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