Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in BeirutGhassan Moussawi
Disruptive Situations challenges representations of contemporary Beirut as an exceptional space for LGBTQ people by highlighting everyday life in a city where violence is the norm. Ghassan Moussawi, a Beirut native, seeks to uncover the underlying processes of what he calls “fractal orientalism,” a relational understanding of modernity and cosmopolitanism that illustrates how transnational discourses of national and sexual exceptionalism operate on multiple scales in the Arab world.
Moussawi’s intrepid ethnography features the voices of women, gay men, and genderqueer persons in Beirut to examine how queer individuals negotiate life in this uncertain region. He examines “ al-wad’,” or “the situation,” to understand the practices that form these strategies and to raise questions about queer-friendly spaces in and beyond Beirut.
Disruptive Situations also shows how LGBTQ Beirutis resist reconciliation narratives and position their identities and visibility at different times as ways of simultaneously managing their multiple positionalities and al-wad’. Moussawi argues that the daily survival strategies in Beirut are queer—and not only enacted by LGBTQ people—since Beirutis are living amidst an already queer situation of ongoing precarity.
“Disruptive Situations is an eye-opening exploration of LGBT lives in times of war, conflict, and instability! It innovates a roadmap for how to document and conceptualize queerness and geopolitics in contemporary Beirut. Moussawi’s distinctive, timely contribution will surely leave its mark on transnational sexuality, gender, and queer studies.”
—Jyoti Puri, Hazel Dick Leonard Chair and Professor of Sociology, Simmons University, and author of Sexual States: Governance and the Struggle over the Antisodomy Law in India
“Disruptive Situations is a lucid and elegant inquiry into how LGBT and genderqueer Beirutis make sense of lives and identities forged through the multiple, unstable, and overlapping modernities of the city. Moussawi eschews Orientalist constructions of Beirut as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ to explain these lives and their presence in the region. Instead, he turns our attention to the importance of the everyday—where city life is unstable, felt, and temporally marked—for 'queer' Beiruti flourishing. By teaching us how to think without the presumption of normal lives or stable times as anchors, Disruptive Situations is a work that arrives just in time.”
—Chandan Reddy, Associate Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Washington, and author of Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the U.S. State
“ Ghassan Moussawi’s conceptualization of queer tactics in the context of local, regional, and global politics provides an urgently needed alternative to modern liberal concepts of queer life in Beirut and the Arab region more broadly. This brilliant and pioneering ethnography is uniquely and importantly interdisciplinary, bringing together critiques of space, global politics, race, class, and sexuality. Disruptive Situations will change the way people think about the global politics of gender and sexuality.”—Nadine Naber, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Global Asian Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism
"Disruptive Situations will have wide appeal across queer and sexuality studies, queer theory, urban studies, sociology, postcolonial theory (or more broadly colonial studies), and Middle East studies. Scholars will glean valuable theoretical tools that enable the reworking of conceptual limitations across disciplines. While Moussawi concludes that the queer strategies and tactics of the LGBT interlocutors have purchase across the Global South, these everyday strategies of navigating al-wad’ find resonance with the everyday strategies of navigating the sedimented histories of anti-Black and homophobic violence that pervade the institutions and streets of Louisville as much as in London or Cairo. Indeed, considering the current moment of COVID-19, ongoing racial and homophobic violence, and the corruption that led to Beirut’s August 4, 2020 explosion, Moussawi’s intervention feels both prescient and urgent."
"Disruptive Situations is a timely critique of queer theory as uncritically applied to the Arab Middle East as well as a methodological intervention into feminist research methods. By contextualising precarity in Beirut, Moussawi also re-centres the geopolitical in the study of gender and sexuality more broadly, insisting on the entanglement of the local with the transnational. Moussawi’s monograph might appear especially poignant in light of the explosion at Beirut’s port on 4 August 2020."
—Women's Studies International Forum