Dr Jamie Hakim
University of East Anglia
In this paper I reflect on initial findings from the ESRC funded, UK based ‘Digital Intimacies: how gay and bisexual men use smartphones to mediate their cultures of intimacy’.
I approach this question ‘conjuncturally’ (Hall et. al., 1978), understanding the pandemic not only in terms of physical distancing and lockdown but as an event that has precipitated a new historical conjuncture through its reshaping of the social, cultural, political, ideological, technological and economic forces that give form to British society.
Drawing on interviews with London and Edinburgh based gay and bisexual men, I argue that smartphone mediated intimacy has become a vital resource for these men to navigate the ways that the ‘affective chaos’ of the crisis-ridden post-2016 conjuncture (Grossberg, 2019) has intensified in 2020.
This conjuncture has so far been defined by the biological effects of coronavirus, the polarisation of the contemporary ‘culture wars’, the delegitimization of populism as a political project, economic crisis and the increased platformatisation of everyday life in the wake of physical distancing.
In terms of how gay and bi men’s cultures of intimacy have shifted amidst all of this, interviewees spoke of the tactics used to maintain intimacy in a pandemic; a sense of loss at the on-going closure of their physical spaces of intimacy (bars, clubs, sex-on-premises venues); having to turn to different forms of digitally mediated sex work; and the effect of the contemporary ‘culture wars’, especially in relation to racial politics, on their practices of intimacy.
By way of conclusion, I argue that these men’s digital cultures of intimacy need to be understood beyond the relationships they have with eachother, their digital devices, and LGBTQ+ social histories and instead be placed within all the conjunctural relations in which they are situated.