UI professor publishes book on LGBTQ surviving in Beirut

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Ghassan Moussawi and the cover of his new book. (Photo courtesy of Illinois News Bureau)

CHAMPAIGN — An ethnographer and gender and women’s studies professor at the University of Illinois has released a new book on the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in Beirut this summer.

Ghassan Moussawi looks at the daily survival strategies of Beirut’s LGBTQ residents in the face of al-wad in his new book “Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut.”

“To be in Beirut is to understand ‘the situation’ without having to explain it. It keeps changing from a lack of resources such as electricity to bombings, war, a garbage strike,” Moussawi told the Illinois News Bureau.

“The situation,” or “al-wad,” is how residents of the Lebanese capital refer to the series of disruptions the city faces on a regular basis.

“The book helps us understand what it means to live in a disruptive moment that keeps changing. It has no beginning nor end,” Moussawi said.

The new bureau said that Beirut has been promoted as an exceptional place for LGBTQ people and a gay-friendly destination in the Middle East. Moussawi examined those representations of how it is seen as exceptional and modern. But this gay-friendly Beirut is available along the lines of class and race, and ignores the realities of al-wad, he said.

“They are blanket statements about who is more progressive, who is gay, who is tolerant. In one way, fractal orientalism is the problem I tried to attend to or unpack by looking at queer strategies of everyday survival,” he said.

The book uses LGBTQ people’s strategies for daily life as a lens to look at how people navigate everyday violence and constant disruption that is always taking new forms, such as the port explosion last month that left more than half the city’s buildings damaged.

Moussawi told the university news service that the strategies can be applied to segregated U.S. cities with high levels of violence and a lack of basic resources due to state neglect, he said.

“This applies to spaces that don’t have actual war or conflict. It’s traumatic but people create certain strategies for survival,” he said.

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