At a time when bisexual people in the West complain about being the invisible members of the LGBT family, the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia may have unwittingly made that country one of the bisexual capitals of the world.
Not that anyone there would openly admit to be a bisexual person now, just as few would admit to being gay.
But one thing is certain: there are a lot of men — and perhaps women, too — engaging in same-sex activities in Saudi Arabia.
According to an International Business Times report on June 25, in which the country reminds the world it won’t be flying the rainbow flag anytime soon, “Saudi Arabia is home to a large gay population that lives relatively under the radar and usually goes unbothered, as long as members of the community maintain a public persona that fits with Islamic law.
“Some have even called the Saudi capital ‘gay heaven’ because of the prevalence of gay men who live there,” the report says, pointing to an often-cited 2007 article in The Atlantic called The Kingdom in the Closet.
No doubt, there are gay people in Saudi Arabia, just as there are everywhere else (hello, Iran). But, as the Atlantic article points out, not all men having sex with men consider themselves to be gay.
Says the article: “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.”
Indeed, for many it is simply about sexual need in a country where it is next to impossible for a single guy to have sex with a woman.
Says a man interviewed in the Atlantic piece: “Some Saudi (men) can’t have sex with women, so they have sex with guys. When the sexes are so strictly segregated” — men are allowed little contact with women outside their families, in order to protect women’s purity — “how do they have a chance to have sex with a woman and not get into trouble?” (Another man ) explains that many … are simply hard up for sex, looking to break their abstinence in whatever way they can.”
I bet few of these men even see their same-sex acts as “homosexuality.” Says another person in the article: “They’re not really homosexual. They’re like cellmates in prison.”
In other words, their acts have nothing to do with love or the passion that comes with it: it is simply about relieving the pressure, and perhaps that is why Saudi authorities turn a blind eye to that sort of encounter, which is quite commonplace, the Atlantic says.
“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.”
Still, Saudi Arabian officials do feel the need to “crack down on gays” every once in a while, ever mindful of keeping up appearances to the outside world (hello, ISIS). Witness the recent raids on what are being trumpeted as “gay parties,” in which several people were arrested on suspicion of homosexual activities and, shudders, possession of illegal alcohol and hashish, according to another International Business Times report.
Ah, such tangled sexual webs the Saudi regime weaves — though, in this case, in its bid to be repressive, it may have turned on many of its citizens to the joys of being “erotically attracted to both sexes,” as my dictionary defines the word “bisexual.” (Not that bisexual people can’t love each other, too. Of course they can, which I can say with confidence because I am a bisexual person.)
Some day, the rainbow flag will fly over Saudi Arabia. When it does, many men, and perhaps women, too, will stand up and say: “I am bi, and proud!”
— Jillian Page, LGBT Perspectives editor
“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey