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.


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

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.

photo 1

“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.

photo 4

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.


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.

A question of blame?!

imagesSo we all know about the unspoken rule of being gay in Lebanon. You can get to do whatever you want as long as you don’t act *gay* in public. Whatever that means exactly but in practical terms, no one bothers you as long as you don’t show that you are gay or whatever. So I just wanna babble about this for a second here. And I will probably just talk about it the way that I see it. Unlike so many – if not almost all – of our trans brothers and sisters, cis-gendered queers like me have  the privileged of being able to “pass by” undetected in society. We get to blend in as long as we stick to the dress code of our gender, the bodily movements and gestures that socially appropriate to our gender and not show our interest in people of our own sex.

A very nice example of this comes from a story in al-safir that I read earlier;

“كالمجرمين، أخذني أبي إلى المخفر، وطلب منهم “تربيتي” من جديد، علني أصبح الرجل الذي يريده”، يشرح أيمن. في المخفر أدخلوه إلى أحد المكاتب. لم يضربه أحد. أكدوا له أنه حر في ميوله، ولكن: “المهم ما نشوف شي منك بالشارع وقدام العالم. وإنك تضل ضمن نطاق الأدب والأخلاق. غير هيك ما إلنا معك شي”.

So now that I have set the mood, here’s where I get to my point. While working at Helem, I’ve come across and heard a lot of people telling me their or someone’s story about this one time where they or their friends were harassed for being gay. After the due support and sorry’s are given out, you always get the same reaction from everyone. Everyone goes – and sometimes me as well – “what did you do that they knew you were gay?”, “You should be careful next time. You know it’s not safe for you if anyone knew that you are gay.”, “Girl, you live in a very conservative area. What were you thinking?!”.

I guess, you all know by now where I am going by this. What’s up with this shift of blame?! We all know that it’s not their fault that they got harassed because they were gay or whatever. “Passing by” is not a duty that we need to abide by. It’s our right to be whoever we want to be, wherever we are. We do it because we have to and not because we are supposed to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking people to come out or sth but I personally think that it’ very important to be careful about where we put the blame. I know we can’t do much about society at the moment, and I know that we can’t always confront that party that did whatever discriminatory act in question but that doesn’t mean that we can place in on the person who got the bitter end of it all.

Anyway, I just had this little piece to say. And it feels pretty awesome to be back to posting stuff here. 🙂