Yasser, a 26-year-old artist, was taking me on an impromptu tour of his hometown of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a sweltering September afternoon.
The air conditioner of his dusty Honda battled the heat, prayer beads dangled from the rearview mirror, and the smell of the cigarette he’d just smoked wafted toward me as he stopped to show me a barbershop that his friends frequent.
One measure of infidelity among couples is the frequency of children secretly conceived with a different partner, leading to "non-paternities".
And in most cities, freelance promoters produce regular "parties" at straight venues as an alternative to the "gay every day" bar scene.
The trend took off in the 1980s, when the community's desire for variety outpaced the supply of gay venues, and accelerated after 2000, when it became easier to publicize events via email.
That night, he starts talking to a girl and they get pretty friendly (he does not know she is a prostitute because he is a country kid, and is kinda stupid).
Eventually, it is decided that they go back to the girl’s place, which they do.
“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.
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.
But if I have a date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.” Notorious for its adherence to Wahhabism, a puritanical strain of Islam, and as the birthplace of most of the 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country that claims sharia, or Islamic law, as its sole legal code.
Yasser is homosexual, or so we would describe him in the West, and the barbershop we visited caters to gay men. Leaving the barbershop, we drove onto Tahlia Street, a broad avenue framed by palm trees, then went past a succession of sleek malls and slowed in front of a glass-and-steel shopping center. Whereas most such establishments have a family section, two of this area’s cafés allow only men; not surprisingly, they are popular among men who prefer one another’s company.
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.
Lesbian party promoters are especially busy: Even in the largest metropolis, lesbians rarely have more than one or two bars to choose from, so it's natural for women to crave new vistas.