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The gay life, but not as we know it

Sun 6 Jan 2008 In: True Stories National Library

Michael Stevens I haven't felt so attractive and desirable in years. Walking down the streets of Cairo, Jerusalem or any town here at night I hear young men go past me going "Osshhhh" then giggling and rubbing their crotches. But does it mean they want me? No, and no gay traveler should be taken in by it. Sex seems to be around you everywhere, but it is not the way we do things. The basic rule is that so long as you fuck (are active?) you are still a man, any hole is just a hole. It's if you get fucked (are passive?) that you become queer here. The only way you will really get into gay life in a city like Cairo is if you meet a friendly local who is willing to show you around. There are no gay bars, in our sense of it. You can try the Nile Hilton on a Thursday night, or the sauna in the Marriot, but there you will be mainly meeting hustlers. Internet sites likewise are a happy hunting ground for handsome but poor men, looking to make a buck and a fuck. Luckily I did meet just such a guy, through chatting online for a while. We texted back and forth and agreed to meet, but he clear it was to be "just friends", which was fine with me. I'll call him Mahmoud. As he sat down at the bar with me, the first thing he said was "I have had HIV for 20 years now" which gave me an immediate introduction and a way to compare experiences. Mahmoud is well-educated, and from a well-off background. Multi-lingual, well-travelled and owning his own business, he is not typical of the men who try and grab your attention in the street. HIV is rampant in Africa, and Egypt sits at the top of that continent, so always, think long and hard and take condoms with you. The official figures are low, but as Mahmoud said to me "Everyone is fucking everyone here, boys girls, men, women, it just has to be so much higher. No one really understands the idea of safe sex, no one wants to use condoms. They say 'You look clean to me' and that is how they think" He took me to his favourite bar, a small working mans' bar in an alley downtown that I couldn't find again if I tried. We drank Egyptian brandy and coke and chatted about life, the men who were there, how hot some were, how easily I could pick up… if I had somewhere to go. Face it, if you're not pulling hot and handsome guys at home, how likely is it that you've suddenly turned into the sexiest thing on two legs, despite what they say. And of course, if you don't have any Arabic, and they speak English, you're at an immediate disadvantage. If neither one of you shares a language, then the chances of danger are real. They will all live with their families, and have nowhere to take you, and hotels in this part of the world are generally not happy about you taking guest back... and would you want to, if your money and passport is in your room? The picture in Jerusalem is different.  In central Jerusalem, very near the Old City there is a gay NGO called "Open House" which is well worth checking. They have free net access, coffee and tea and staff who are happy to talk to you and explain just where is hot now in Jerusalem. As with everything in that city, the Palestinian/Israeli issue arises, but they try hard to bridge the gap, and are working at setting up a similar programme on the West Bank. Again, one of the staff I talked to there said that there has been a problem with men claiming to be gay to get refugee status. The Open House holds events nearly every night of the week which are free. Good friendly people, interested in social change for all sorts of queer people, and also in the know as the gay bars seem to move and change rapidly. All the queer people I spoke to there spoke of how much better it is in Tel Aviv for gay life. Jerusalem is the centre of political and religious tension in the country, and the leaders of all three faiths have united in public in a rare show of unity to condemn any form of organized gay life in the city as an insult to God. But if you look around the prosperous areas , full of shops and cafes as you see in London or New York, you see gay couples and singles out and about. Again, it changes sharply when you move to the Palestinain areas, but even there you can find some evidence of subtle gay life around. In short, it's a wonderful part of the world to visit, to explore. The people are welcoming, friendly, curious, and generaly poor in a way we can't imagine in NZ. Want to try living on NZ$100 a month? Then don't be surprised at their constant need for cash. Take care, and always ask yourself: "Do I need another random orgasm in my life?" before you follow some hot stud down a back alley. (Michael Stevens is an Auckland University PhD researcher and past chair of the NZ AIDS Foundation.)     Michael Stevens - 6th January 2008

Credit: Michael Stevens

First published: Sunday, 6th January 2008 - 3:32pm

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