Like many gay and lesbian teenagers everywhere, he felt isolated.
“I used to have the feeling that I was the queerest in the country,” he recalled.
“If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions.
But if I have a date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.” Notorious for its adherence to Wahhabism, a puritanical strain of Islam, and as the birthplace of most of the 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country that claims sharia, or Islamic law, as its sole legal code.
But as a more Westernized notion of gayness—a notion that stresses orientation over acts—takes hold in the country, will this delicate balance survive?
When Yasser hit puberty, he grew attracted to his male cousins.
“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.
“They’re quite shameless about it.” Talal, a Syrian who moved to Riyadh in 2000, calls the Saudi capital a “gay heaven.” This is surprising enough.
But Yasser wears a silver necklace, a silver bracelet, and a sparkly red stud in his left ear, and his hair is shaggy.
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.
“Women weren’t meant to be with women, and men aren’t supposed to be with men.” This legal and public condemnation notwithstanding, 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.Nor does it strip a man of his masculinity, as long as he is in the “top,” or active, role.