Expanding queer spaces in Beirut: Mobile communications technologies and contestations to heteronormative space
DiverCities: Contested Space and Urban Identities in Beirut, Cairo and Tehran
In Beirut (2010), author Samir Kassir avers that the city has been re-born several times over a millennia, adopting new converging forms of history, culture, and ideas. Recent histories of neo-liberal governance and reconstruction in Beirut have created new types of public, commercial, and virtual spaces that have opened up to new forms of queer sexualities. Emergent forms of queer practices and socialities enabled through new Internet technologies render public spaces semi-private queer spaces, including commercial bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as queered public areas. Such semi-privacies exist between heteronormative public spaces and queer intimacies and relationships unfolding somewhat beyond punitive heteronormative politics. These appropriations and contestations of public spaces are expanding due to the growing popularity of mobile communications technologies for queer men to meet and connect faster, more abundantly, and beyond designated queer spaces. Smartphone applications, like Grindr and Scruff, disrupt the binaries of private and public, virtual and real by enabling men to connect, flirt, and enjoy intimacies woven between stratified urban spaces and virtual and physical worlds. This paper explore this process by looking at how these technologies imbue public space with private queer intimacies as well as new modes of recognition of queer others in the movements between online and offline social worlds. I explore those ordinary moments when participation in these online social networks impacts offline lives, using these technologies while at work, shopping centres, bars and restaurants, and even while driving or walking. The suturing of these ordinary activities and these technologies produces an expansion of queer spaces and visibilities that mounts contestations to heteronormative space while producing new types of politicized queer subjects. The conditions of heteronormative public space in Beirut are disrupted as these semi-private intimacies and forms of queer recognition take hold in spaces around the city.