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Against a backdrop of ancient deserts and the ultimate clash of civilizations, the image of the secret life of oppressed gays and lesbians plays into every one of our favorite stereotypes, both about the LGBT community in general and about the Middle East. Let me try to paint a more realistic picture.

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Nano, is what my family nicknamed me because I was the youngest grandchild for a while and the shortest. This is a story about how I lived through an abusive father, sexual assault, war, divorce, suicide attempt and becoming a refugee in South Africa. It took a lot of courage to share my story with you and my intention is to firstly raise awareness on what is happening in the Arab queer community and secondly to perhaps help QPOC overcome the struggles that we face throughout our lives. Rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are all topics we avoid talking about. Most of us who went through it have a hard time opening up about it.

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He lives in Mecca, the holiest city according to Islam, and is acutely aware of the stigma that surrounds his gay lifestyle. But I know that I'm gay and I'm living as one, so I can't see a clear vision for the future.

The real story of the gay middle east

Samir, like many gay men in the Arab worldguards his sexual orientation with a paranoid secrecy. To feel free he takes long vacations to Thailand, where he has a boyfriend, and spends weekends in Lebanonwhich he regards as having a more gay-tolerant society. But at home in Saudi Arabiahe is vigilant. Samir's parents don't know of his lifestyle.

He says his mom would kill herself if she found out.

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They constantly set him up with women they consider potential wives. At work, Samir watches his words, careful not to arouse the suspicion of colleagues.

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Samir occasionally goes to Saudi cafes known to be popular gay hangouts, but his public engagements stop there. He and his friends are constantly wary of officers from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vicethe kingdom's religious police, who patrol for and punish men they suspect of being gay. Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabiabut the charge calls for four witnesses to make a case.

Arrests by the religious police are far more arbitrary. In a recent case they apprehended one man at a Jeddah shopping mall, suspecting he was gay from his Gay arab stories jeans and fitted shirt. In Saudi Arabia, where men and women are strictly separated, there is some space for gay life. Gay men can go cruising -- a term for picking up partners -- and socialize in male-only sections of cafes and restaurants. In line with sex-segregated social norms, gay lovers can often spend intimate time together without arousing suspicion.

But gays and lesbians in Saudi Arabia still need to accommodate the pressures of public life, in some cases pairing off to accommodate a freer lifestyle. It's the perfect solution," says Samir, adding that he wouldn't mind a lesbian wife of his own. For Samir, the dozens of emerging Web forums for gay Arab men are a freer alternative to the offline Saudi society. I met him in one such forum, called Arab Gay Love, e-cruising for new friends and partners. Some of the users there surf with screen names that specify their sexual role: "top" or "bottom.

Web forums like arab-gay. Using proxy servers men can get around the bans to the blocked sites, connecting with potential dates and building a knowledge base for gay life in the Arab world. One blog from Syria, largely considered a repressed society, details a tourist's guide to gay hangouts in Damascus and Aleppo.

There are four hammams in Damascus where you Gay arab stories play safely, but always be careful," he writes, then listing the most popular "hammams," or bath houses. He goes on to name the Safwan Hotel in Lattakia as "the most famous gay-friendly hotel in the region. From his home in Mecca, Samir can surf the web forums and Facebook groups that connect him to the gay Arab world. But he does so with care, fearing that authorities will follow and flag gay activity online.

If they have their eye on you, they can follow your every move," he says. If Samir's approach seems paranoid, it's conditioned by horror stories of harsh crackdowns by Arab governments on gay life.

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In Egypt, where police have systematically arrested and tortured suspected homosexuals, vice squ have logged on to chat rooms posing as gay men. Forming friendships under a false identity, the police set up an expected first date, then meet their "suspects" with a brutal arrest. I was dragged, almost carried to the police car The vice squad's practice of covertly hunting gay men in chat rooms cooled once the teeming gay Internet scene in Egypt slowed down. Fear and suspicion effectively shut down one of gay Egypt's few free outlets. At one point online entrapment was yielding one arrest per week, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Web was part of a greater crackdown in Egypt, a country that was once a liberal environment for homosexuals.

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Government-led assaults on homosexuals intensified in The pivot point was a mass arrest known as the "Queen Boat" incident. In the early morning hours of May 11,police raided a floating nightclub called the Queen Boat, Gay arab stories then-popular gay hangout moored on the Nile River.

Suddenly surrounded by uniformed and undercover members of the Cairo Vice Squad, dozens of gay men were arrested, detained and tortured. What ensued from the Queen Boat arrests was a show trial -- forced confessions, some extracted under torture and a media circus deed to amplify public fear and maximize the government's political gain from the arrest.

Though Egypt claims to have no law against homosexuality, it routinely criminalizes and prosecutes gay men under a law prohibiting "juhur," or debauchery, a charge originally levied for prostitution. In the heat of the case, one article in the state-owned Al-Gomhoureya newspaper gave full names and identifying details of the accused, depicting the arrested homosexuals as part of an underground religious cult.

Analysts point out a of ways the Egyptian government gains from crackdowns like the Queen Boat raid. News s full of homophobic rants are a useful distraction from issues like a faltering economy and rampant corruption, which erode government support. In the same stroke, the state gains ground against its Islamist opponents by attacking homosexuals -- trumped-up offenders against Muslim values.

Saudi gay scene: 'forbidden, but i can't help it'

Hardly anyone is going to stand up and stick up for homosexuals," he said. Long applies his analysis to other governments in the region. Inauthorities in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, arrested more than two dozen men in the desert town of Ghantout at an event state officials characterized as a mass gay wedding.

The UAE announced the men would receive lashings, jail time and forced hormone and psychological treatment. The case was eventually overturned on appeal, after news of the trial drew criticism from human rights activists and the U. State Department. The U. In attacks that accelerated last February, Shiite militiamen have carried out a series of beatings and assassinations of gay men, occasionally with the help of the Interior Ministry, according to Scott Long of Human Rights Watch.

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Al Qaeda in Iraq, a rival Islamist group, has also reportedly attacked gay men in Iraq, in what human rights activists call a clear moral cleansing campaign. The recent spate of attacks followed a succession of sermons in Iraqi mosques, attacking the scourge of homosexuality.

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As in the case of Egyptian arrests, suspected homosexuals were detained, tortured, and forced to give names of other gay men for authorities to pursue. People turn off their phones, change their e-mail addresses, and stay home. Outside the spaces of hostile discrimination, homosexuals in the Middle East do manage to form a community and enjoy a freer lifestyle.

Israel, perhaps the most tolerant state in the Middle East, has a thriving gay community. Last year thousands attended the annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, though the event has drawn right-wing protests and attacks. A similar parade in Jerusalem, a more socially conservative environment, took place with police protection along the parade route. Up the coast in Lebanon, a relatively liberal Arab society plays host to the first gay rights group in the Arab world.

In a country that moves back and forth between secularism and Gay arab stories politics, the group and its gay community center are creating a space for their freedom. In other parts of the Arab world gay life has to fit into whatever space is provided, and the borders are constantly moving. In Dubai, arguably the most modern city in Arabia, gay expats have little trouble living and loving freely. Rashid, a young Lebanese expat who lives with his partner in Dubai, knows he has it better than most.

Unlike many gays in the Gulf, Rashid has come out to his parents, and felt comfortable meeting men and dating as he grew up in Abu Dhabi.

Last we heard he was deported, he can no longer come back to the UAE, and lives in France. The mix of tolerance and discrimination across the Middle East creates little opportunity for a cohesive gay rights movement. Moreover, the local take on homosexuality is out of line with the Western norm, a notion of being gay as a recognized minority group. In other words, being gay is an act, not an identity. When gay pride does emerge, it is associated with the West, and an invading cultural colonialism.

The pushback on any budding gay rights movements will likely continue, part of ongoing discrimination against homosexuals in the Middle East. There, gays will continue their negotiated lifestyle, knowing that they live and love under scrutiny. We'll notify you here with news about. Turn on desktop notifications for breaking stories about interest? Comments 0. Top Stories. Ex-Alitalia flight attendants strip off uniforms in protest Oct 20, AM. Ex-surgeon admits to Gay arab stories wife's body out of plane 35 years after killing her Oct 21, AM.