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Exploring Amman's gay spaces

Exploring Amman's gay spaces

The Middle East; it's gayer than you think
When 22-year-old Matt, from Wilmington, Delaware, arrived in Jordan last fall, getting involved in a gay scene was “not part of the plan.”
 
Then he discovered that the Middle East is a lot gayer than he thought.
 
It started in the steam room of the hotel where he worked out: twice he was propositioned by Arab guys who made hand gestures. Then Matt started going to expat parties, where he met gay staff from local embassies and UN offices.
 
Finally, he got on the internet.

“The gym is the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “The internet is the whole iceberg.”
 
According to Matt, cyberspace is the only true safe space for gays to cruise in Jordan. But he says there are gay-friendly spots in Jordan’s capital, Amman, where he and his friends like to hang out.
WHERE TO BE GAY IN AMMAN
 
Amman is a modern, hilly city of short, cube-shaped buildings. It’s organized by traffic circles and very few places have formal addresses. Fortunately, the city’s helpful cab drivers always know where to go.

Although gay sex was decriminalized in Jordan in 1951, “public displays of affection” and sex work are illegal and periodically targets of government crackdown. The age of consent is 16 years.
 
Here’s where to go to be gay:
 
Books @ Cafe
On Omar Al Khattab Street near the 1st circle, Madian Aljazeera’s dark, retro restaurant/bar is especially popular with gays on Mondays and Thursdays. You’ll usually find Aljazeera behind the bar, and he’s always eager to point out the queers.
www.booksatcafe.com



Toledo Hotel

The Toledo’s gym, at 37 Al-Razi Street, is where Matt got his first hint of gay life. He says mostly Arabs go there.
www.toledohotel.jo.

 
InterContinental Hotel
Matt says Amman’s main five-star hotel, on Queen Zein St, is even cruisier than the Toledo thanks mostly to its large clientele of flight attendants and other international jet-setters.
www.intercontinental.com
.

 
Culture Street
Late at night, this is the where male sex workers and their friends go to roam.

 
Drop
According to Madian Aljazeera, Drop is a gay-friendly, rave-style dance party held every Thursday. Recently it was on the 7th circle, behind the Royal Jordanian Airlines building, but the location changes regularly.

One of them is a trendy bakery near the US embassy.
 
It specializes in American-style cupcakes and caters to an upscale crowd of hotties. When it comes to sexual freedom, the owner calls Jordan “above average” compared with other Middle Eastern countries. “People are going to bars and clubs and hooking up, although they don’t publicize it to their parents,” he says.
 
Matt is dating a Jordanian guy he met at a party. He says dating a local comes with many challenges.

“I can’t exist in the eyes of his parents,” he says. “Family is so important here and I can’t go to family functions. Sometimes I resent that, but you have to bite your lip and say, 'This is the price of living here.'”
 
Matt’s not out at the school where he teaches either, which is why he asked for his last name to be left out of this article.

“I’d probably be fired from my job because it’s a school, and parents would freak out,” he says.
 
But Matt is out at a popular spot called Books @ Cafe. That’s because the co-owner is 45-year-old Madian Aljazeera, the self-proclaimed “Queen of all Amman.”
 
According to Aljazeera, the gay scene in Amman used to be completely underground. “The only thing above the ground was me,” he jokes. Now things are opening up, thanks in large part to Aljazeera.
 
Located just off a street called Al-Rainbow, Books @ Cafe is a combination bookstore, bar and restaurant. The first-floor bookstore has a prominent display of gay titles – “I like to shove it in people’s faces,” says Aljazeera – while the bar and restaurant is a revolving door of gay customers.
 
“I don’t call it ‘out’,” says Aljazeera. “We can’t go hard-core gay. It’s just a comfortable place for the gay community.”

Mondays and Thursdays are especially popular with gay men, who take up most of the seats around the giant bar so they can eye each other and get a good look at the fresh meat coming in.

Aljazeera points out that Jordan doesn’t have any laws against homosexuality, but admits that social and religious pressure keeps most gays in the closet.

“We don’t talk about sex openly but everyone is doing it,” he says. “I think the whole of Amman is cruisy.”
 
One thing’s for sure: Amman is friendly. Like many other Arab nations, it won’t be long before someone invites you over for tea, or smiles at you in the sauna.

NOTE: Due to a misunderstanding between the reporter and the sources, Xtra edited this story after it was first published.

Comments

looking forward to gay Jordan
i shall be in Jordan in sept 2010 and really looking forward to meeting guys from the country >i have visited many muslim countries in my time but this will be my first visit to jordan I would love any help on hotels. apartments . bars .saunas .cafes .cruising areas .anything that is helpful would be very much appreciated .I love the muslim people very very mush and have some great friends and hope i shall say the same about Jordan after my visit , Any jordanian guys reading this and can me in any way i would be very grateful and would be very nice to meet up for a drink or SOMETHING . Would like to stay in the bustling down town area to start with . If anyone knows any hotels where they will allow guests to visit your room (not for overnight sessions) I would like to know . Any info would be great and hope to meet up with lots of lovely people and again I say thats what muslim people are LOVELY
School
I sure hope that isn't Matt's real picture, these things get around and I would hate for him to get in trouble. This is a great article. I'm wondering if lesbians hang out or if they single women are allowed to socialize in places with single men, or go out without a chaperone.
Great to hear!
I love when my assumptions about a place and a people are challenged, and that's what this article has done! It's refreshing to hear about the lives of queer people outside of North American and European nations. Thanks for this awesome and informative article, Xtra! ~Morgan
Thanks for this
One thing that the QuAIA debate has done is create a resurgence of all these old stereotypes, that all Arabs are homophobes or gay victims in hiding. I think this article shows that there is nuance in Arab society. Just like in Russia or Uganda or Brazil, there are powerful homophobic forces in society that makes mainstream culture somewhat intolerant, but also powerful social movements that are reshaping things. Kudos to the queers of Jordan for having such courage. And if you want to know more about other groups, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helem http://www.aswatgroup.org/english/ http://www.alqaws.org/q/
Interesting and still questioning both sides here
This did started out about the rights of Gay Palestinians? and what ever happen to this topic? I remember this was the tiger? Funny how it went off topic from Queer Palestinians and Israelis to importing the Middle East into our backyard(Can anyone see what happens when both sides does this?) or are the Pro Israel/ Anti Palestine or Anti Israel/ Pro Palestine going to blame each other or will I be labeled the Israel Lobby, Zionist, or anything the Anti Israel side will think of for questioning this or will the Pro Israel side use there tactics too, funny how anyone can't be neutral when questioning either side. Will Xtra show us Queer Palestinian and Israeli side? or challenges both sides face from this conflict?(never was covered, but was a propaganda war from both sides and Xtra bias is very well noted) or will either side use censorship card to cover up what they don't want us to see since in this debate on censorship seems to be a two way street in either camp and events in the last 72 hours in the region has shown this clearly. Also becasue of these events why can't we promote dialogue between Queer Israelis and Palestinians? Can we start to set a example of making love and not war? I think our community are just too divided on this issue to set a example or even to promote any olive branches on this issue period.The only Olive Branches are the ones of War or when after one side is destroyed this is only possible. This is what I'm seeing here, just the classic blame game and I just say SHAME, SHAME, SHAME SHAME ON EVERYONE just like the Middle East both side have blood on their hands but this is over what is censorship since both sides love playing on this card. I bet the propaganda machines will just tell me how logic(he loves using this card)will not agree or will the other side tell me more about Gay Rights in one country. I kind of think we are all just the victim of Propaganda(from both sides) even if neither side can see this.
Great to hear!
I enjoyed the expose of gay life in Amman, too bad its a little short I would have liked to read more about it since its not a part of the world where people think of gays being gays. I'd like to read more about gay life in other parts of the world too, especially places like Jordan that aren't otherwise known for their gay community. I was very surprised to learn that gay sex was decriminalized there in 1951! long before it was in the west. Well done!
Ridiculous
What's next Xtra!, a fluff travel article extolling some public toilet stall in Dubai?
As if!
No way, only Israel has gays! Seriously though, thanks for writting this article. There are advancements being made for gay rights throughout the middle east especially in Lebanon and Jordan.
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