Public/private in Sexy Times: Hook-Up Apps and Information Flows in Beirut

European Association of Social Anthropologist Bi-Annual Meeting


Amidst expressions of desire, lust, and sex, ‘ur pic first’ is commonly written in the hook-app profiles of queer men in Beirut; meaning he who opens the conversation must first provide a face picture. This rule is a means of controlling knowledge of one’s face and private sexual desires in a public network of users where one could be talking to his cousin, colleague, or classmate without knowing it. Hook-up apps are public media of intimate desires where men publically express private sexual desire from anywhere, thereby increasing the risk of homophobic retribution in a contested culture of discretion. The tensions between the public and private become about public recognition of private sentiments, or the degree to which private sentiments become publically known and circulated within dense online-offline social networks. Using ethnographic data, this paper explores how queer men in Beirut manage the public-private binary via social practices of information exchange. Information is exchanged according to conventions for controlling the circulation of information about their physical body, social standing, and offline life. Shared information, sometimes archived as screen shots, circulates among networks of friends, lovers, and acquaintances. This is the production of a social milieu convened by the flows and connections of information about users. The paper examines the milieu’s exigencies for managing the degree to which one becomes ingratiated into its informational processes and having one’s private desires become publically known.