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Yasser looked behind him to see if he could reverse the car, but had no choice except to proceed. “It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here,” he had said.
“If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions.
Yasser gestured to a parking lot across from the shopping center, explaining that after midnight it would be “full of men picking up men.” These days, he said, “you see gay people everywhere.” Yasser turned onto a side street, then braked suddenly. He wasn’t worried about the gay-themed nature of his tour—he didn’t want to be caught alone with a woman.
“Oh shit, it’s a checkpoint,” he said, inclining his head toward some traffic cops in brown uniforms. I rummaged through my purse, realizing that I’d left my passport in the hotel for safekeeping. As he resumed his narration, I recalled something he had told me earlier.
If they catch a boy and a girl on a date, they might haul the couple to the police station.
They make sure that single men steer clear of the malls, which are family-only zones for the most part, unless they are with a female relative.
For many Saudis, the fact that a man has sex with another man has little to do with “gayness.” The act may fulfill a desire or a need, but it doesn’t constitute an identity.
During the afternoon, traffic cops patrol outside girls’ schools as classes end, in part to keep boys away.
“I used to have the feeling that I was the queerest in the country,” he recalled.
“But then I went to high school and discovered there are others like me.
They meet in schools, in cafés, in the streets, and on the Internet.
“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.