Localizing Queer Through ICTs

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“Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.”
- Writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde in an address to the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel” Chicago, Illinois 1977 (Sister Outsider pp 43)

In an attempt to pitch into the debate on IGLTA’s Gay Tourism campaign in Lebanon, members of Lebanon’s Exploratory Research on Internet Sexualities thought they would share some of their findings on the Queer-IT relationship. It’s not instantly clear how a project about the Internet could help us to critically engage with the many questions that are being brought up in this Bekhsoos issue, but we think that it can. Looking at the Queer experience in IT spaces can flesh out some critical components of the queer struggle, its development, its visions, etc. All of these can boil down to one very important thing: The free space created by the Internet has enabled the queer movement to respond to the many realities of our geographic and temporal location and to develop accordingly. There is a recurrent and potent attempt in Lebanese LGBTQ history to Keep Queer Local.

Our research, which was based on more than thirty interviews with queer activists and Internet techies, found that Internet activism represented a kind of blueprint for the overall queer movement in Lebanon. LGBT activists that we spoke to identified MiRC’s chatroom #gaylebanon as the virtual birthplace of queer organizing; it was here that Queer mailing lists began to form, mailing lists that later facilitated an emergence into the physical stratum. But what is interesting is not only that the lines between socializing/romancing and political organizing begin to blur here. Nor did we view the very palpable relationship between the offline and the virtual world that started to rapidly take shape as something that was very surprising. Rather, what interested us most, where we found the nuances of the ICT-Queer relationship to be most pronounced, was that the queer movement was born out of a need to create an online environment that comprised predominantly of local queers. We spoke to some of the founders of #gaylebanon who explained: “It was simpler with a local chat room for individuals to discuss local matters and meet one another. With global spaces, it was much more difficult to find one another. It was also hard for us, Lebanese to relate with other queers who lived abroad who had their very own rights and freedom.”

The above quotation is reflective of several overriding sentiments expressed by many of our interviewees who spoke about an overwhelming urge to meet others like them, and took comfort in the geographical proximity of other queers they met online. But the above quotation not only adds credence to these feelings, but offers us an analytical explanation as to why they existed, and why they came to materialize in the creation of local Internet spaces. The disconnect between the local and international realms of being queer was all too visible and served as a source of frustration for many. This has been reflected not only in mere peer-to-peer (or rather queer-to-queer) socializing but also in political mobilization and organization.

Our research suggests that the Internet created a platform for queers to address this local-international disconnect, and that in the process of doing this, a local voice began to develop in potent and intricate ways. This occurred primarily for two reasons. First, the Internet enabled a movement that sought to maximize local outreach, to capture a considerable diversity of voices. Members from various parts of the social, religious and economic spectrum have represented the movement in a number of forums, and more importantly, they have contributed significantly to the internal debate. A quick perusal of the Bekhsoos archives will reveal tens of articles where queer writers bring attention to the peculiarities of their backgrounds and beliefs and this is often accompanied by an insistence that Lebanon’s queer discourse becomes grounded in these peculiarities. Second, the Internet allows for a speedy and up-to-date canvassing of the extra-queer climate. What are some of the political, religious, economic happenings that can affect the status of the queer movement? And how can we, in turn, capitalize on opportunities and pre-empt threats? We believe that using the Internet in this way helps the movement to ascertain socio-temporal realities that are so often at odds with those of the International queer movement. Are we prepared to follow in Harvey Milk’s footsteps by ordering queer peers to telephone parents and Come Out while crouched in a musky basement, plotting some sort of a queer coup d’état? No, I don’t think so. Because the time and place are different and queers here are able to pave the movement’s own path to liberation.

“When we started out, our collective political understanding was very limited and all we really wanted to do was be gay together, in a positive, healthy environment. But with time, new members who joined brought in their own perspectives, experiences, and oppressions in a way. And the interconnectedness of just causes became visible in front of us. Our queer feminism then expanded and continued to expand with our exposure to different causes carried by diverse individuals who come to Meem. But it is still that one common thread that brings people to and keeps people in Meem: A common experience of injustice based on sexuality.” – a meem member.

Over the last five years, the region experienced a series of geopolitical ruptures that forced the queer movement to situate itself in the midst of a maelstrom of competing ideologies and neoimperialistic designs. From the 2006 war when Helem announced to participants at the Outgames that it would “not accept democracy at the barrel of the gun”, to the many messages that Meem has circulated to condemn and deconstruct Israel’s Pinkwashing campaigns, LGBTQs in Lebanon have brought geopolitics into the queer discursive fold. Though there has been a significant amount of opposition to the notion that “a common experience of injustice based on sexuality” must undergird queer strategizing, the “interconnectedness” idea continues to prevail in many forums where debate about it takes place.

Nevertheless, what is significant is not which ideas emerge as influential, but rather how those ideas came to be as such. By maximizing queer participation and maintaining open channels of communication with an extra-queer regional environment, the queer movement in Lebanon came to create its own debate, that is dynamic and accessible. By inserting various experiences and ideas into spaces, enabled by (but not restricted to) the Internet, the queer movement became producers of their own information about regional queer realities. Gone are the days when queers in Lebanon had to rummage through heaps of US/UK-made LGBT webpages to learn about themselves. By saturating the web with self-produced queer information, through webspaces produced by groups like Meem and Helem, the movement cuts the risk of being subsumed by an international discourse that erases its many peculiar conditions.

In closing, I’d like to return to the quote that opened this article and to finally explain why it’s there in the first place. What we have been trying to show throughout this article is that queer strategizing has indeed rested on a potent amount of local participation, and that participation has had a transformative effect on the queer strategy. Just as Audre Lorde called on colored lesbians to commit to action in order to break off the shackles of colonial and patriarchal language, so too should the movement itself continue to assert its organic, and dynamic local voice in order to keep queer discourse and strategizing working for the movement. It’s important to retrospectively recognize that Keeping Queer Local has been an engine of the movement’s growth when we choose the paths to tread as international gay groups make forays into our spiraling landscape.

- Contributed by Tam

Guest Contributor

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