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284 16 Ladies and Gentlemen, Boyahs and Girls Uploading Transnational Queer Subjectivities in the United Arab Emirates Noor Al-Qasimi In recent years the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has witnessed multiple transgressive discourses pertaining to heteronormative structures of sexuality, with cybertechnology serving as a primary platform for the enactments of subaltern sexual subjectivities. In this chapter, I explore how state apparatuses and technologies of control both shape and govern the expression of queer subjectivities in cyberspace.1 As a result of intense economic restructuring, regional integration, and technological growth, the UAE has garnered increasing global prominence as a pioneering model for post-oil development over the past decade.2 Despite steps toward unification of the seven original“Trucial States” over the past forty years,3 the UAE presents a challenge to notions of a unified national hegemony, which bears directly on the ways in which queer subjectivities are regulated by technologies of control enforced not only by the federal government but also by local police, families, and religious clerics. It is important to note that there is a distinction between the governance of queer subjectivities in the realm of cyberspace and in“real” space, the latter being subject to a greater multiplicity of social power. In an illustration of this regulatory move, the Ministry of Social Affairs recently launched an “awareness initiative ” targeting young women within educational institutions and youth detention centers identified as mustarjilaat, or young women who “[give] up the characteristics of femininity, [try] to imitate boys in clothing and mannerisms, and [are] attracted to females only.”4 The role of regulating queer subjectivities is also adopted by nonbureaucratic entities; female students at the multicampus Higher Colleges of Technology, for example, are required to sign a ta’ahhud (agreement) that they will “behave” in their sexual conduct, and students at the all-female Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, similarly, have long been surveilled for public displays of affection.5 Given the extensive regulation of both gender and sexuality in real space, it is not surprising that UAE Internet users have the second-highest rate of membership in social networking sites in the world.6 The extension of queer subjectivities into online discursive communities within the region of the Arab Gulf states is also undoubtedly linked to the UAE’s concerted investment in the development of information technologies. Because of its greater interest in 285 Ladies and Gentlemen, Boyahs and Girls joining the global community compared to its neighboring states, the UAE presents a particularly interesting context within which to examine the relationship between the national development of telecommunications and the emergence of new mediated forms of queer subjectivities. Recent scholarship has critically engaged with the argument that online discourse is inextricably linked to off-line worlds.7 Moreover, it has been argued that online communities are offered a certain transgressive agency that would otherwise be denied in “real” space. However, there has been a relative paucity of area-focused scholarship on specifically queer phenomena and telecommunications in the region of the Arab Gulf. I take the position that on- and offline worlds are coconstituted rather than distinct and separate. The relatively lower visibility and heightened policing of queerness in off-line spaces impacts and is impacted by the heightened visibility and relatively less prevalent policing of queerness online. Using a textual and ethnographic analytical framework, I extend the argument of transnational sexual democratic space into the context of the UAE. First, I engage with the dissemination of queer subjectivities in the public sphere, demonstrating how this phenomenon is simultaneously accommodated and denied in current Emirati sociopolitical discourse. I then examine the expression of queerness in cyberspace and interrogate the extent to which a pan-Gulfian transnational queer imaginary is being produced in the context of new social networking technologies such as Facebook. As part of this discussion , culturally specific understandings of embodied practices will be juxtaposed with discourses of cultural protectionism and authenticity as voiced by religious clerics online. Drawing on firsthand interviews with representatives of Etisalat, a large national telecommunications company, and the governing body Telecommunications Regulative Authority (TRA), I argue that the state is currently attempting to restructure its image and media presence according to paradigmatic notions of Islamic autocracy by denying free speech and regulating the visibility of sexuality in cyberspace. I use the notion of the transnational in the context of the “disrupted” surveillance of cyberspace, as opposed to the surveillance of national space on the ground, which is concerned solely with national citizens...


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