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Saudi Arabia's Gays Lead Good Life Or Do
One of the main tenets of severe Islamic law, or Wahhabism, rules that unrelated men and women cannot socialize. The entire country's been divided into gendered regions. Men hang with men and women hang with women. Gay girls and boys, then, can socialize freely without fear of anti-gay recrimination. Labi writes:
...The kingdom leaves considerable space for homosexual behavior. As long as gays and lesbians maintain a public front of obeisance to Wahhabist norms, they are left to do what they want in private. Vibrant communities of men who enjoy sex with other men can be found in cosmopolitan cities like Jeddah and Riyadh. They meet in schools, in cafés, in the streets, and on the Internet. You can be cruised anywhere in Saudi Arabia, any time of the day, said Radwan, a 42-year-old gay Saudi American who grew up in various Western cities and now lives in Jeddah. Theyre quite shameless about it.
The shamelessness comes not from gay acceptance, but from a distinct divide between one's acts and one's so-called sexuality.
Unlike the West, where men who have sex with men are largely labeled "gay", Saudi Arabia has no such classifications. Men who sleep with men are simply performing gay acts, not aligning themselves with some larger social identity. Well, for the most part. You see, men - both married and straight - often use other men to vent their sexual frustrations. Thus, if you cruise another guy and fuck him, you're not considered gay. If you're the one getting fucked...well, that's a different story.
For many Saudis, the fact that a man has sex with another man has little to do with gayness. The act may fulfill a desire or a need, but it doesnt constitute an identity. Nor does it strip a man of his masculinity, as long as he is in the top, or active, role. This attitude gives Saudi men who engage in homosexual behavior a degree of freedom.
Ladi goes on to explain that sexuality isn't divided by acts, but by pleasure - those who enjoy getting fucked are considered deviant, while the dominant tops retain their masculine virility.
What you may find even more surprising, reader, is that Saudi Arabia has a long history of pederasty. That is, sex between older men and young boys constitutes an important rite of passage, as in ancient Greece. Ladi's words:
Abubaker Bagader, a human-rights activist based in Jeddah, explained that homosexuality can be viewed as a phase. Homosexuality is considered something one might pass by, he said. Its to be understood as a stage of life, particularly at youth. This view of sexual behavior, in combination with the strict segregation of the sexes, serves to foster homosexual acts, shifting the stigma onto bottoms and allowing older men to excuse their younger behaviortheir time as bottomsas mere youthful transgressions.
Though many Saudis consider sodomy to be blasphemous, as in Christianity, the Koran does not explicitly forbid anal sex. As Ladi points out, it suggests punishment for adultery or premarital sex, but no penalties for sodomy. Thus, the Saudi man recently executed for having sex with boys was punished, according to their laws, unjustly. Still, homosexuality remains in the shadows. It becomes a national "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" situation, Ladi explains, in that officials don't go poking around in people's sex lives, nor do they encourage you to flaunt it.
Globalization, however, has started blurring the lines between sex acts and sexual identity. With Western ideas of homosexuality, then, may come stricter enforcement of social laws. Men who choose another man over their menstruating wife would be considered gay. Men who need to work one of in another man - they'd be gay, too. One of Ladi's subjects explains:
The whole issue used to be whether that guy was a [top] or a bottom. Now people are getting more into the concept of homosexual and straight.
Don't be looking for a gay rights movement in Saudi Arabia, though - the recent heterosexist imports have had contradictory effects. On the one hand, some men have disavowed their "gay" sex acts. Others, however, insist that by "coming out," they'll do nothing more than invite public - and legislative - scrutiny. The best thing they can do, many say, is to keep up the charade, ignore Western sexual divisions and enjoy a land where they can get laid easily and often, however secretive. One man remarked:
When I see a gay parade [in trips to the West], its too much of a masquerade for attention. You dont need that. Womens rights, gay rightswhy? Get your rights without being too loud.
Another recalls a local telling him not to rock the boat: "Youve got everything a gay person could ever want. It may sound that way, but at what price? Or, is there a price?
If you live in a society that has no true (read: Western) concept of homosexuality, does the irksome closet really pose a problem? Are the psychological effects of concealment as deep and devastating? Not according to a man named Zahar: "We really have a very comfortable life." But, of course, it's a double-edged sword. He continues, "The only thing is the outward showing. I can be flamboyant in my house, but not outside." And that could be a problem, especially for all the big nelly queens among us....