles.

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“Manly for active manly men”, “real men”, “fit or muscled”, “only masculine”, “gayish eyeglasses”, “huge muscled beefy manly guys”, “fat”, “chubby”, “no syrian”, “no Asians”, , “khalik 3ala ramlit el bayda”, “feminine”, “dwarfs”, “tall”, “bitzabit 7wejbak”, “psychos”, “no overtall”, “no overweight”, “no full hairies”…”no offence”; All of these are a sample of headlines collected from a selection of profiles available within my radius through the months of November 2013 – January 2014.

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As a person who lived through the age of Manjam and web-based dating sites in Beirut, I am troubled by the amount and ease by which users feel comfortable and to some extent confident about declaring such oppressive and racist (et al.) declarations to express their modes of desire for other users and which is “somehow made allowable as a language of sexual attraction or personal preference (§).”

There is also the suggestion that the speech act itself could be some form of violation. (§)

There is also the suggestion that the speech act itself could be some form of violation. (§)

Although one’s intent might not be racist et al. (and many people do point that out by adding a “no offence” remark after a line or two of bigoted epithets), we can not disregard that the negative language that is being used to indicate preference, desire and fantasy is in itself bigoted and othering.

Grindr, Scruff, Growlr and other similar apps present a very interesting trend in gay dating services. Even though they operate through the non corporal cyber space yet they are grounded with physical location through the use of the GPS. In that sense, it allows queer bodies to gather and congregate without the usual geographic and social barriers where the placement and accessibility of queer spaces are governed by the usual suspects of history, race and class just like everything else (§).

(De)Constructed Desire

Although it would be hard to differentiate between the innate and socially constructed expressions of desire and preference, we can safely acknowledge that the majority of this desire and its expressions are built through popular forms of beauty and aesthetics. Literature supporting the claim of innate preference are scarce and inconclusive while a huge bulk of it support the later claim.

What we can also acknowledge is that by specifying our desires into set blocks of what is appealing and what is not, we limit ourselves into pre-defined constructs. This simplifies our potential experiences and moves us from a culture of sexual liberation to one of “sexual segregation” (†).

By advocating desire as natural factor versus an artifact one, we perpetuate forms of oppression that are based on racist and discriminatory rhetoric.

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Moving Forward

For starts, we can begin by moving from negative exclusionary descriptions to positive ones. Instead of specifying what we are not interested in (or more specifically what we do not want to experience/experiment) to what we require and/or like. We still have to acknowledge that we are not changing the message and the content but only the wording (†). This can only address the principle of exclusion and othering that users experience while shuffling through the profiles while failing to address the oppressive nature of such descriptions.

A better approach is to embrace the diversity and flexibility of our desires and shift the focus from sexual attraction to sexual pleasure. Indeed, sexual pleasure can be achieved via all bodies regardless on how they are presented; whether these bodies adhere to normative notions of beauty and attraction or not is separate from the pleasure that can be induced and experienced through them.

Words can beat people down, but it’s within our power to change how we frame our desires, and even to change our desires to create more inclusive screwing. By challenging ourselves and others we can expand our desires. So go out there and be indiscriminately promiscuous. Or deny that bigoted beefcake a hookup because of his prejudiced profile (†).

The following readings are very interesting to see what others have also written on the matter;

±) No Fats, No Femme; The Politics of Grindr by Nick Atrip

†) Not Just a Preference by Alex Rowlson

§) ‘No Fats, No Fems’ by Dale Cooper

∞) Trans* and Grindr by Jon Henry

∂) Grindr – Everything That is Wrong in the Gay World? by Cristos Dallas

¥) On Grindr: Closeted Discrimination Within the Gay Community by Michael Bennett

Many thanks to the awesome friends who were kind enough to review my post and pimp it out; Dree for the careful edits and remarks and Joe for reminding me to ground the post better and for the bowl of fruit example.