(Updated January 2017)
Information and insight about LGBT life in Oman is neither plentiful nor scarce. GlobalGayz has not yet been to Oman so we have been researching the internet for some inside ideas and experiences. What is noticeable is that the lengthier commentaries posted online come from expats who live or have lived in Oman for several years. This is understandable since few Omani LGBT people–none really–are willing to be public about their love life or gender of desire. Expats, on the other hand, risk little in disclosing their sexual identity since the West is far more accepting of ‘lifestyle variations’. The worst that can happen is to be deported from Oman, unless a crime has been committed.
Two important observations can be made about being homosexual in Oman. One is that homosexuality is forbidden with potential imprisonment as a consequence. Second, anti-gay laws are almost never enforced unless there are circumstances that draw police attention such as rape, violence, under-age abuse, drugs or gross violation of Muslim social norms.
Homosexuality is quietly acknowledged in the Omani culture, unlike some Middle East countries that try to deny its existence. Despite being a conservative and religious country Oman does not demonize gay people as a western threat to the order of life. There is a calm tolerance (ignorance? indifference?) of LGBT life as long as it is not seen to offend public sensibility with displays of affection. But discerning such affection is ambiguous and unclear since public fondness is part of the public ethos: men and women greet each other with hugs and kisses to both cheeks.
Among native men and Asian expats from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc., holding hands is not unusual, which blurs the line between friendship and emotional desire as far as public visibility is concerned. Only the hand-holders know the nature of their relationship but there is an unspoken acceptable threshold limit that is well understood and well observed in public discourse.
Since the genders in Muslim cultures tend to be separated it is common to see men with men and women with women, unless they are married. So it not surprising if two men check into a hotel together in Oman; most often they are of the same nationality and appear similar. But even if a Western man has an Arab companion it is unlikely anything will be perceived as amiss. An older man bringing a young ‘new friend’ up to his room will not raise eyebrows (well, not much) if they act in a dignified manner.
The reason for such tolerance–if it can be called that–can be sourced, in this writer’s mind, to the attitude of the leading authorities in Oman. The country is a sultanate ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who is modern in his thinking, progressive in his rule and open-minded in his attitude. This is reflected most obviously in the relative harmony in the country between different religious faiths and sects of Muslim belief. Most Omanis are of the Ibadi Muslim variety, a sub-sect of Islam, and are thus somewhat distinct from mainstream Islam. This makes for a unique cultural and religious climate in Oman with about a fourth of Omanis being Sunni Muslims.
It is a highly religious country and is welcoming and understanding of others’ beliefs. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, most restaurants are closed during the day and shops have limited hours. During the evenings, after the breaking of the fast, shops, restaurants and general nightlife stay open till very late.
The sultan’s attitudes are also reflected, silently, in the ease with which LGBT Omani live their lives. They do not live in fear of witch-hunts or death squads or wandering vigilante purists who, as in Iraq, have been known to torture and kill gays or suspected gays on the spot. There are internet rumors that the sultan may have a ‘fluid sexuality’ but there is no proof of this and it is a serious offense to impute such gossip against the purity of His Majesty.
Meanwhile, in the streets or rather in private, if there is a desire to meet Omani men for pleasure, one Brit expat said, “there are plenty of them who are up for a bit of fun. Most can be found on the various hook up websites such as Manjam.com.” The internet has become the meat rack of the computer age as well as a valuable date-mate venue.
That said, however, very few Omani men would describe themselves as being gay in the Western sense of the definition. For them homosexuality is mainly focused around sex. an action. Indeed, there are many men who desire same-sex satisfaction–for various reasons including lack of access to women–and do not see it as homosexuality but rather just as a momentary pleasure. This contrasts with homosexual as an identity, said one man: “being gay is an experience or a confession that goes beyond getting off. It’s who I ‘am’, or rather part of who I am as a whole person. There is emotion and depth to my sexuality.”
Also, noted another gay man, “because it is such a taboo subject, nobody knows much about sexual health so you need to be very careful. There is an HIV AIDS problem in many middle eastern countries.”
Interview About Homosexuality in Oman
Being Gay in Oman
Exclusive Interview (plus comments) with An English Gentleman, and advice for visitors
Muscat Confidential: Thank you for taking the time to share with my readers what it’s like to be living a gay lifestyle in The Sultanate of Oman. There’s not really a lot of information out there.
The English Gentleman: Thanks for asking me about the experience of being a gay foreigner in Oman. I’m happy to pass on what I know, both for others thinking of living here and for those considering a visit. I should preface what follows by saying I’m talking entirely about men (I’m sure there are Omani lesbians, but I don’t have enough experience to talk with any knowledge), and as someone well past my ‘party years’, with a steady partner. I’ve lived a pretty quiet life here for the past six years.
MC: So, is there an Omani gay community?
TEG: First of all, I think you have to separate men in Oman who actively identify themselves as “gay” and men who are simply having sex with men. The first group is probably pretty small, and what we in the West think of as a “gay community” comes down to some fairly small groups of men, mostly in and around Muscat – more a set of sometimes intersecting sets of friends. To my knowledge, there are no formally organized LGBT groups (although times are changing, and who knows what some enterprising group of students might be up to), and there are no full-time, openly identified gay bars/restaurants/hangouts.
On the other hand, the second group (i.e., men who like to have sex with men but don’t identify as being homosexual) seems to be pretty large, and there does seem to be a certain amount of (unspoken) consent within traditional society about male-male sex. Given the very limited mixing of the sexes, especially for young men, I guess that’s not surprising (teacher friends have told some very interesting stories about things they observe in their students–and this does seem to be one area in which the girls are keeping up). And then, too, there is a really interesting subculture of transvestism and gender-fluidity that doesn’t seem to have been studied too much (Wikipedia has an article on it by Khanith). I’ve been in a couple of traditional local bars at which groups of men in full makeup and partial or even full drag have shown up, and it’s seemed to be something that, at least in that context, is taken pretty matter-of-factly.
In recent years, we’ve met more and more Omanis who do actively identify as gay. Like many in the Arab world, most are very closeted, and many if not most end up married and living, sometimes very happily, what would seem to a Westerner like a double life: wife, kids, and family on one hand, and a social/sexual life with other men on the other. We do have some more “out” Omani friends, including one or two who’ve raised the issue with parents or siblings; they’re from more sophisticated families, and their experiences have been fair to very good.
Some have had experiences, personally and with family and friends, that reminds me of Western friends from very religious/conservative backgrounds. They’re conflicted by what they think their religion tells them and what they feel, and they got real problems about being both gay and religious. Some find their own way and stay quite devout, but many have more or less left religion behind and wish that their culture would open up and acknowledge that there have always been gay people here and let them find a more open place in the society. In a sense, it’s like local attitudes to alcohol – lots and lots of Omanis drink, but it’s still pretty totally taboo.
MC: Where do Gay men meet?
TEG: It’s not an exaggeration to say: everywhere. There might be some better known cruising spots, and as anywhere else in the world, bars are big (try the big hotels), but I’ve heard tales of foreign men meeting Omanis at malls, on the beach, and even in business settings. Omanis, from what friends tell me, often first meet online – the Internet is very, very important in the Arab gay community more widely, and Oman is no exception. I find it interesting that sites that Westerners think of as being entirely for hooking up for anonymous sex, Arabs are using to create online communities, of which sex is just a part along with longer-term friendships and the creation of networks of friends.
MC: Is Oman becoming a gay tourist destination?
TEG: That’s probably overselling it, but my friends and I agree that we seem to be seeing more identifiably gay tourists around. We had dinner at a very fancy hotel restaurant last fall, and it felt like it was us and about ten European gay couples. It makes sense – the country has beautiful beaches, an increasing number of “destination” resorts, and it’s being marketed as a hot new place to visit. Face it – if it’s going to become trendy, it’s the gays who will get here first, so it’s actually a positive sign for local tourism that they’re showing up!
MC: Would you recommend Oman as a place for gay men to come to?
TEG: It really depends what people are looking for. If one want lots of night life and a Mykonos-Fire Island kind of vacation, definitely not.
On the other hand, it’s a great place for people who want to see a traditional Arabic culture in a place with all the mod cons. I will say it’s an incredibly safe destination, on the whole – you’re not likely to run into the kind of predatory gigolos you might find in Morocco, Beirut, or Dubai. Omanis, straight or gay, are great hosts. Probably the best way to settle in, at least in the cooler months, is to find a nice beach side coffee shop, look open to conversation, and see what happens. One cultural stereotype that does kind of play into gay tourists’ favor is that some (many?) Omani men seem to believe that all Western men are gay.
Some of my Omani friends actively look for foreign visitors, either online or at various touristy places, and some of them you’d probably think were gay (fit, Western dress, etc.). At the same time, I’ve had foreign friends visit who were genuinely shocked to be approached, sometimes very directly, by what they saw as very conservative, even slightly intimidating types (right down to the short dishdasha and long beard).
MC: Are there tourists coming here just for sex?
TEG: It does play a role, but I don’t see Oman turning into Thailand West; people come here because of perfect weather and an exotic, traditional, but generally tolerant, culture. That they might meet up with a local man or two is more of an added bonus, if it’s part of the equation at all. Most I’ve met have just been gay versions of the tourists Oman is marketing to: affluent, somewhat older, and cosmopolitan. That said, I’ve met a few, mostly pretty creepy, European guys who are just here to get under the dishdasha. But that happens in a lot of places, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
MC: What about arrests, hassles, or other pitfalls?
TEG: I honestly don’t think it’s something that the police get involved in. You can’t go around too flamboyantly, but that applies just as much to straight people. I had a slightly tipsy out-of-town acquaintance hit on a guy in a bar who turned out to be security, and he was firm but professional (“go home, now,” which was actually good advice). If you’re respectful, not running around in ridiculous clothes, and don’t go around just leaping on local men, you should be fine. Visiting friends have had Omani men visit them in their hotel rooms (something almost impossible in some parts of the region), and nobody I know has been scammed, blackmailed, or otherwise gotten into trouble.
Of course, Oman is still part of the real world, and I wouldn’t advise running off with someone who sent you a nice message on Manhunt or whatever without meeting up in public, making sure someone knows what you’re up to, etc.
MC: And what about living in Oman, long term?
TEG: Gay, straight, or anything else, you need to have a high tolerance for quiet – Muscat is a very nice city, and there are more and more places to eat, better shopping etc., but it’s still pretty provincial. The Symphony plays a few times a season, there might be a good film (censored) once or twice a month, we pop out to the pub occasionally, and that’s about it. We love our live here, but it’s what we’ve made it. Life outside the capital would be far more challenging on all fronts – I’ve known teachers in the interior who go pretty stir-crazy, or who spend most of their free time coming and going from Muscat.
But – and it’s a remarkable thing – I can honestly say I’ve never had a moment’s discomfort or unpleasantness about being gay in Oman. I work with both Omanis and foreigners, and I think most of my Omani colleagues understand our situation. I have one very traditional, conservative co-worker, and she’s very fond of my partner and always asks about him if he doesn’t drop by the office now and then. I don’t know what they say when I’m not around, of course, but I’ve felt less comfortable in a lot of places. You have to be thoughtful, and discreet, but it’s quite possible to live very comfortably here.
MC: What is your circle of friends like? What is your social life like?
TEG: We’re pretty varied – Omani, Western and Arab expats. My partner and I have learned enough Arabic to get by, so we tend to have United Nations sort of parties. One thing I really like about our friends here is how mixed we are – old and young, elite and not, thin, fat, tall, short, you name it. Probably most of the “out” people here are expat, with Westerners living pretty much as they would anywhere, along with expat Arabs from all over the Middle East, but (and I suspect this is as much about their home country culture as anything) with Lebanese predominating. I know comparatively few out Indian men given the size of their expat population, but that might be a class thing or might just be the reluctance of Arabs and Indians to socialise (meaning I’m not meeting them through my local contacts).
Our social life is far more diverse than most settings here, which I think is one of the things that our Omani friends like (they complain that Omanis only meet each other at family gatherings, on Eid visits, etc). Personally, I’ve always been impressed at how welcoming Arab gay men are, how comparatively un-obsessed with youth and beauty the way some Westerners can be. My friends are more likely to praise somebody by saying “he has a white heart” (qalbu ubyud) than “he’s hot.” That said, I have to admit: we have a lot of hot friends.
We have a lot of fun – we have house parties, we go out to coffee shops, and we do a lot of tour-guiding for visiting friends and friends-of-friends.
Once in a while I do miss living someplace like San Francisco, Sydney, or Amsterdam, where we could be wild and crazy and totally out. But then I think about how much I like our flat here, and how beautiful the average winter weekend is, and how little I miss the stress and pressure of big city life, and Oman seems pretty good. When you get too bored, Dubai’s a short drive away, and after a couple of days there I’m usually ready to come home.
MC: Thanks for the interview. I learnt a lot. I think people will be very interested in what you’ve shared. More champagne?
TEG: Jolly good idea!
This 2010 interview with a British gay man living in Oman is taken from the website Muscat Confidential:
COMMENTS ON THIS CONVERSATION:
So the gossip around locals is that most of these men (short dishdasha and long beard) are gay. We tend to think twice about their intentions.
I think Oman is a lot more tolerant to Gay people than other surrounding Middle Eastern countries. They used to have gay weddings up North (still do? no idea).
I think the only problem I have with this setting is when some Omani gay people get married to a nice girl but have a “double life”. I don’t think it is fair for the wife. February 19, 2010
Non-Crowned Princess said…
Speaking of Omani lesbos, I don’t think they’re few. My small neighborhood consists of 8 rooms, but I’ve met 3 girls who lived/live with me and are allegedly lesbians. Not revealing their stories, but to be honest they’re too scary (I’ve even thought of dropping a whole semester because of one of them) and noisy (I can’t sleep). February 19, 2010
“First of all, I think you have to separate men in Oman who actively identify themselves as “gay” and men who are simply having sex with men.”
Really? Is he saying there are ‘degrees of gay-ness’?
If a woman is two months pregnant and doesn’t show, and another woman is seven months pregnant and does show, aren’t they still both pregnant?
I think thats the irony. It’s not the first time this definition issue has come up, with (as I recall) a lot of people saying the standard definition in Oman is that you’re only really gay if you’re a bottom, vs a top who isn’t. Similar distinctions happen in the West too (see Dan Savage). I tend to go with the wikipedia definitions, but that does include degrees (ie bisexuality as an example). February 20, 2010
Lesbos in the UAE and Qatar are shooting up. Girls sometimes shave their chins to get a thicker “beard”, in order to look more attractive for the still girly homogeneous girls!
Anyhow, I was hoping I’d learn more about the gay society in Oman. I’m against gays who have active homogeneous relationships, not only for religious reasons, but I feel they destroy the family dynamics of society and many other reasons. I’m not against a guy who feels gay per se, I understand that this could be an inner/psychological feeling and/or an actual medical case. And that is all what I consider it – a medical CASE. NOT a normal situation. The guy should try all sorts of physiological/psychological/medical treatments to overcome it. But when this guy acts upon this issue (and enters a relationship), and when the society accepts it and actually encourages it, it’s like they’re encouraging a disease to spread. February 21, 2010
Smallest- Fry said…
This is one of the most insightful and interesting posts I think I’ve read here. Thanks for considering this issue in such a complex and layered context. Keep up the good, considerate, and, meaningful work dragon. February 23, 2010
Last night, I was watching parts of football matches on the TV and thinking about your interview on homosexuality. Then I realized what makes football so great. Where else can men hug each other, roll on each other in the grass, and pat each others butt, and people are cheering? February 24, 2010
This article is very well observed indeed. Here are my comments for gay expatriates thinking of coming here and local gay people who might be interested in what I have to say!
There are many non-expatriates who are not gay in the western sense but who do have sex with men. To understand the difference one has to first of understand what being gay actually is. In the western sense I would say that being gay is when you feel a physical/sexual attraction to the same sex as well as an attraction/connection at the emotional level. I.e. you have to have the potential to love someone of the same sex and thus have a relationship with them. Men who have sex with men are simply looking for an erotic physical experience with another human being. As the sexes are separated in Oman, they turn to members of their own sex for this experience in much the same way people in prison are sometimes known to do.
For the skeptics out there who are reading, it is a fact that homosexuality exists and it is always going to be here no matter how much people don’t like it. It is thought that between 6 % and 10 % of the population of any given country is homosexual.
The reason why people turn out gay is still very much open to debate. Some say it is genetic, some say (like me) that it is a result of certain chemical or biological processes not happening quite the way they should when we are young children. Personally, I see being gay as a kind of disability – controversial I know but it’s just the way I look at it. Which ever way you look at it, one vitally important fact remains: People who are Gay have no choice in the matter. Once people in general accept this, the rest should fall into place.
Furthermore, extensive scientific research has found that gayness cannot be cured though any kind of therapy or treatments. In the western world, homosexuality is no longer considered by any reputable mental heath organizations as an illness. In fact, most say that to try and cure gayness only damages and harms the individual concerned.
As with all forms of discrimination, homophobia is completely irrational and without and kind of factual basis. It is simply fear of something that is not fully understood, in other words, ignorance. Even in the West, most people who describe themselves as homophobes also claim to have never met a gay person. To combat ignorance, society must educate people as well as allowing them to discuss their perceived problems. It’s really not rocket science, it’s just common sense.
Another important issue not discussed here is AIDS/HIV. The lack of education regarding sex in general, particularly gay sex has led to AIDS/HIV and sexually transmitted diseasing being rife in the Middle East in general. This fact, along with the notion that gay people even exist is of course denied.
As a young gay man, I can say that Oman is a great place to live as long as you don’t mind being discreet. As most bars and night clubs are full of men anyway, no one would even give a second look at two men going out together. As long as you don’t show physical affection for one another it’s absolutely fine.
With all of the above in mind, I choose not to lead an active gay lifestyle in Oman. I’m single and happy to stay that way. The country itself offers a great deal in terms of activities and things to do, particularly if you are sporty/outdoors type like me. I have a good circle of friends here and that keeps me happy. If you are in a gay relationship or feel that you are the sort of person who needs to be in a relationship most of the time, I would advise against coming here. The same goes for high maintenance scene queen types! If you’re happy being single, like to keep things casual and you are reasonably down to earth, I’d recommend it whole heartedly. February 25, 2010 4:05 PM
Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said…
Islam does not allow a man to sleep with both of his two (or three) (or four) wives at the same time, each woman has her own night, or day ect…. Just to answer your question. I have friends who are in multiple marriages. February 25, 2010
I am an out lesbian in Oman. And I don’t chose to live this way, I was born this way. For the gays who say they ‘chose’ not to lead active gay lives in Oman. What do you mean ? Do you mean you kill your sex drive and who you are here? Then you are not alive. You are a ghost of yourself.
I live as I am. Queer, lesbian and not afraid of the haters.
Be yourself, be queer female and male…and love ! You can’t ‘wait’ to live..wait till you ‘go home’ or ‘wait till you move out of your families’ home…you must live now. You were born….born….born to be alive 🙂
And religion is just politics. No book or pamphlet will tell me how to feel and love.
When the creator of this vast universe thinks gays and lesbians shouldn’t exist the creator will stop creating us. By as far as the history of the universe goes. We have always been here and always will be here. March 3, 2010
I too am out and gay. I don’t live in Oman, but I know it well, having worked there in the past. I was drawn to this article because I am considering bringing my partner to Oman on holiday.
However, I do take serious issue with your view (and I accept it is a personal view) of homosexuality as a “disability”. For someone who professes to being gay, I find that an absolutely extraordinary statement.
It’s not a disability. Yes – we are different that the majority of the population in who we find attractive; but what does that have to do with anyone? How does the fact that you find men attractive make you less able (ie disabled) than straight friends. It makes not a jot of difference. You and I are totally able and should celebrate it. Indeed I would argue that because we are a minority, we are generally more tolerant, more empathetic, more understanding with higher levels of emotional intelligence than our straight friends. These are not traits of the disabled; these are traits of a minority who bring a unique and different (generally tolerant and positive) take on the world.
Take Peter Tatchell, the UK activist. He is openly and famously gay – but he is not just an activist on gay issues; he is an activist on all human rights issues. Being gay maybe incidental, but I suggest that his overall concern for human rights are a result of his experience as a gay man. (Peter is a personal hero of mine, btw.). He is a man of tolerance and principle and great courage.
Why not take pride in who you are? I don’t mean camping it up (I am completely not camp), or joining festivals, if it is not your thing – but I think it is depressing that you do not see the positives in being gay. There is no greater gift in the world than love. Maybe you would view being gay more positively if you met and fell in love with someone. and that is unlikely to happen whilst you see yourself as disabled.
Good luck – and I wish the whole of Oman and all Omanis well and I hope to visit in a few months. April 18, 2010
You are not born that way ,thats what the west wants people to think that they have nothing to do about any homosexual thoughts or fantasies.
Just the same way,there are bad negative thoughts,that might come and taint your thoughts of any thing in life..thats the same thing with homosexuality… believing in God and remembering the punishment for Lot’s people might just help any faggot from at least abstaining from acting upon his/her thoughts.. 20 or 30 years of perverted sex is not worth an eternity of hellfire..just try and put one finger in a flame for one minute and you’ll brain might understand the consequences of what you’re doing. June 3, 2010
For the last comment (June, 3 2010): There is no hell anywhere else but in your head. Wake up, what you are saying is a crap. For the people like you we must confront with so much hatred and ignorance in our world.
Loads of ultra-conservative politicians in the US and elsewhere who speak like you finally turn out to be not only gays but the biggest queers in the world. We know the story.
Anyway Oman must be an amazing place, I would surely visit there!!! Great people, beautiful culture. The West has still much to learn. June 21, 2010
Great Debates. Thank you for this article.
I for one have stopped apologising for how I was born. Until an individual who judges, understands that people are born a certain way, there is no reason for putting in energy into making these individuals to understand.
When a person judges, he or she is telling themselves that is they who have the need to judge….
People are just that– people… gay, white, lesbian, black, westerner, indian african, etc etc—- all one species.
I think Oman sounds fantastic. I will come there for a visit no matter what authorities or people who have high moral values say about my lifestyle. I (man) am married to a man for 10 years. The one thing we have learnt in our years of travel being in our late 30s at present–that is ‘what you think is none of my business’. I am a visitor and I shall respect the local customs with all our minds and love every moment being in the present moment with all our hearts. Life is only a pain when you pay attention to labels thrown at you by others…asian, gay, lesbian…
Debating with others why people are gay is so 50 years ago!!. Where we live right now, we have politicians who are in a relationship with a same sex partner…. so you see gay people are people just like everybody else.
Let us all stop labelling and live and let live… No one is superior nor is one is inferior. I dedicate A poem by Rumi for those who feel they know why people are gay….
I am a gay male completing my nursing degree in Canada whose uncle is Iraqi but has been all over e middle east and he has basically sold me on Oman saying it is far more liberal and accepting than, say, Iran
Considering his advice, I might be moving there whence finished. December 27, 2010
I lived in Muscat for 3 years as a teacher, not openly gay at work neither to my circle of friends (it was a personal choice). However for an Arabic who also lived in 6 other Middle Eastern countries, I found the Sultanate as the most liberal (by law) and authorities treatment than any other neighboring states.
Male to Male sex is culturally active and accepted, but not commercialized or regarded as a GAY thing like the western world.
I knew few gay Omani government officers as well as expatriate executive managers who worked in Oman with no hassle.
Homosexuality regarded as a minor behaviour, you are not advised to be public about it for two reasons: first to avoid homophobic conflicts (like what happens in the real world) Secondly to not being offensive against the main stream conservative society.
In general, Bisexual men have a good share in the Arab world, swept under the carpet but highly practised.
And yes there are handful of cruise sites in Muscat and the Sultan himself is known to be gay but not considered a pedophile.
Oman is perfect place to explore Arabic heritage in the Peninsula, as well as interesting culture and tolerant people.
I spent my best memories and time there, and cant wait to go back with my partner for a Holiday.