Gay Travels in the Muslim World – Page Two
By Kylie Jelley
KJ: You talked about how when male journalists enter war zones they turn super macho, could you elaborate more on this?
ML: I have had experiences where many gung-ho male journalists don’t understand why a gay man is in a war zone. Remember that many of our most famous writers, such as Hemingway, were war correspondents. They did this to prove how macho they were. The same thing exists today.
I won’t say all male journalists in war zones are like this, but I do get a sense sometimes, when asking for advice on locations, that this is the case, if I am speaking from the perspective of an openly gay man.
However, in all Muslim countries, the best journalists are actually Western women who can meld the worlds of male and female. I never have experienced such hostility from female journalists in these zones.
Ironically, war zones are relatively gay spaces. For the same reasons that gay men are considered to be perfect travelers – no children and often no partner – you find war zones have a disproportionate amount of gay men and sometimes lesbians in them – no children, no partner, and the ease of travel in the last minute to work as correspondents, diplomats, relief workers, and of course, the military itself. Married people with children can’t do that.
Homosexuality is not a problem itself until it becomes political, then ugly clashes form.
KJ: What types of examples are there of political hostility towards homosexuals in the Muslim world? In your book you mention the Cairo 52 and a teenager in Dubai who was raped by three men and was accused of being gay. Could you expand on those?
ML: Remember that in most Muslim countries, to do is not to be. So behavior is not equated with identity as it is in the West. This is meant as a broad generalization. However, the issue is when it becomes too visible, and too much like gay Western society; and this was the case with the Cairo 52.
Also, the government of Mubarak, though called a President, is actually a dictatorship. With their economy spiraling out of control, Muslim insurgency and conservatism was on the rise. Mubarak needed a distraction and a chance to increase his “Muslim credibility” so to speak.
The easiest target was gay men. There is also mixed in all of this the fact that his own son was rumored to be gay, and would have been the new president when he steps down, so the attacks on gays were also a way of saying, don’t call my son gay. So it is very complicated.
Still, on a day-to-day basis, without calling the behavior gay, sex between men is not uncommon in Egypt.
The Dubai story is much more complicated. Essentially, by stating that he had been raped, the courts in Dubai were claiming the French teenager was gay and asking to be raped. It’s a really ugly situation.
The irony is that Dubai would like to think of itself as a modern place, but tall buildings don’t make a place modern. And as well, with even more irony, Emirates Airlines has done some gay marketing in the United States, but clearly, culturally, more work needs to be done on society and the laws there.
Again, still, it’s a clash of culture. Seemingly in the mind of Dubai, just because these men raped the teenager doesn’t mean they are gay.
KJ: Would you say that all travelers, despite their orientation, are treated equally in the Muslim world?
ML: I would not say all travelers are equally treated in the Muslim world, which again is a broad term. However, I will say a few things. Hospitality is one of the most important tenets of the society.
You will be welcomed by strangers, offered food, tea, things that would never be done in a Western country.
Remember that Islam was born in the desert and only by offering help to others can a society continue in these harsh circumstances.
Yes, Judaism and Christianity were also born in the desert, and in fact, all three religions are essentially the same. Yet Christianity and Judaism don’t have the same hospitality, loosened from their desert beginnings since they re-anchored as European religions.
So there is a tremendous feeling that one is a guest in these places, and people want you to feel welcome. At the same time, you’re a stranger and need to understand the rules.
I have met women who said they were treated badly but they ran around in bikinis in conservative Muslim countries. I mean, c’mon! You broke a rule.
Men I know refuse to abide by gender rules as well, talking to women or crossing certain boundaries, or being disrespectful to religion. Of course, this will be received in anger.
Even discussions of homosexuality can occur within the context of the culture. Would you not be a little upset by someone breaking rules in this country? So it is the same there.
Because women have an entirely different role than men in the Muslim world, how do you think a lesbian woman would be accepted? Would it be more dangerous for her?
It’s hard to comment on this as a man, but in general, because women overall have far less power than men, lesbians are basically ignored and invisible. I suppose that has good and bad sides obviously.
Even the Koran does not prohibit lesbianism, depending on your interpretation, as harshly as male sexual behavior. We know this from our own culture as well. Women are not fully equal in the West, and lesbianism has never been as threatening to the culture.
Remember, even in the Victorian era, male homosexuality was the bad behavior, but lesbianism was ignored in the law. When women don’t exist, their behavior can’t be made illegal.
KJ: When are you planning to return, for either business or luxury travel?
ML: I have a lot on my plate, but hope to return early next year. It is very possible that Gay Travels in the Muslim World will soon be in Arabic, and then I will do some Middle Eastern tours and trips for the book. That should be amazing!
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Kylie Jelley is a Journalism Major at the University of Massachusetts and an intern at GoNOMAD.
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