GiB#2 | Gayin’ Beirut

2009 is drawing to an end. Mine started out with a not-so-fair dose of sad events and disappointments, which made it way easy to swallow that I would not get to see Michael Jackson (a)live in London. For Lebanon, 2009 will be marked as a challenging, yet positive year for the country in general. Challenging, because our greater issues were and continue to be here all along, haunting us, unresolved, threatening to turn the country upside down within minutes. Yet positive, because we have not had a war or significant turmoil, have fared better than many other countries through the global economic downturn, and are ending the year with a President and a Parliament and a Government -- what more could we ask for?

To top it, in 2009 Lebanon had the best tourist season in a long time, some say since the 70s, but certainly since 2004, the last “good year” since the plunge. It has been a while since Lebanon, Beirut in particular, has drawn so much ink in the Travel sections of the world press, where it's long been a hot topic for the Politics section. A recent study showed that Lebanon was one of very few countries where tourism activity actually increased in 2009, up 43 percent over the previous year according to the tourism ministry, although tourists have probably not spent as much as in previous years. What’s more, this record year came about at a time when all the major tourist destinations of the world saw their number of visitors decline in 2009.

Coincidentally, in 2009 Beirut topped the New York Times's ranking of the top 44 destinations to visit in '09 and was listed as one of the top 10 liveliest cities in the world by Lonely Planet. In that same year  Beirut was coined, in turn, the “Sin City of the Middle East” in AFP, “Back, and Beautiful” in the Guardian, a “Tourist’s Mecca” in Reportage, and questioned as “Best Party City?” on CNN... Anyone else wants to take a shot at it?

But what really counts in these numbers for us as GiBs, is that the increase was not just more (extended) families coming from the Gulf, but also more tourists from Europe and North America, including gay tourists (now we’re talking!).

Fortunately the buzz also holds true for gay Beirut, for it sure got its share of air time, too. To 'Sin City', Patrick Healy from the NY Times preferred to coin Beirut as the “Provincetown of the Middle East”, named after a low-key Vegas-type city on the U.S. East Coast where "Gay Life is Everywhere" (so much for boring terms like 'Paris/Switzerland of the Middle East'), while a German magazine described Beirut as an “Unspoiled Gay Paradise”. Is this an indication that Beirut's finally coming of age as a gay tourist destination?

But if you ever read these reporter stories, like the NY Times article where you learn all about the  BearArabia summer parties (because I doubt you’ll ever read any reviews here on this blog), make sure to handle the hype with care! As Richard Ammon from GlobalGayz.com (beautifully) puts it into context in his response piece Beirut: “Provincetown of the Middle East” - Not!”, it’s still not quite la-la-land around here (as here in Venice Beach, CA)!


GiB#1 | Christmas is so Gay!

Everywhere you look, gay people, dressed up in gay clothes, driving gaily to buy gay stuff for other gay people to enjoy. Houses are gays, shops are gay –hell, the streets are gay too!

Don’t you just love Christmas? I know I do…


GiB#2 | Playing the GiB Card

A couple years ago I tripped over this photo during an entire minute at the urinal of the restroom of Montagnou in Faraya. One minute's too short so I had to take a photo of it to find out what the fcuk this thing is about.

First time I see an ad so blatantly playing the GiB card in Lebanon… I’d be curious to know the outcome of this campaign and what has happened with this place.

Oh and in case you’re still wondering, this is for manicure for men!


GiB#2 | Party in a Steel Factory! 18/12/2009

Mashrou3 Leila gave a fun concert last night. Probably not their best musical performance, for they could use a little more presence on stage, and the new songs of the (finally completed) album are merely more of the same. Good thing there was the unique location to make up for it! The concert was in a huge warehouse inside a steel factory in Qarantina, partying in a garage/construction type décor, very trippy indeed! I hope they open up this venue again for a DJ gig some day, because the sound really did not serve well this band, it was terrible in some places, but it could be great with the right equipment and / or sound engineer.

The other cool thing besides the venue was the crowd. Attendance was much higher than the organizers had expected, so much that they ran out of free albums giveaways, then they ran out of drinks, and then of printed tickets! They had only planned for 1,000 people but probably drew 1,500. They should have counted with all the people who are back for the holidays… A funny thing happened when they were out of tickets, they used a burj hammoud happy holidays flyers for LL5,000 instead, and then when those ran out as well the rest of us came in for free – thanks guys we owe you one! But my favorite part in all of this was the lots and lots of cute twenty-something guys, with lots of GiBs too! But perhaps less than one could expect, given that at least two of the band’s seven are gay… wish there were more GiBs in the indie scene...

Oh and can someone explain to me the 5-minute Misba7-type  performance (GiB belly dancing) on stage out of the blue?


GiB#2 | Tattooed All Over

I just love these stencils we’re starting to see more and more around the streets of Beirut. Not only I find this visible face of Beirut’s underground art scene to be aesthetic, it’s also that it’s so well in tune with the city. It tends to highlight its history, and the scratching paint and bullet impacts on its walls. To me they bring back the image of war-torn Beirut that I have known during my childhood, with the life that kept going underneath. That these stencils started to appear during the severe repression of freedom of speech especially during the Syrian occupation until not too long ago, gives them even more of a symbolic value. It makes them sound like an outcry from the younger generations to the older ones, that we might well have our own ideas about democracy.

These graffiti by local artists are also giving more character to certain industrial areas of the city, some of which are starting to emerge as the next hip/artist loft -type neighborhoods in the near suburbs of Beirut. And the fact that there are so much more popping out lately is like there’s a popular uprising in the making.  
The pics I’m posting are some of the GiB-related material that I have come across during my nocturnal wanderings in the streets of Beirut, with one pic by Joumana Medlej. Not surprisingly, all of these stencils are found in Hamra, except the one that says BAREBACK (!) that I saw in front of the bus station in Jisr el Wati. But the merit of these stencils is not just being work by GiBs. For they are also among the first ones in Beirut: a superb demonstration of pioneering work by GiBs. 
If you want to check out more of these, this photo blog rockandahotplace and this guy's blog Beirut NTSC and his book "Archewallogy - Les murs murs de la ville" have a large collection of Beirut graffiti and stencils, with some additional GiB material too. I also came across two recent books on the same topic, Rhéa Karam's Breathing Walls and Tala Saleh's Marking Beirut. That's quite a few publications for one year! When I look at these images there’s so many of them that ring a bell, it’s like they’re part of the pedestrians’ landmarks by now. Some say the one with the guy from Sukleen is by Banksy… But as much as I would like it to be so, I doubt it really is.

This also reminds me of the story “Gay Community Thrives in Lebanon” which ran last year on NPR, the main independent news outlet in the U.S. One of the interviewees in the story is Hamed from Mashrou3 Leila, who talks about the stencil in the last picture. This stencil marks the current evolution of mentalities in Lebanon, where until recently the official language used for ‘homosexual’ in Arabic was akin to ‘deviant’ or ‘fag’. The audio of the NPR story is worth listening to and below is the excerpt from the transcript.

Keep the graffiti coming guys! I hope it covers the entire city one day. We should do a fundraiser to buy lots of spraypaint, what do you say?

“HAMED SINNO (Graffiti Artist; Student): The thing is, in Arabic, people describe homosexuality as ‘shaaz’ which translates to deviant, literally. And it's the most popular way of describing it, and it's kind of offensive, you know, like someone's basically calling you deviant and it stems from a lot of - like a lot of cultural understandings that are very oppressive. So the graffiti - the guy wearing a mask says who's a deviant? Your mom is a deviant. I'm homosexual.
MERAJI: Hamed himself has been the target of anti-gay graffiti, so he's using his graffiti to express frustration at his own treatment. He hopes to spark a dialogue about homosexuality in Lebanon, where it's still against the law. For Brian Whitaker, a journalist and author of "Unspeakable Love," a book about gay and lesbian life in the Arab world, writes that in terms of opportunities for gay social life and activism, Beirut is as good as it gets. Whitaker credits Beirut's ethnic and religious diversity.”


GiB#2 | Afterizing Beirut

So you’re desperately wondering what to do next when the club or bar you're at turns on the annoying extra light on you, it's too early, and you haven't had enough yet. If you’d been lucky that day, you’d be in a club or even in a random bar that occasionally stayed up late that night (behind closed doors, so never mind the license). Better yet, you could've had the best of both worlds by going out with your straight/mixed friends while still going home with the guy you want to spend the rest of the night with.

But no luck tonight Mr Alright is not around, you’re still on a roll, and it’s too early for munchees.

Well that’s bad news because unfortunately, it seems to me that there are less options today for after parties than there were a few years back. As far as dedicated after-hours I only know of Wonderbar facing Basement and Electro Mécanique in Mar Mikhael still left. Many others have closed down, and most of them have been short-lived. For some of the recent ones, Silicon near Freeway and Black Diamond in Monot closed down less than two years after opening, and word has it EM is closing down soon. But these were also examples of low-budget clubs that thought they could afford cheap decor while still securing a loyal crowd, when every other new club in Beirut has cost over six figures. Granted, the concept could be viable, for all what is expected from these clubs is good electro music with deep sound, and to secure a safe haven with 0 chance of a brutal kick-down from the alphabet soup the crowd's had.

Good thing the two main late-night clubs popular with GiBs, Acid and B018, are still standing, and stay up till 6. But at Acid (only weekends), chances are by that time the atmosphere will be that of an end-of-party. The mass of regulars does not tend to stay that late after their favorite part, the Arabic special that plays around 2 (my tourist friends too love it – how exotic!). So, the undisputed queen of late night Beirut remains the longstanding B018. There, almost every day of the week, the crowd builds up around 3am only to leave after sunrise when the day light enters into the tomb through its sliding rooftop, and the sound of electrobeats gives way to the morning prayer of the muezzin nearby. Trippy... Plus a good thing about the recently instated 25,000LL cover charge is that it has eased down the once-too-picky bouncers at the door, which works well for a last-minute boys night out.

As a general rule at these parties, the later you stay, the GiBber it gets. While the sex ratio is desperately not in favor of the straight guys to begin with, it is not uncommon for these parties to end up almost exclusively entre hommes, put aside the untiring fag hags. That’s when the cruising begins, as it hits the GiB that he’s about to go back home to deal with his horniness alone. Lucky the GiB whose over-substanced body is screaming “don’t touch me” anyway.

-- Recent update! A new after hours party in Beirut on Saturdays (well more like Sundays) called AFTER HOURS HOT SUNDAY from "961 clubbers" starting soon! From their info on facebook: Once every two weeks, different club each time, 6am to 6pm, 10$. Kicking it off with a party called "sex in the cave", you can't be any more suggestive. Could be lame though, let's wait and see. Maybe I'll see you there ;)
-- Another update: ElectroMecanique is now EM Chill, no longer afterhours, revamped. Looks pathetic from the outside, but will give it a try!


Where Have All the Good Men Gone? | by Art Hake

Men are pigs. But face it: we like bacon!

And I’m missing some old-fashioned stinky fun. It’s Thursday so I went out with fellow hunters to Hamra. Bardo is always a nice destination, especially on weeknights. It felt good to see some European faces around: music was fun (although their sound system would really use an upgrade) and drinks were pouring in. I was hoping to catch a flirtatious glimpse, but I guess it was too crowded for that: I could barely see beyond an elbow stuck in my face all night. Oh well, Basement then? Why the hell not!

Many familiar GiBs there, undertwenties mostly, thrusting their dear selves to the beats. GiB#2 would’ve appreciated the company, but nothing interesting for me tonight in that club. One hour of exposure is enough anyway, so we’re off to some greener grass. Behind the Green Door, no pun intended! But first, we had to cross Gemmayze Street, which was overwhelmed with stuck-up straight men and under-dressed women. Let’s not be judgmental. I mean we all know how hard they try. The man-to-woman ratio is becoming scary: 7 Eves for every Adam. We share the frustration, sista’.

And we leave you unchallenged access to the stuck-up straight men. You kinda always preferred the wedding material anyway. Which brings me back to my own frustration: where have all the good men gone?

Many colorful shots beyond this point, surrounded by a hetero-friendly company behind the damn door, I realized I was going home alone.

At least the holidays are coming; we’ll have plenty of time to catch up with the returning brothers. Can’t wait ‘til Christmas! Meanwhile, I think I’m gonna throw a desperate look at Manjam.

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