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Th Kingdom in the Closet
January 9, 2011 5:12 PM   Subscribe

Even though it's punishable by death, homosexuality thrives in Saudi Arabia.
posted by reenum (39 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
well, the penis is mightier than the sword.
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's similar to a gay life in Salt Lake City. People are made stronger by sharing a common thing they aren't allowed to do, and those who do whatever it is that is less common (or banned) are brought together in a way you don't see outside of those situations.
posted by msbutah at 5:30 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


But what seems more startling, at least from a Western perspective, is that some of the men having sex with other men don’t consider themselves gay.

Not really. I mean, we have a name for it.
posted by desjardins at 5:32 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


What is the incidence of HIV in Saudi society?
posted by symbioid at 5:32 PM on January 9, 2011


Low, of course.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:37 PM on January 9, 2011


Perhaps irrelevant:

Some mutawwa'in even bear marks of their devotion on their faces; they bow to God so adamantly that pressing their foreheads against the ground leaves a visible dent.

I don't know if this is particularly correlated with the mutawwa'in. I have never been to Saudi Arabia but this mark is common in some Muslim countries.
posted by Morrigan at 5:53 PM on January 9, 2011


“When I see a gay parade [in trips to the West], it’s too much of a masquerade for attention,” Zahar said. “You don’t need that. Women’s rights, gay rights—why? Get your rights without being too loud.”

I don't really understand that attitude.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 5:53 PM on January 9, 2011


desjardins, homosexuality in the Middle East (and really non-Western countries) is very diffferent than homosexuality in the West. In the West, it's a definitive identity and culture. In the Middle East, it's more of a behavior. For hundreds, thousands of years it was incredibly common for men to have sex with other men and have sex with women and have a family. And you weren't a "homosexual," sex with men was just part of the normal, healthy, extra-family sex life. In fact, it was in some ways preferable for unmarried men (or married men) to have sex with male prostitutes over female ones, as it wouldn't pollute the female.

If you really want your mind blown, consider that some male prostitutes would dress as women, be considered women, the men who had sex with them would be seen as having sex with women--but as soon as the male prostitutes married a female they would be seen as men again.

It is tremendously weird for many people in non-Western cultures to find themselves pinned to these labels of "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" as Westerners perceive them.
posted by schroedinger at 6:00 PM on January 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


The misogyny of it becomes so obvious when being a "bottom" is the sinful part. That's obviously a powerful element of homophobia in the western world as well, but it isn't quite so blatant.

But it's really good to see alternate interpretations of homosexual activity and desire. I think the western world is a bit too invested in the identity politics of it, so invested that it really only sees outliers as part of any kind of spectrum. It causes so much internal turmoil when you have to decide if you're "that kind" of person or not; only the people who are so much "that kind" actually accept the mantle of the label, after all. Human sexuality is so much more complex than our simplistic Y/N structure suggests.

I presume that even the very straightest and very gayest among us probably have exceptions to the rule, and that that would become apparent if there were no identity or social consequences to admitting it or expressing it. The universe in which this is true makes a lot more sense to me than one where you're biologically completely (utterly, absolutely) gay or completely (utterly, absolutely) straight. I just can't imagine that such a bizarre and specific gene exists.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:04 PM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


> I don't know if this is particularly correlated with the mutawwa'in. I have never been to Saudi Arabia but this mark is common in some Muslim countries.

It's also kind of an open secret among people that this mark is often deliberately inflicted to appear pious, and desiring one stems from an overly literal interpretation of Quranic verse. It takes some serious grinding and rubbing (yes yes, make a joke based on the topic) to actually get a bruise like that, and it simply won't happen from making the usual prostrations required, even if one is praying on a hard surface and/or doing supererogatory prayers.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:17 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


OT: There can be a lot of prostrating in Buddhism too, I wonder if a similar mark is common? I doubt the same social pressure exists, though.
posted by desjardins at 6:20 PM on January 9, 2011


I've been to Saudi Arabia. It's like P-Town on any given summer weekend.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:21 PM on January 9, 2011


Some mutawwa'in even bear marks of their devotion on their faces; they bow to God so adamantly that pressing their foreheads against the ground leaves a visible dent.

Often these marks are more prominent on Shia Muslims who are actually discriminated against to some degree in Saudi.
posted by atrazine at 6:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the reason it's more common for the Shia is that they lower their forehead to a clay tablet from Karbala rather than to their prayer rug which is usually placed on a carpeted mosque floor as the Sunni do.
posted by atrazine at 6:25 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Oh, and the reason it's more common for the Shia is that they lower their forehead to a clay tablet from Karbala

Even then, I personally know several Shia who do lots of extra prayer, and their foreheads don't have any marks. There simply isn't enough pressure to cause it unless one is forcing it. Anyway, sorry for the derail (and the implications of false piety that it implies).
posted by Burhanistan at 6:28 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The misogyny of it becomes so obvious when being a "bottom" is the sinful part.

Statistically, there are two-to-three times as many men in the US who use a woman as the "bottom" as use a man. Probably more, if you parse the survey results more carefully.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:42 PM on January 9, 2011


This post is useless without pictures.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:43 PM on January 9, 2011


I at one point knew many very serious Muslims who never missed their prayers both Sunni and Shia, and not one had this bump.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:45 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


And on the whole thing of people going through a stage of homosexual behavior, if the consequences are 1. Getting pregnant, and risking death or 2. Getting some girl pregnant and this resulting in her getting killed, because that sometimes does happen, obviously the safer alternative is to be with one's own gender until marriage.
I am pretty sure in Medieval Europe this same reasoning was applied despite what the Church felt. In a society with very few whores, and a riseing age for marriage, and few opportunities ti be with the opposte sex, it is pretty much to be expected. Given that homosexual behavior is viewed as a stage sort of takes away stigma. This was a very interesting article. I guess as long as no one gets exploited the way these things happen in Afghanistan it is not so terrible.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:54 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's more like a callus and while perhaps some people are spending more time or effort in contact with the carpet in the hope of getting one, that isn't really indistinguishable from piety anyway: they're still putting their time in on the mat. I highly doubt anybody is rubbing sandpaper on their foreheads outside of prayer to cultivate the look. Why doesn't everyone get one? Rumi once said there are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
posted by BinGregory at 7:57 PM on January 9, 2011


If you are praying 17 rakaat a day, all five prayers, a serious muslim in anyone's book, you are still performing only a small fraction of the total prostrations available to the dedicated believer. Just the available sunnah prayer cycles before and after the mandatory 17 are in the upper 20's, add to that the more esoteric prostrations like dhuhah, tasbih, awabin, tahajjud, entering the mosque, taking ablution etc and the dedicated worshipper could easily perform 100 rakaat a day. Rare indeed are the muslims who do, about as rare as the callused forehead I'd say, give or take.
posted by BinGregory at 8:05 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Egypt too.
posted by bardic at 8:09 PM on January 9, 2011


I'm disappointed the article doesn't say much at all about lesbians, although it's supposed to be about homosexuality in general.

I would imagine that it's both easier and more difficult to be a lesbian in the Middle East-- easier because it's viewed as less of a threat but more difficult because it's probably harder to pick up/meet other lesbians.

I'm curious to know whether attitudes toward female homosexuality (or behavior) in the Middle East are perceived in the same way as male homosexuality, or if there's a totally different dynamic.
posted by adso at 8:27 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


my dad took many photos of hands hanging from a clothes line in Ras Tanura, Sandy Arabia in the early 1950's, only one photo of a severed head hanging from the same clothes line. my brother Tom has the original photos and soon we may place them for viewing on the internet, surprising the clear black and white photos are viewed not in bad taste!
posted by tustinrick at 8:28 PM on January 9, 2011


schroedinger It is tremendously weird for many people in non-Western cultures to find themselves pinned to these labels of "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" as Westerners perceive them.

It was and still is tremendously weird for many men now classed as gay in Western cultures, who were born before 1930 or so; these men are now old, but were no longer young even before the Sexual Revolution. The level of importance of sexuality and gender in formation of personal identity is a cultural choice, the aggregate of personal choices, and the choices our own culture(s) have made in that regard are not natural law, nor are they fixed forever.

I think there is a stereotypical presumption in Western culture that the wife (and mother of the children) of a man who occasionally has sex with other men, is hard done by, and that both he and she and their children are better off had this marriage never existed. I'm not so sure that this is universally the case. Of course, it's difficult to separate this out from the lower social status of women, and even lower social status of unmarried and unmarriageable men, in such cultures. A spouse is far more than a sex partner, and I am not sure of the wisdom of our culture in choosing our spouses mostly on that basis.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem isn't just gay rights per se: if close interaction between two men became more "suspicious" - one doesn't routinely see two heterosexual men walking down the street holding hands or kissing one another on both cheeks as a greeting in the West, for example - then one would expect male-female interaction to become less "suspicious" because Saudi men probably can't carry on where every interaction with everyone else could be a sexual relationship.

I.e. I don't think any meaningful change in the way male-male relationships are viewed can occur without a similar change in the way male-female relationships are tolerated.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:17 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm disappointed the article doesn't say much at all about lesbians, although it's supposed to be about homosexuality in general.

I think that was because lesbians were so hard to find:

Yasmin, a 21-year-old student in Riyadh who’d had a brief sexual relationship with a girlfriend (and was the only Saudi woman who’d had a lesbian relationship who was willing to speak with me for this story)
posted by litleozy at 1:23 AM on January 10, 2011


Apes like to fuck. This doesn't change based up on type of ape or culture.
posted by tarvuz at 2:41 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The attitude of religion towards sexuality is such a beautiful thing.
posted by Summer at 5:16 AM on January 10, 2011


paradise found
posted by halekon at 5:39 AM on January 10, 2011


Sounds like Colorado Springs to me. Amirite Ted?
posted by PenDevil at 6:14 AM on January 10, 2011


I'm curious to know whether attitudes toward female homosexuality (or behavior) in the Middle East are perceived in the same way as male homosexuality, or if there's a totally different dynamic.

I recently wrote a paper that involved homosexuality in Middle Eastern/Islamic cultures, and in the end it was mostly about male-male homosexuality because the information is just not there about female-female relationships. In a number of the research papers I read the authors actually bemoaned the lack of information, historic or current, on lesbian relationships. There does not seem to be as much documentation on the subject nor do women who've had or are having the experience seem as willing to discuss it.
posted by schroedinger at 6:52 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know that Persian culture and Arab culture are hardly one in the same. But here goes, anyway.

For a term, I taught at a school that had a lot of Iranian boys, mostly in the states in order for their wealthy families to keep them out of the Shah's army. These guys were a handful. They never associated with the other (mostly liberal domestic and foreign) students, and never went on any field trips.

There was a clear pecking order, and it was pretty clear (not blatant but not totally covert) that the older more powerful boys got to have sex with the younger boys. Subsequently, I found through lots of conversations with folks that this was not an uncommon feature middle eastern adolescent male life.
posted by Danf at 7:55 AM on January 10, 2011


topical Freudian puns aside, the phrase remains "one and the same."
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 8:20 AM on January 10, 2011




topical Freudian puns aside, the phrase remains "one and the same."

Sir, I have a Bachelor's Degree in English, yet you still have the temerity to challenge me?

Pixels at dawn, I say!
posted by Danf at 8:32 AM on January 10, 2011


As others here have said, gay identity is very much a western cultural construct rather than a fact of biology or nature. Or as Gore Vidal put it, homosexual is an adjective, not a noun. The U.S., in particular, wants to force people to choose to be EITHER gay OR straight despite the evidence that the majority of people are more fluid in their behaviour than that. This construct also obliges many people in the west to think of sexuality as the core of their identity instead of merely one aspect of their humanity. Fortunately (and more realistically) that is not the case in other parts of the world, though they seem to be rapidly following the American example.
posted by binturong at 8:54 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


> The U.S., in particular, wants to force people to choose to be EITHER gay OR straight despite the evidence that the majority of people are more fluid in their behaviour than that.

Majority? Cite please.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:17 AM on January 10, 2011


For anyone interested in further reading: In the essay Globalizing Homophobia you can find a short historical outline of perceptions on male-male sexuality in islamic countries, and the recent changes with the cultural identity of "homosexuality" gaining influence in many non-western societies.
posted by ts;dr at 9:23 AM on January 10, 2011


Majority? Cite please.

Kinsey's Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. He studied the subject as a zoologist and developed a sliding scale of preference to reflect his findings.

"[A] CONSIDERABLE PORTION OF THE population, perhaps the major portion of the male population, has at least some homosexual experience between adolescence and old age. In addition, about 60 per cent of the pre-adolescent boys engage in homosexual activities, and there is an additional group of adult males who avoid overt contacts but who are quite aware of their potentialities for reacting to other males."
posted by binturong at 9:46 AM on January 10, 2011


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