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The shifting place of gay sex in Beirut

Annual Conference, American Anthropology Association

ABSTRACT

How can digital media be implicated with pleasure, especially when these media have not freed pleasure from organization, from politics? Over the course of my ethnographic research into the digitally mediated intimate lives of queer men in Beirut, they have described to me a shifting socio-political terrain where their pleasures of sex are broadened, while simultaneously confronted by attempts to organize that pleasure into righteous principles. This paper, then, is about tense sex, or the kinds of tensions produced when digital media recasts sex in everyday life among queer men in Beirut.

I explore tense sex through two ethnographic scenes: first, a state raid of a gay-frequented Hammam in Beirut in August 2014, and how this coincided with a debate among men as to the appropriate kinds of gay sex in the digital age. And, two, I juxtapose two conversations I had with different interlocutors, highlighting a polarity of queer sociality that, on one side, empties sex of personality and intimacy, and on the other, relishes acts of shared carnal pleasures between lovers, often strangers. I use this dialogue to argue that these poles are part of the same political move: the affective dimensions of a sexual politics espousing the liberty to have sex, but also to be queerly associated, to form a social milieu based on connections, bonding, and a strong sociality that is sexual and can be more, a queer horizon of possibility.