Sexuality and the Internet: a five country perspective

This blog post is tenth in a series of ten blog posts to report on the EROTICS India workshop, recently concluded in Delhi. All the blog posts in this series are written by Richa Kaul Padte, the official rapporteur at the workshop.

‘The Internet is an unregulated space where you can connect to other people…It is a new frontier, it is a new imagination that makes things possible…It is this space that is so central to our existence and being.’ – Jac sm Kee, APC Women

How does the relationship between sexuality and the Internet play out in different countries? What does this mean for sexual rights? The EROTICS research looks at different aspects of Internet use in five countries through the lens of sexuality. Here are some snippets:

Lebanon. When the blog Gay Lebanon was launched, it was more than just a blog – it was what the queer community pinpoints as the start of a sexual rights movement in the country; the first time a group of queer people were ‘out’, online.  Self-declared as the first and only LGBT networking site in the Middle East, Gay Lebanon is a virtual queer community free from the prejudice of the offline world. As the LGBT movement moves more offline, the queer feminist movement in Lebanon also sees the internet as a key site to document and articulate their politics. Says Jac sm Kee from APC Women, ‘The researchers saw the [Bekhsoos.com] blog as so much more than just a place to share news…It is a place to reclaim the language that has been colonised…It is archival and…it is claiming the capacity and space to self represent.’

South Africa. Gender DynamiX, an online hub for trans people in South Africa, is the first African website dedicated solely to the transgender community. With its mission as working to envision a society where everyone can express their gender free from fear, Gender DynamiX is a virtual space for trans people across the African continent. From comparing doctors and medical procedures to finding opportunities to rehearse new gender roles, the website provides a space for information, conversation and creating relationships.

Brazil. What is the queer community up to online in Brazil? One interesting if controversial discourse is around the “boi lover” movement, which acts as a space that reframes the conversations around men who have sex with boys – a topic normally shrouded in criminality and guilt. It builds a rare counter discourse on the issue, and creates a space for people to engage in different types of conversation on the topic. This is especially important since a blanket assumption of pedophilia is often used as justification for widening censorship and regulation of the internet. The Internet is also a space for heterosexual Brazilians to advocate for queer rights, which is something Orkut sees a lot of.

United States. You might initially think of America as a space of unrestricted and free sexual expression, but with an abstinence-only sex education policy in most schools, opportunities to learn about sex are pretty limited. The Internet provides mediums – including pornography – for young people to find ways to learn about sex that the country’s approach to sexual health makes it difficult to access otherwise.

India. What are women doing online in Bombay city? Turns out it’s a lot, from chatting to blogging to posting ‘sexy’ pictures of themselves on Facebook to looking for prospective partners. Young girls whose social interactions are cut off at the end of the school day now get together in chat rooms at 11 pm. Matrimonial sites offer a mix between the old and the new, allowing young people to experiment with choosing their own partners – with families still reading the computer screen over their shoulders, of course. We all use the Internet differently, and usage is, of course, gendered.

Perspectives and initiatives from different countries that provide critical information, contest norms and allow people to form new relationships, show us that the Internet isn’t just a tool, but that it’s really critical in advancing sexual citizenship. Typically, if you’re heterosexual, able bodied and male the chances are that you’re also the most privileged, and the Internet acts as a space for people with less privilege to challenge this structure – to claim sexual citizenship And what happens online, remember, can never quite be separated from the offline world. Jac says, ‘The online world is located in the physical world we share, but it also troubles the physical world we share.’ As non-privileged sexualities (which can be anything including gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or even just being a woman) find ways to articulate themselves online, they reverberate offline too – in different ways, and across the world.

To learn more about the EROTICS global research, check out the findings here.

 

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