Saudi Arabia's gay community 1996-1998 : a comparative analysis

Matthew A. Hadlock, School for International Training


If Americans ever think about homosexuality in an international context, they most likely assume that "gays" in other countries are identical to American gays: that they have the same self-concept, the same struggles, the same aspirations, and the same understanding of what it means to be gay. Most would be surprised at the complexity of homosexuality and its variations across cultures, even gay Americans are often perplexed by the riddle of male-male sex in foreign lands. This is also an accurate description of my knowledge, or lack thereof, before I went to Saudi Arabia in September 1996. During my eighteen months in Riyadh teaching English, I became involved with the Saudi gay community and developed a much greater appreciation of its prevalence, diversity and difference from the gay communities in the United States. Being a gay man myself and believing there to be a gay community in some form or another everywhere on earth, I expected to find a gay life in Riyadh but was not expecting it to be as widespread as I subsequently discovered. After befriending both gay Saudi men and gay foreigners living in Riyadh, I attempted to gain a better understanding of gay life in Saudi Arabia and what exactly being gay meant to Saudis. This personal inquiry, while in Saudi Arabia, led me to further research several questions I felt needed to be explored for a better understanding of Saudi Arabia's gay community. How is homosexual behavior characterized in Saudi Arabia? More specifically, what does "being gay" means to Saudis? Why does male-male sex occur in Saudi Arabia? What aspects of life in Saudi Arabia foster male-male sex? In the United States, finding resources on homosexuality in the Middle East or Islamic countries is difficult, needless to say, there is a scarcity of such resources. There are few books which deal with homosexuality and Islam, and none specifically deal with Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, I found two books which specifically focus on Islamic homosexuality and several others which look at varying cultures' perceptions of homosexuality and include a section on Islam or the Arab world.