Introduction: The following story was sent to GlobalGayz by a thoughtful Yemeni gay man who was willing to share his observations and feelings about gay life in his country.
Also see: Gay Life in Yemen
Original story: February 2012
Update: September 2015
The current turmoil in Yemen has become an international war with a Saudi-led coalition of air and ground forces against the rebel Houthi militia took control of the elected Yemeni government. In this story a 27-year-old gay student, quoted here, said earlier this year that he and his family were momentarily unharmed. However, as the fighting and bombing have intensified and his sexual orientation has become more at risk of exposure he chose to travel to Jordan this past summer, one of the few countries to allow Yemenis to enter without a visa.
By Ahmed, as told to GlobalGayz:
“Most of the time, I can’t be myself or talk about myself to anyone.”
This story is not a cheerful one for a gay person but the writer seems to be strong and wise and able to manage some satisfaction in his daily living, thanks in no small part to LGBT friends he has found online. His personal and cultural observations are valuable for others trying to understand gay life in Muslim-and-family-dominated Yemen.
About Me, Ahmed
I am a gay adult in 21st century Yemen: I am a Muslim who is homosexual. I’ve known that since I was 16 years old. I am not out, which means I am still living my homosexuality in my closet (not a bad thing especially if you are living in Yemen). I grew up between Aden and Sana’a so, I don’t have a typical Yemeni personality.
My family and friends are the most precious people in my life, that’s why none of them know that I am gay. After a few years I will have enough money to get married which is something I can’t run from because I am an only child. I used to have dreams of living somewhere outside Yemen where I can live as a free gay, but I am more mature now, and I want to have my own family with my parents.
Being gay does not define me, I am still a human being who wants to love and be loved, earn respect by my ethics and morals, care about others and help the unfortunate; I dream and work to achieve my goals.
Most of the time, I can’t be myself or talk about myself to anyone. I was in love with my classmate once, but I could never say it to him because he was straight (I presumed). My heart became harden since I couldn’t trust anyone or be in love. Sometimes, I hate myself because of what I had to become and the life I had to lead.
But at the same time, I don’t blame myself because I believe it is my destiny to have these experiences. I don’t allow myself to enjoy gay activity as I used to, I don’t meet or date guys. I wonder how I keep living in this ‘prison’, but this is my reality and I live each day as I must. It’s my duty to have children and continue my family line within marriage. Family traditions are a blood connection that you can not escape. I know this may sound defeatist but it’s my way of accepting traditions and religion. It’s still a choice, after all, and I am going to choose it. The future is unknown and I can’t build a future life as a gay person because neither my parents nor my religion will accept me, and I want to have it all.
Some men here get married and then have secret affairs outside with guys, but for me disloyalty is a huge deal. If I got married to a girl, I would never (I think) be able to cheat on her especially with a man. I think of it as one way or the other, being gay and falling in love with a man, or keep my desires hidden and fulfill my parents wishes and family duties. I am an adult now so I feel more responsible about my life and choices.
Gay Life in Yemen
To start, Yemen will never be a suitable environment for gays. Despite the existence of gays here the government won’t admit their presence in the country; the general community can’t tolerate gay people or respect their lives.
Nevertheless, beauty is adored everywhere and Yemen is included. Beautiful boys are noticed here, especially those who are shy and have no parental supervision. It’s very easy to get molested by an older corrupted Yemeni man, in fact, it will become a regular thing if the child doesn’t tell anyone about it. Even if he told his family they will only tell him to stay away from that person. Reputation is very important in Yemen and no one will charge you of anything if they don’t have a proof. So molestation is not taken seriously unless you were raped or hurt.
As an attractive teenager a boy may find himself surrounded by same-age or older males because teenager girls are not allowed to interact with boys. So the only way you can explore your sexuality is within your friendship circle and if they are not educated enough about sex or haven’t got a strong Islamic background you may desire to feel each other’s privates and maybe even have sex. Although doing that may seem gay it doesn’t necessarily make teenagers gay although a minority of them may be naturally attracted to other men.
Standing on the street alone like a prostitute is becoming a trend nowadays; it is hard to say if these are really gay and looking for sex or if they are underprivileged teenagers looking to make money doing that.
Searching the Web
In my case, I wasn’t aware of my homosexuality and I had a very strong Islamic influence so I didn’t have any sexual exploration until I was 16 years old. That’s when I started to feel my attraction towards men and, having a computer, I discovered the easiest way to meet other guys was the world wide web.
I found lots of Yemeni men looking for sex and I arranged meetings with some. That was how I had sex the first time, but what I had was only sex nothing more. I dated a few people after that but I didn’t find what I was looking for–something more personal. I had few sex partners in the following years, but I didn’t find anyone who I could fall in love with. I found out that most of the guys online were looking for sex only and some of them are not even gay; they were just looking to be satisfied.
As usual, the ones looking for satisfaction are tops which means they don’t allow you to touch their bottoms or kiss. So unromantic sex is all you can find there; if you are willing to be a bottom only you will have no problem–if you like ‘quickies’.
Gay in Public–Sort Of
Certainly, gays are not allowed to live out of the closet, and if some of us are open about it, the community will make sure we are an outcast. Most ‘visible’ gays in Yemen tend to be feminine, and they are always treated badly. But I notice that the Aden community treats feminine boys better than other local communities.
Yemeni gays gather like groups, some of these groups include successful people who prefer discreet relationships. They are from wealthy families and have had the best education a Yemeni can get and are living a successful life. They prefer secret relationships because they are either married or don’t want to ruin their family’s reputation, as is the case with all decent Yemeni gays. Most of them socialize with those who have the same financial status.
Other groups include ladylike guys who consider prostitution as work, but their lives are very dangerous and most of them are on the radar of the government.
I have never seen or witnessed any gay scandals, but I heard stories about gays who were thrown out of restaurants, cloth shops, internet cafes and coffee shops because they were acting feminine or gay. I don’t know any honor killings of gays by family members, but I am sure it happened somewhere in Yemen.
Most people here are not very educated about sex and men will agree to have sex with anyone who is looking to fuck for money or fun. Chewing qat (or khat, a stimulant) makes the problem worse because it increases the urge to have sex. As a result it should be noted that some people in Yemen have AIDS because they don’t use protection during sex. Needless to say, if one gets sick from HIV it is covered up with another diagnosis.
The kind of people I am talking about here are men who don’t fear Allah, and most of their morals are gone. They have desires of having sex with girls but since girls are protected by their families, these men look for a suitable alternative which is boys. Most of these men are single and not gay but usually it is the case of sexual frustration. They may be married but don’t have sex with their wives or they are widowed or can’t find girls for sex or may have desperate minds that will take sex of any kind.
If an older man has decent, respectable friends, he will make sure they don’t know anything about his hidden desires, and if he is caught by friends having sex with a child he may be beaten to death or at least become an outcast.
But if the older man has like-minded friends, they will probably share his interest and keep his secret. They ignore it because they can’t do anything about it. Most of these crimes happen in the dark which means there is no proof that it happened. If the boy does it willingly it’s because he doesn’t understand what’s happening or he likes the man who is doing it. There’s usually no gift or money to the boy for doing sex for fun or pleasure. I think it is molestation if it’s between the ages of 5 and 12. Older than that, I think it is rape if the boy doesn’t do it willingly or it’s prostitution if he does it for money. Or if the boy is really gay and likes it I thinks that’s OK.
Unlike Afghanistan, in Yemen, tribes have pride in Islam and their moral character, so I don’t believe they have boys as trophies.
Sometimes if a boy is caught having sex with an older man, the boy might get a worse punishment than the man. It depends on who caught them; if it was the police the boy might be killed and the man may be tortured and thrown into prison until someone looks for him and helps him out.
If it’s other people (friends) who catch them, depending on who they are, they might tell the police about them or maybe look the other way. If they are caught by family or police it is very possible they will be killed. That’s why the world doesn’t hear about trials or death sentences on gays in Yemen. I have heard some stories about gays who were raped by policemen when they got caught and then released. Others were thrown into prison, and a few have been killed while trying to escape. Family honor killings happen but it almost never reported.
(Please understand that my information may not be wholly accurate because I have never wanted to get deep in the gay world here in Yemen, since it’s very dangerous and dark.)
My advice for any gay who is thinking to visit Yemen is to be discreet and secretive about their sexual orientation and if he is looking for an adventure that includes sex then dating websites like Manjam.com are a way to find gays here, but he should make sure they are educated and decent.
Edited by Richard Ammon