Wie lebt es sich als – in unseren Begriffen – „Schwuler“ in Saudiarabien? Die Journalistin Nadya Labi hat das für einen außergewöhnlichen Artikel in der Zeitschrift The Atlantic etwas genauer recherchiert:

The Kingdom in the Closet

SODOMY IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH IN SAUDI ARABIA, BUT GAY LIFE FLOURISHES THERE. WHY IT IS “EASIER TO BE GAY THAN STRAIGHT” IN A SOCIETY WHERE EVERYONE, HOMOSEXUAL AND OTHERWISE, LIVES IN THE CLOSET

[…] When Yasser hit puberty, he grew attracted to his male cousins. Like many gay and lesbian teenagers everywhere, he felt isolated. “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. Then I find out, it’s a whole society.”

This society thrives just below the surface. During the afternoon, traffic cops patrol outside girls’ schools as classes end, in part to keep boys away. But they exert little control over what goes on inside. A few years ago, a Jeddah-based newspaper ran a story on lesbianism in high schools, reporting that girls were having sex in the bathrooms. 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), told me that one of the department buildings at her college is known as a lesbian enclave. The building has large bathroom stalls, which provide privacy, and walls covered with graffiti offering romantic and religious advice; tips include “she doesn’t really love you no matter what she tells you” and “before you engage in anything with [her] remember: God is watching you.” […]

Gay courting in the kingdom is often overt—in fact, the preferred mode is cruising. “When I was new here, I was worried when six or seven cars would follow me as I walked down the street,” Jamie, a 31-year-old Filipino florist living in Jeddah, told me. “Especially if you’re pretty like me, they won’t stop chasing you.” John Bradley, the author of Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis (2005), says that most male Western expatriates here, gay or not, have been propositioned by Saudi men driving by “at any time of the day or night, quite openly and usually very, very persistently.”

Many gay expatriates say they feel more at home in the kingdom than in their native lands. Jason, a South African educator who has lived in Jeddah since 2002, notes that although South Africa allows gay marriage, “it’s as though there are more gays here.” For Talal, Riyadh became an escape. When he was 17 and living in Damascus, his father walked in on him having sex with a male friend. He hit Talal and grounded him for two months, letting him out of the house only after he swore he was no longer attracted to men. Talal’s pale face flushed crimson as he recalled his shame at disappointing his family. Eager to escape the weight of their expectations, he took a job in Riyadh. When he announced that he would be moving, his father responded, “You know all Saudis like boys, and you are white. Take care.” Talal was pleased to find a measure of truth in his father’s warning—his fair skin made him a hit among the locals.

Marcos, a 41-year-old from the Philippines, was arrested in 1996 for attending a party featuring a drag show. He spent nine months in prison, where he got 200 lashes, before being deported. Still, he opted to return; he loves his work in fashion, which pays decently, and the social opportunities are an added bonus. “Guys romp around and parade in front of you,” he told me. “They will seduce you. It’s up to you how many you want, every day.” […]

[…] Abu Nuwas—a famous eighth-century poet from Baghdad—and his literary successors devoted much ink to the charms of attractive boys. At the turn of the century, Islamic society began to express revulsion at the concept of homosexuality, even if it was confined only to lustful thoughts, and this distaste became more pronounced with the influx of Western media. “Many attitudes with regard to sexual morality that are thought to be identical to Islam owe a lot more to Queen Victoria” than to the Koran, Rowson told me. “People don’t know—or they try to keep it under the carpet—that 200 years ago, highly respected religious scholars in the Middle East were writing poems about beautiful boys.” […]

The gay men I interviewed in Jeddah and Riyadh laughed when I asked them if they worried about being executed. Although they do fear the mutawwa’in [religious police] to some degree, they believe the House of Saud isn’t interested in a widespread hunt of homosexuals. For one thing, such an effort might expose members of the royal family to awkward scrutiny. “If they wanted to arrest all the gay people in Saudi Arabia,” Misfir, my chat-room guide, told me—repeating what he says was a police officer’s comment—“they’d have to put a fence around the whole country.”

The threat of a crackdown always looms, however. In March 2005, the police crashed what they identified as a “gay wedding” in a rented hall near Jeddah; according to some sources, the gathering was only a birthday party. (Similar busts have occurred in Riyadh.) Most of the party goers were reportedly released without having to do jail time, but the arrests rattled the gay community; at the time of my visit, party organizers were sticking to more-intimate gatherings and monitoring guest lists closely.

To be gay in Saudi Arabia is to live a contradiction—to have license without rights, and to enjoy broad tolerance without the most minimal acceptance. The closet is not a choice; it is a rule of survival. […] In the West, we would expect such subterfuge to exact a high psychological cost. But a closet doesn’t feel as lonely when so many others, gay and straight, are in it, too. A double life is the essence of life in the kingdom—everyone has to keep private any deviance from official norms. […]. “Saudis will get stressed about things that wouldn’t cause us to blink,” Dave said. “But having to live a double life, that’s just a normal thing.”

Most of the gay men I interviewed said that gay rights are beside the point. They view the downsides of life in Saudi Arabia—having to cut your hair, or hide your jewelry, or even spend time in prison for going to a party—as minor aggravations. “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.”

Embracing gay identity, generally viewed in the West as the path to fuller rights, could backfire in Saudi Arabia. The idea of being gay, as opposed to simply acting on sexual urges, may bring with it a deeper sense of shame. “When I first came here, people didn’t seem to have guilt. They were sort of ‘I’ll worry about that on Judgment Day,’” Dave said. “Now, with the Internet and Arabia TV, they have some guilt.” The magazine editor in Jeddah says that when he visits his neighbors these days, they look back at their past sexual encounters with other men regretfully, thinking, “What the hell were we doing? It’s disgusting.”

When Radwan arrived in Jeddah, in 1987, after seeing the gay-rights movement in the United States firsthand, he wanted more than the tacit right to quietly do what he chose. “Invisibility gives you the cover to be gay,” he said. “But the bad part of invisibility is that it’s hard to build a public identity and get people to admit there is such a community and then to give you some rights.” He tried to rally the community and encourage basic rights—like the right not to be imprisoned. But the locals took him aside and warned him to keep his mouth shut. They told him, “You’ve got everything a gay person could ever want.”