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Yasser, a 26-year-old artist, was taking me on an impromptu tour of his hometown of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a sweltering September afternoon.
(For this reason, the names of most people in this story have been changed.) Ask many Saudis about homosexuality, and they’ll wince with repugnance.
“I disapprove,” Rania, a 32-year-old human-resources manager, told me firmly.
A few years ago, a Jeddah- based newspaper ran a story on lesbianism in high schools, reporting that girls were having sex in the bathrooms.
Yasmin, a 21-year-old student in Riyadh who’d had a brief sexual relationship with a girlfriend (and was the only Saudi woman who’d had a lesbian relationship who was willing to speak with me for this story), told me that one of the department buildings at her college is known as a lesbian enclave.
But as a more Westernized notion of gayness—a notion that stresses orientation over acts—takes hold in the country, will this delicate balance survive?
When Yasser hit puberty, he grew attracted to his male cousins.The mutawwa'in prod shoppers to say their devotions when the shops close for prayer, several times daily.If they catch a boy and a girl on a date, they might haul the couple to the police station.During the afternoon, traffic cops patrol outside girls’ schools as classes end, in part to keep boys away.But they exert little control over what goes on inside.But what seems more startling, at least from a Western perspective, is that some of the men having sex with other men don’t consider themselves gay.