Last week, I went to Vilnius, Lithuania to represent the Lebanon team of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)’s Exploratory Research Project into Sexuality and the Internet (EroTICs) at the UN Internet Governance Forum. Yes, it’s a bit weird to see “erotics” and the UN in the same sentence. Brandishing a red badge that said “http://erotics” as we navigated the conference’s corridors of power was indeed a strange and awkward experience that many of us ErOtics-izers, I think, have not yet grasped. But as I sit now in the comforts of my home in Beirut, I think I have come to terms with some of the things that happened at that conference, some of what I have learned, some of what I have shared, and what this all adds up to.
Of course, the conference does not add up to just one thing. It is probably different for each of the participants at that forum. And likely, many of those participants have come to more than just one conclusion. For me, as I was describing the conference to my Dad on the telephone, it was all about how to deal with the radical changes to cost structures that the Internet has caused. But when I tell you about the Internet debate, it’s a bit different. That difference is not essential, but perhaps it is conceptual. Rather than talk about cost and revenue, we can talk about paradigm-shifts.
Ladies, womyn, girls, boys, men and all that is between and beyond: The Internet Queers.
Throughout the conference, panel members and participants grappled with large thematic issues: censorship vs. openness, intellectual property vs. accessibility, state security vs. individual freedoms. The Internet has sent tremors through the domination of the issues’ formers over the latters, and how “we” should deal with this. So the EroTics team hopped from room to room, making our way through the buzzing of politico-corporate sound-bytes, trying to understand, to broadcast events to the people we care about back home, and trying to do what we were tasked with doing in the first place: introducing a ‘gendered’ perspective to the debate. One of my fellow EroTICs workers set herself the task of always questioning broad, blanket usage of language to describe communities. “What are the implications of including LBTIQ women in your study of women and Internet content in your country?” she would ask. Similar questions were raised when discussing the “youth” and the “gay community.” One presenter, for example, described plans to create a [dot]gay domain name by 2012. My friend from EroTICs, the language problematizer, suggested the use [dot]queer instead in order to stay true to the wide spectrum of non-heteronormative sexualities. Twitter friends from Lebanon, who were following that talk, ridiculed the idea altogether, pointing out that such a move would only help government and other hostile parties track down and attack queers.
On the first day of the conference, I gave a talk on Meem’s use of the Internet as a core component of queer strategizing. I talked about the history of the queer movement in Lebanon, hoping to show that that history and the development of the Internet in Lebanon are deeply intertwined. I then showed Meem’s website, Bekhsoos and Meem’s video “Religious Diversity” on a projector screen. This was very exciting to me, not only because Meem is a group that I care deeply about, and that has shaped me in some fundamental ways, but also because of the anti-Zionist messages that sprouted out of Meem’s webpages, like a deviant flower on a wall. How amazing to have “Do Not Stand with Zionism” from meemgroup.org’s newsfeed projected on a big screen in a UN space, if only for 15 minutes! Someone once taught me that creative infiltration was a key part of Meem’s strategy. That Meem, almost without exception, infiltrates into spaces carrying not only a sexually queer voice, but one that also queers geopolitical issues, is really a very beautiful thing.
But that is what the Internet allows us to do: it disrupts hierarchies, ownership, control, and it breaks the veneer of protection, and linearity that comes with them. The Internet creates the space for us to bring in the broad diversity of voices needed in order to smartly and effectively connect struggles. It allows us to bypass the static, highly centralized traditional realms of control so that we can create our own sets of realities and communities. The Internet is about subversion, and if we are able to successfully make the bedroom the launching pad of this subversion, then we can say that it is about “queering.”
The Internet is also a space that is in constant need of attention. If there is one reason that civil society voices, such as those of the Association for Progressive Communications, were at the conference it is to ward off attempts by the powers that be to expropriate the space. There are strategies that hostile groups are devising in order to strip the Internet of the agency that it provides to so many. We must pay attention, and pre-empt them by keeping our usage of ICTs strategic, dynamic and smart.
*This article was originally published on Meem's Queer Arab Weekly www.Bekhsoos.com . To view the original article please go to http://www.bekhsoos.com/web/2010/09/meem-erotics-at-the-internet-governance-forum/