By Nur Sati
The Famous Hairdresser
"Arab Men Always
Active, Never Passive"
Gays In Israel Demand Equal
(AROL)-- The issue of male homosexuality in the
Arab world remains a taboo and untapped subject
away from national debate.
This tendency is not
spoken about openly-- though male-male friction
is acknowledged. Nor is it legally recognized in
these conservative societies.
While the issue of recognizing male
homosexuality is not totally different from other
countries, male Arab homosexuality has indeed a
different notion from that in the West.
Gay activities are frowned upon in Islam but a
set of cultural and traditional taboos has played
a role in the acquiescence of much of these
sexual activities if confined to a certain set of
That is to say, homosexual behavior may be
overlooked but experiencing feelings of an
emotional nature beyond sex makes a man gay and
hence, a potential outcast. In a society where
the family bond, "honor" and image are
extremely important, many tend to follow the
dictates and norms of society, even if this means
living in conflict with their inner feelings.
Sex vs. emotions
Many Arab men make a distinction between
sex and emotional attachment. Bruce Dunne, author
of an article titled Power and Sexuality in
the Middle East, believes that sexual
relations in the Middle East are about power. He
writes: "Sexual relations in Middle Eastern
societies have historically articulated social
hierarchies, that is, dominant and subordinate
social positions: adult men on top; women, boys
and slaves below
and heterosexual/homosexual categorizations are
structures of power."
Having pure, raw sex with another man and
being the active partner doesnt make a man
gay. This notion of same-sex is also true in the
West. It differs, however, with regard the
"Since the concept of same-sex relations
does not exist in the Arab world, being
Gay is still considered to be a
sexual behavior," says Outreach Director of
the Gay and
Lesbian Arab Society, Ramzi Zakharia, in an
e-mail interview. But according to Western
definition, "that limits it to 'homosexual'
behavior, which does not mean that the person is
Gay. Just because you sleep with a member of the
same sex does not mean you are Gay... it just
means that you are engaging in homosexual
activity. Once a relationship develops beyond sex
(i.e: love) this is when the term gay
applies," adds akharia.
He believes that gays in the Arab world,
unlike those in Western societies, "limit
their activities to sex and rarely explore
feelings beyond that," experience.
Impressions from a European
European-born Marcus, who has been in
Jordan for two months, has already noticed a
remarkable difference between the Kingdom and his
country. While he says that the men he has met
generally shy away from emotional intimacy mostly
because they experience inner conflicts, these
same men are capable of justifying a purely
Having sex (discreetly) is alright, and
sometimes even seen as an exploit. It is
Men holding hands or walking arm in arm are
familiar scenes in Arab streets. In general men
are more intimate with each other than they are
in the West and a man without a woman at his side
is not really seen as strange, Marcus observes.
These scenes would not draw the eyes of
passersby, but the same man-to-man intimacy could
be outrightly interepreted in the West as a gay
"It is much easier to meet men and be
close to them here," Marcus says.
(This article focuses only on male
homosexuality. This reporter tried to interview
females and to tackle the issue of female
homosexuality, without results. Arab and
Jordanian women are quite reserved and inhibited
on this issue, even anonymously, for fear of
causing problems to their friends).
Marcus, 29, is gay. He is in the country for
the first time learning Arabic. Marcus preferred
not to use his real name. Although he says he
feels more at ease about being gay in Jordan than
he does in his home town, he did not want his
colleagues at work to read his name.
Marcus says he feels comfortable approaching a
man in Jordan with frankness about his desires.
Even though the man may not be gay there is some
sort of "understanding" at what is
going on, and little or no offence would be
Some men interviewed in Jordan, however,
appeared offended at the mention of this topic
and they even refused to bring up the issue in
general. When they did finally speak about
homosexual behavior and gays-- which they
believed were the same-- they spoke with
repulsion and with harshness.
But Marcus says he has not yet experienced
anything of this sort and life for a gay in
Jordan is much easier in some ways. Back in his
home, a man cannot easily approach or look at
another man. "We have the legal recognition
but we have a social taboo," Marcus says.
Living a dual life
It may be easier to engage in homosexual
behavior, but it certainly is not the case when
emotions are involved. This Arab distinction of
sex versus emotional attachment is largely
derived out of a conflict with religion
and tradition. Arab men engage in homosexual
behavior, and dont cross the realm of being
gay in order not to morally hurt themselves or
their families. These Arab men would prefer
(though not because they really want to) to fit
into societys mold and they justify their
sexual preferences as "something men
do", and not as "something I do because
I am gay."
If these same people were living in Western
societies, they would most probably be gay and
not only engage in homosexual sex. In the West,
those who are gay will cross the homosexual
boundaries, even if that means staying in the
closet. In the Arab world, only some do. Many,
however, live a dual life.
Indeed, several gay Arab men living in the US
have said that when they return to their homes
for long visits, they adapt to societal
expectations of them as men, become
"hypocritical" and engage in only
homosexual behavior, if they do at all.
"They (Arab men) do not face
friends/families or even themselves with the
truth of their identity. Rather, the majority
will carry on with society's plans, get married,
get the kids... and then either carry on sexual
relations on the side... or vent out their sexual
frustrations on Alcohol, Drugs, Spouse Abuse, and
other negative and destructive behavior,"
according to Zakharia.
Homosexuality for Arabs contradicts and even
undermines the male, patriarchal image as a
"macho" in Arab societies.
A non-typical Arab male?
One 26-year-old Lebanese of Palestinian
origin living in Canada explains his conflict,
similar to the feelings of many others like him.
The following was received from him by e-mail and
is printed without editing. He did not want his
I am a non-typical gay Arab male who grew
up in Lebanon and then migrated to Canada.
Non-typical, I say, because I find myself very
different from the gay Arab men (gay men in
general) that I know. And I know quite a few. I
am able to find a trend in my behavior as I also
recognize the common traits that I find in the
men I am acquainted with. This leads me to
believe that I am different and perhaps they are
In addressing my homosexuality I try to
reconcile many things, namely religion, family,
culture and image. Religion , in my mind, tells
me not to over indulge. It also is a source of
guilt and fear of God. I am Muslim but my friend
tells me that my guilt is a Catholic guilt.
My parents raised me with a set of
expectations that no matter how much I fight and
how compromising my parents get, still is
embedded in me. It is inherent that I must
succeed. It is inherent no matter what my
limitations are. Not to say that my parents will
disown me or hurt me. They are very loving. Too
loving sometimes. By too loving I mean that they
foster dependence to a point that makes me feel
controlled most of the time and safe the rest of
Arab culture as I see it is two tier. One
side is the culture itself which I love and want
and am proud of, the other level is culture in
the context of common society. Arabs are perhaps
the most hypocritical ( in my view ) when it
comes to values. The facade is that of religion
and morality. Behind the closed doors is
everything else. The two main things I pray one
day will happen are that we will become assertive
internationally and protect our rights, the other
is that we will undo the sexism that we are
The last aspect is image. This is personal.
We can blame everyone but we must also look
within. I look at myself honestly and I see a guy
who does not entirely accept himself. This is the
number one hindrance to change. I see myself
being proud and then I see myself being quiet and
complacent. I attribute that to me. I am not
being up to the challenge of being gay. I see
myself wanting a woman and children whenever I am
acquainted with a girl who may be interested in
me in the context of marriage.
As I said I am non-typical or I choose to
feel this way. I try to reconcile heterosexual
values with homosexual life. I go in circles and
I find that it all boils down to me as a person.
I have to be happy. I find what makes me feel
happy, what fulfills me and the rest just falls
In brief, growing up I was a naive and
chronically introverted kid with a lot of
imagination and no support or anyone to share
with. I was never really able to conceive what
sex was in its biological sense until I was in
Canada and was reading a lot. I did not know
about anal sex until I read about it. I never
experimented with other boys. The closest I got
to that was physical play such as wrestling with
How do you know the Earth is not flat until
you are told it is not? When one looks at it, the
Earth looks flat. Similarly society looks
This young man considers himself a non-typical
Arab gay, but another young Arab man pointed out
in a response to him that he was in fact typical:
I am a non-typical gay Arab male you're
wrong. You ARE the typical Gay Arab male. Your
post was very interesting. You reminded me what I
was a few years ago, but also I realized that I
didn't advance so much!. When I go home or when I
am with my family, I am exactly like you.
Homosexual sex is not new. It has been around
in the Arab world for a long time. The problem is
love. "Once you decide to explore your
identity beyond sexual activity, once you decide
to reject your patriarchal role... this is when
you get in trouble," Zakharia says.
In countries such as Lebanon, Palestine,
Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, society is slowly
changing and emulating the West. With their
proximity to Western culture and thought, and
people being exposed to new concepts regarding
gender roles and sexuality, platforms for debate
on homosexuality are opening up.
In Lebanon, society is slowly shifting from a
Patriarchal model to a "nuclear" family
model; this years attempt to introduce
civil marriage is a prime example. Other
post-Colonialist countries in the region are
following, such as Tunis, Zakharia says.