Last year, Lebanon took a big step forward in official attitudes toward homosexuality — the Lebanese Psychiatric Society ruled that that homosexuality is not a mental illness. However, for gays in the country’s capitol, times remain hard. Though homosexuality in Lebanon is no longer considered a mental disorder, it is still punishable under Article 534 of the country's penal code. In fact, the psychiatric society's ruling came only a few months after a police raid on a popular gay meeting space in Beirut, where suspected homosexuals were faced with arrest and intimidation and subjected to invasive and humiliating "tests," said to determine their sexuality. For fear of police harassment and abuse, homosexuals are forced to seek out covert spaces where love and intimacy can be expressed with some semblance of safety.
In this map by Omar Mismar, entitled A Hands Routine, the artist explores one such space in Beirut, a car:
“The car as a gay space is constantly vulnerable and exposed. It is a temporary clandestine and paranoiac space for as long as the hands are together. The city and its people become a “threat,” forcing us to choose: un-hold and be like any two straight guys in a car, or stay holding and come out to the whole city. We choose to un-hold.”
In A Hands Routine, we spend one week following the couple through the streets of Beirut — from the club, to the gym to each other's homes — as the time between destinations becomes imbued with feelings of love and fear. Through the simple lens of handholding, Mismar explores these feelings with a mixture of levity and seriousness: a break for dancing or gossiping brings their hands apart just as the frightening approach of another vehicle or a mandatory stop at an army checkpoint.
For the artist and his partner, the act of holding and un-holding becomes an unconscious reflex — a normalized state for a homosexual in Lebanon trying to avoid ridicule, suspicion and bodily danger. In this way, little moments and their effects on the two lovers speak volumes about the everyday fears of a homosexual in Beirut.
Mismar explains how the space of a car provides an opportunity to rebel, however small: “Revolt does happen every once in a while […] we keep the hands together. It feels like resisting, like making a point.” A Hands Routine is a loving map of miniature revolts and momentary concessions in the streets of Beirut and a stark reminder of some of the dangers facing homosexuals in parts of the world where laws make their love illegal.
Click here to read more about the map from the artist.