Living While Gay (LWG) in the Middle East is a constant struggle. A balance of giant sacrifices and tiny freedoms.
Every country is different. Different laws, different cultural norms. Different attitudes. In five countries, homosexuality is not illegal. In others, it’s punishable by death. In still others, the state (or religious) secret police hunt you down, sometimes by trying to lure you into a situation where you can be arrested.
Apps like Grindr and Growlr are a salvation and a source of constant frustration. It’s a lifeline, but some are so desperate that they cling too tight to the profile pics and the little beeps.
In Kuwait City, at least, gay men and women can live a little easier. Is homosexuality legal in Kuwait? No. But the way society is set up, you can work the system a bit. Diwaniya helps. Diwaniya is the social and cultural construct and practice of men spending long, long hours together, at night. Sometimes – oftentimes – Diwaniya lasts all night. It’s a huge part of Kuwaiti life, and it’s easy to spend Diwaniya with a man. No one bats an eye.
All men are very physically affectionate in Kuwait. They hold hands walking down the street, in the mall, and kiss each others’ cheeks.
Likewise, the social segregation of men and women almost protects both gay men and lesbian women. For the gay man, he is looked at as a good man; he is not trying to be improper with a woman. Likewise, lesbians are able to spend their time with their girlfriends, and no one cares or thinks anything is going on. In Kuwait, women are expected to be soul mates with their best girl friends.
It’s easy to live an undercover gay life in Kuwait City – at least for expats. Jordanians, Gulf Arabs, Iraqis, Palestinians, anyone who wants to get away from home, and from their families’ endless questions. The home countries’ pressure to conform to societal roles. To get married. To have children. As expats, there’s a quiet ignorance, a blind eye that gives the expat a pass. Kuwaitis will pressure their own to marry their own. The expats are left alone. They’re not truly a part of the society.
But, for the expats, you’re far from home. You run from your family to be free, and you constantly miss them. You’re adrift, cut off from your family in a place where “family” is traced back for hundreds of years, and you’re defined by who you came from. It’s a lonely life, and even though gay expats in Kuwait make new families and find each other, there is still a ringing phone and a lingering ache connecting you to your past and to your closet.
Can you hold your man’s hand in public? Spend the night with him, live with him even, and not worry? Can you live – not out, but not in – and not have to constantly turn away questions about marriage and fight off a life you don’t want?
But the freedoms gained come with sacrifices.
Living While Gay in the Middle East comes with constant struggles.
In the future, I will be writing a novel about Living While Gay in the Middle East. The hiding. The struggle. The fear, and the religious extremism and terrorists slaughtering gay men and women in so many countries. The impossible choices. Living day by day.
And, finding love in the midst of everything. Even when you think it’s impossible.
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