Department of Anthropology

Faculty Publication: Queer Beirut by Sofian Merabet


Gender and sexual identity formation is an ongoing anthropological conversation in both Middle Eastern studies and urban studies, but the story of gay and lesbian identity in the Middle East is only just beginning to be told. Queer Beirut is the first ethnographic study of queer lives in the Arab Middle East. Drawing on anthropology, urban studies, gender studies, queer studies, and sociocultural theory, Sofian Merabet’s compelling ethnography suggests a critical theory of gender and religious identity formations that will disrupt conventional anthropological premises about the contingent role that society and particular urban spaces have in facilitating the emergence of various subcultures within the city.

From 1995 to 2014, Merabet made a series of ethnographic journeys to Lebanon, during which he interviewed numerous gay men in Beirut. Through their life stories, Merabet crafts moving ethnographic narratives and explores how Lebanese gays inhabit and perform their gender as they formulate their sense of identity. He also examines the notion of “queer space” in Beirut and the role that this city, its class and sectarian structure, its colonial history, and religion have played in these people’s discovery and exploration of their sexualities. In using Beirut as a microcosm for the complexities of homosexual relationships in contemporary Lebanon, Queer Beirut provides a critical standpoint from which to deepen our understandings of gender rights and citizenship in the structuring of social inequality within the larger context of the Middle East.


"Queer Beirut is engaging, sophisticated, and altogether a fascinating read that draws the reader into its world. Its ethnographic passages are deeply poignant and sensitive vignettes of joy and violence, interwoven with descriptions of Beirut coming to life in its spaces and streets, and laced with theoretical nuance."

―Lara Deeb, Professor and Chair of Anthropology, Scripps College, and author of An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon and coauthor of Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Morality and Geography in Shi’i Southern Beirut

"This is an extraordinarily good ethnography of mainly gay male lives in Beirut. . . . Nothing like it exists in the literature."

―Steve Caton, Professor of Anthropology and Contemporary Arab Studies, Harvard University, and author of "Peaks of Yemen I Summon": Poetry as Cultural Practice in a North Yemeni Tribe, Lawrence of Arabia: A Film’s Anthropology, and Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Meditation