There Are No Gay Arabs

“There are no gay Arabs,” a Saudi friend of mine once said to me over lunch, causing Pepsi to shoot out of my nose.

Now, before I write anything else, I’d have to stress that I like to think myself aware of certain cultural differences that lead to misunderstandings. For example, if any of my high school friends from sunny Charlotte , North Carolina , saw two men from Amman kissing each other on the cheek in greeting, they might instantly decide that some sort of homosexual innuendo has just taken place. Obviously, the Ammanites would have an entirely different view of the situation.

Affectionate behavior between people of the same gender is viewed differently by different eyes. A careful observer needs to have a variety of “eyes” for a variety of occasions.

Last night my “Ammanite” eyes saw to young men by the side of the road, in front of a shop. Young Man #1 was sitting on a chair. Young Man #2 was sitting between Young Man #1’s legs, with his head in his lap and his arms around his legs. Young Man #1 rested his arms around Young Man #2’s neck.

It doesn’t much matter to me whether or not these two guys are gay, or very affectionate, or straight and sexually frustrated. But as I imagined a similar scenario involving a man and a woman, I quickly noted that such a display of physical affection would be considered inappropriate in Jordan.

Many societies discourage mingling of genders (the ever-excitable Saudi clerics even refer to it as “abominable”). Yet what are they encouraging in return? Think about it.

For all the present talk about the evils of homosexuality, it is extremely foolish to think that same-sex relationships do not secretly flourish in places that pretty much leave most people no alternative.

Saudi commercials are especially fond of showing groups of attractive young men relaxing together and having fun, un-chaperoned by their elders. What exactly are we to make of such adverts coming from a closed, intensely regulated society? Perhaps Saudi clerics are merely naïve, or perhaps they prefer that unmarried young men satisfy their urges with members of their own sex. Considering the fact that the female body is almost completely banned from display in Saudi, it’s entirely possible that homosexuality is not merely under wraps in Saudi, but that it is tacitly promoted. If the possibility of seeing of a woman (family members don’t count) is virtually eliminated from one’s daily routine, the human sex drive, even if straight to begin with, will find ways to get around the ban. Hey, female sexuality is dirty and has to be kept under wraps, why not go splash in the pool with your bare-chested male friends instead?

It seems that in some societies sexuality has been compartmentalized. Men HAVE to marry women, but are discouraged from socializing with them from an early age or showing any public affection toward them. The same goes for women who are especially encouraged to keep only female friends and sometimes have little or no contact with men outside their family circle (mmm, incest anyone?). All this prodding and pushing toward gender segregation and even apartheid creates the reality of two young Arabs, enjoying each other’s company by the roadside, grinning and clasping each other with mutual tenderness.

What effect does this compartmentalization have on marriage (especially arranged marriage) and male-female relationships in conservative circles? There is no data readily available, but I would venture to guess that the results are slightly less positive than the Saudi clerics and Taliban freak-o’s would have us believe.

It is argued that segregation exists for the “protection” of the “weaker sex,” but I think that one of the main reasons that women in many Arab societies have to be restricted directly relates to the notion that the very foundation of male-female relationships is quite different than what it appears on the surface. A man is expected to marry a woman (or four women, for that matter), but he is not expected to socialize with women. He is expected to desire a woman (or four women, once again), but is taught to sublimate that desire, especially toward women who are marriage-material. As the same Saudi friend told me when I criticized him for his predilection toward trashy actresses: “Habibti, I’m not looking for a wife.” Hmmm. Interesting. No wonder many Arab women prefer to be segregated from men; if some men are taught to treat them either as sexless eunuchs or evil sluts.

“There are no gay Arabs.” Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Of course, perversely enough, being openly gay is also strongly discouraged. But when has that ever stopped anybody? Furthermore, who knows, maybe there is a great deal of Arabs out there who have engaged in many homosexual/lesbian acts, and not just for the sake of experimentation either, but consider themselves to be straight. And maybe they’re right.

Human sexuality is such a nebulous entity, that it seems foolish to try to categorize it. Ultimately, categorization is not really my intention. I am simply tired of all the homophobic absurdity that permeates public discourse on sexuality.

You can’t change human nature.

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One Comment

  1. john
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    in muslin rules ,gay is not allowed , but , i know there are much more gays in uae than my hometown. before i came to uae ,i stay can make love with my girl friend , after i become make love with man…