Online Communities Vol. 2

Negotiating Sexuality: The Online Presentation

By Mo. K.

 Here I am again writing about online LGBTQ communities in the Middle East. I promised a Volume 2 article on the topic a long time ago but I haven’t been able to deliver a product. In the past 5 months since I wrote vol. 1, I was able to do much exploring about the LGBTQ community in the Middle East, especially the online community. I took a few classes in Gender and Sexuality, I moved to the United States, I wrote a huge paper on the topic, and I read and analysed more content. I would like to think that I have a better grasp of online communities than I did in volume 1. Nevertheless, I mostly hope that this opinion piece will help you to start thinking about the role of online media in our community. I would like to note that this is article is mainly my opinion. I could easily make wrong arguments therefore; just know that I am simply stating my own analysis, my own way of making sense of the world.

What’s going on?

Up until 2010, there were many active LGBTQ blogs in the region. Nevertheless, many of them recently died or were put on hold. There are Facebook groups out there calling for unison but they don’t have enough subscribers. There are forums that are somewhat still active and are mostly in Arabic. There are websites, magazines and much more. The online community is somewhat all over the place due to the lack of one forum, group, website or blog that everyone refers to. Bloggers, writers, website owners don’t engage in conversations (except in the case of the Lebanon where bloggers know and interact with each other in the online world).
Nevertheless, one can find the advantage within that lacking conversation between different online content creators. During my research, I came upon an analysis that I found astonishing and that is Middle Eastern gay culture and how is it constructed.

The Background: Queer Culture
Culture is a construct, a humanly creation. It is never constant and is continuously changing. Queer culture in the Middle East is the same. I use the term Queer instead of Gay due to its flexibility and inclusivity of everyone. Queerness in the Middle East and in the whole world is changing all the time, as new ideas are born and adopted. With globalization, there has been a few merges globally on what queerness is. Within gay culture, the identity ‘gay’ – a western notion – is now adopted worldwide (not to the full scale, but you will find people in the eastern world who’ve adopted that identity). In the west, there are people who don’t associate with the gay community as well. Therefore one can’t generalize. Nevertheless, these differences between how people perform queerness are consistently changing and are continuously negotiated.
Globalization didn’t affect the entire world of course. I believe it is mainly in cities. All the differences in how queer culture is performed in the Middle East is a product of an issue of privilege; access to English education, travel, tourism and 21st century media. The ability to visit the world and read about it triggers globalization or a shared mode of thought in the world. As an example, the adoption of a western notion of the gay identity is a trend that has been present in the Middle East. While others who cannot access such resources and privileges perform a different type of queerness that is of that culture they are in.

How does that relate to online communities in the Middle East?
If you critically look at the content out there on the Internet, you will find personal stories such as coming out, topics like activism and human right violation, posts about popular culture whether Middle Eastern or Western, and so forth. These online stories are accounts of Middle Eastern queer experiences. The producers of such content shed light on their culture and their sexual identity.
Within these online forums and content, there is a negotiation and exploration of what sexual identity is within the Middle East. One can often find a grounded-ness in a certain way of being – notions of what a queer western identity is – that clashes with local cultures. That clash is mostly within posts about homophobia. Nevertheless, these online documents provide an exquisite answer to the question of ‘Can one be queer and Arab at the same time or does one need to shed either?’ The answer is that there is a negotiation that online content producers engage within that helps produce a 21st century Middle Eastern queer identity.
Below is an example from a content analyses research that I have conducted, part of which deals with blogger Boy Breathing Beirut.

“Lebanese Blogosphere Rhetoric: The Case of Boy Breathing Beirut
Boy Breathing Beirut is perhaps one of the best Lebanese blogs out there as it provides ample material that mirror this negotiation between the Western sexual identity and Lebanese culture. The blogger Beirut Boy seems to have reached that midpoint within the negotiation as his blog reflects both Western popular culture and sexual identity while maintaining a Lebanese cultural truthfulness.
The blogger identifies as gay on his blog, but also as a Lebanese man. His posts mainly consist of images, articles and memoirs that deal with popular culture, issues in Lebanon, as well as issues in the gay community of Lebanon. Most exemplary of this duality within the blogger are his blogs about homo-friendly pop culture icons such as Madonna and Britney Spears where he celebrates and cheers their non-discriminatory views. He also celebrates authentic Lebanese architecture where he posts pictures of old Lebanon as well as has a whole section in his blog on Beirut and its uniqueness. He celebrates Lebanese artists who have pro-gay attitudes such as Haifa Wehbe and her pictures with drag queens. His most notable posts though are those that talk about issues of sexuality and gay culture in Lebanon such as homophobia, dating, gay social networks, clubs and so forth. In all the rhetoric that Beirut Boy produces there is harmony that exists between his idealization of his sexual identity as well as his passion and love for his Lebanese self and culture. Beirut Boy therefore represents this negotiation of Lebanese gay identity and its formulation in Beirut.”

Where to next?
My article doesn’t necessitate the production of a culture but it merely sheds light on a trend that I have observed within online Arab Middle Eastern Queer content. I do not encourage adopting and performing a culture that one doesn’t find suitable. I do though encourage performing and engaging in living as one needs and wants to live in whatever identity and labels that one feels comfortable within. Therefore, one must explore their possibilities and must never force their own perceptions on others. I emphasize and stress this point due to the culture within which we live where our modes of adaptation to our environment immensely differ from one person to another.
Whatever suits your boat is always the way to go.