Capturing the gay network(s): a queer ontography of connection in urban Congo
Thomas Hendriks (University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
A queer ontography of connection among self-identified “gay” or fioto men and boys in urban Congo, highlighting the material and metaphorical production of sexual networks through mobile phone and internet technologies, raises fundamental questions about erotic “difference” and “similarity”.
Paper long abstract:
This paper contributes to the ongoing rethinking of "relatedness", "connection" and "belonging" - traditional topics in anthropological theorization - from an explicitly queer perspective. But instead of looking at these topics from the "west", a comfortable position most queer studies (and even "queer anthropology") are still reluctant or unable to abandon, I start from a vantage point where "queer" meets its own ontological limits. Materialities and imaginaries of connection are approached from ongoing ethnographic research with self-identified "gay" or fioto men and boys in urban Congo. Fieldwork in Kinshasa and Kisangani reveals the fundamental importance of networks and networking in everyday fioto life. This is most clearly stated in the expression naza branché ("I am connected") commonly heard among visibly "effeminate" fioto guys and their gender-conforming boyfriends. In this paper, I provide an ontography of these multiple and ambivalent "networks" in which the French verb "brancher" indicates not a passive plugging into but an active capturing of a global but occult network of fashionable queer modernity beyond orthodox family and kinship relations. A careful analysis of this subversive "network-making" through the everyday usage of networking devices, such as Facebook and mobile phones, in a political-economic environment where "the network" is always (technologically) uncertain, demonstrates how networks have profoundly sexual connotations differentiating gendered erotic identities and "sexualities". This sexual ontography raises fundamental questions about the issues of ontological erotic "difference" and "similarity" that underlie queer anthropological theorizations of connection, intimacy and belonging.
Whatever is happening to the critical study of sexual and gender diversity in anthropology? (European Network of Queer Anthropology)