By M/ M
Near my friend’s house in New York, there are always groups of people posing for pictures. I see them across the street as I walk, still bleary eyed, from her apartment and towards my morning coffee and bagel. The groups and individuals posing for pictures change throughout the day, but the cameras do not stop, and the smiles of the tourists, though fixed on different faces, begin to blur and look the same.
My friend lives across the avenue from the Stonewall Inn (now called the Stonewall Bar), the site of a police raid in 1969. This police raid was the catalyst of the modern-day gay rights movement in the United States. This movement, in turn, has become the measure of homosexual activism internationally. Every year, cities across the world hold gay pride marches towards the end of June, a commemoration of the riots of 1969 in New York City.
Today the Stonewall Inn is a tourist trap. People from all over the world come to New York City’s Greenwich Village to have coffee in Christopher Street Park, browse the area’s numerous gay bars and cafes, and buy trinkets at the gift shops that specialize in Gay Tourism. Tourists buy rainbow flags, pink triangles, T-shirts and postcards, all commodities that claim to represent gay citizens internationally.
As these commodities circulate and become emblems of a “gay culture” or at least a “gay presence” (the raison d’être of the rainbow flag), they indeed do start to represent a section of people who identify as homosexual; the international homosexual consumer that, because of his/her class privilege, buying power and access to internationalism, comes to represent the homosexual norm everywhere. We all know the stereotype: White, muscled men with smooth chests and a stylish wardrobe; White, slim women with short hair, comfortable pants and comfortable shoes. After all, only within a discourse of international homosexualism (or as I like to call it, nascent homo-nationalism) would the Stonewall Inn become a touristic pilgrimage site for self-identified gays from Japan, Australia, Texas, France, Madrid and Saudi Arabia. Only within such a discourse would the rainbow flag have any significance at all for queers in a city like Beirut, Lebanon.
This week, Beirut will be inducted into the hall of international gay tourist sites courtesy of IGLTA, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. I wonder what image of queer life in the city is being marketed to these tourists. Will they visit Acid, Helem, Life Bar, Meem, Orchid Beach, and BO18? Will they buy trinkets shaped like Phoenicians, key chains shaped like cedar trees, and calendars that showcase “Hot Arab Men” across backdrops such as the Roman ruins of Baalbeck? Is this the way that we, as queers, live our lives in Lebanon? Who is the “we” that live our lives this way – and can we represent the entirety of same-sex experiences in this country?
The complexity and instability of our lives are being commodified (an inherently reductive process) and consumed in order to make money and to reproduce the very problematic discourse that Lebanon is the “Switzerland of the Middle East.” While some lives are being packaged and sold in this manner, other lives are being ignored because they do not fit either image – the quasi liberated Arab gay or the Westernized (hence more civilized) Arab country.
People live queer lives in Palestinian refugee camps, in Dahieh, in Karm el Zaitoun, in Dawra, and in Roumieh Prison. But these lives have no consumer value to the tourist industry and the international gay tourism industry, just like in New York City, where tourists rush by the dirty homeless gay teenagers sleeping and hustling in Christopher Street Park in order to reach the Stonewall Inn and pose for a picture. I see them as I walk, no longer bleary eyed, from the café to the subway.