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Vibrant communities of men who enjoy sex with other men can be found in cosmopolitan cities like Jeddah and Riyadh.
They meet in schools, in cafés, in the streets, and on the Internet.
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.
They make sure that single men steer clear of the malls, which are family-only zones for the most part, unless they are with a female relative.
Though the power of the mutawwa'in has been curtailed recently, their presence still inspires fear. Though that penalty is seldom applied, just this February a man in the Mecca region was executed for having sex with a boy, among other crimes.
Yasser looked behind him to see if he could reverse the car, but had no choice except to proceed. “It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here,” he had said.
“You can be cruised anywhere in Saudi Arabia, any time of the day,” said Radwan, a 42-year-old gay Saudi American who grew up in various Western cities and now lives in Jeddah.
“They’re quite shameless about it.” Talal, a Syrian who moved to Riyadh in 2000, calls the Saudi capital a “gay heaven.” This is surprising enough.
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.