The Sunday Times carries a wonderful little piece about living as a Western white gay man in the city of Dubai. The UAE is a country in which homosexuality is illegal, reduced to clandestine activity and knowing glances. Yet, as this piece reminds us, it continues to attract many gay men who live fulfilling lives, and foster gay networks – as in many other Arab nations – despite the law. The piece is (annoyingly) behind the Sunday Times paywall but if you do have access, it can be viewed here. Alex Richardson, the journalist in question summarises the environment below:
‘The gay community here is secretive and close-knit. It’s not as drug-fuelled and bitchy as back in London, though apparently STDs are rife — because these dangers are never advertised, it’s assumed everybody is clean, so people are a bit looser. Unlike in Europe, where you have different groups of gays — the arty ones, the lawyers, the clubbers — here you have just one: the materialistic, body-beautiful type. They are in their twenties or thirties and have come to Dubai for escapism, money or career opportunities.’
Curiously, despite the influx of Westerners – gay and otherwise – into spaces such as Dubai, there doesn’t seem to be the pressure for change in the same way that were the UK government to turn the legal clock back to pre-1967. I’m not sure entirely why this is but I suspect it owes a lot to the mobility of the players involved. Rather than an all engaging homosexuality, the account of homosexuality in Dubai by Richardson matches accounts from others I’ve heard regarding Arab nations – including Egypt and Dubai – in which the affluent and mobile can enjoy a type of homosexuality that other sections of society don’t. Those who are working in Dubai are paid good wages, enjoy an affluent lifestyle and can always pop on the next flight the moment things start getting a bit sticky. As long as this remains, there will be no pressure to change, and the UAE will entrench this situation as the status quo. This, it seems to me, is deeply undesirable.