Being gay in conservative Kuwait

KUWAIT: Clutching a handbag with one hand and a male friend with the other hand, Bryan, an expatriate of Asian origin was spotted in one of the shops in Avenues buying clothes and some watches along side with (her) boyfriend. Bryan’s attractive sexy cat walk and body movement could budge any man within the neighborhood. With a quasi-bootylicious and curved figure-eight body, Bryan appears to have all it takes to be a woman. But guess what? He is not a she - but a 32-year-old man who was shopping for his birthday. How do I look baby? He asked his Arab-looking boyfriend as he tried one of the clothes in front of a mirror at the shop. All efforts to have a direct chat with him proved abortive as his jealous boyfriend urged us to stop harassing him. “Please leave him alone, he is just shopping for his birthday,” he said as he declined a face to face interview with Kuwait Times but later agreed to an internet chat.

According to the recent Human Right Watch report, there have been dramatic rise in assaults, harassments and arbitrary arrests of transgender (women/men) and gays in Kuwait. But these do not deter gays who see themselves as harmless and part of the global community. Most of the gays Kuwait Times interviewed in this report preferred to go by their first names or remain anonymous to avoid arrests and harassments thus divulging how critical the gay issue is in the part of the world. While compiling this report, some of the gays opted for a telephone interview and internet chats while some braved it all and invited Kuwait Times to one of the coffee shops in Salmiya. Whereas some claimed they do face some form of harassments, others said they live normal lives like the heterosexuals (if not better than).

“Frankly, the gay guys have more fun with their partners here in Kuwait than the heterosexuals. Unless you are a transgender or cross-dresser, it is easier and safer to enjoy with your partner than for a straight man to enjoy with his girl friend. Gays can watch movies together without attracting any attention and gossip. If two unmarried gay couple lives together, there will be no problem –But it is haram (sin or illegal) here for unmarried couples to live together. I have the most handsome and sexiest male guys in my salon. Ironically, it is a common sight in Kuwait to see men holding hands. Here, men seem to display more affection to their fellow men in public...they kiss, they hold hands and hug even though they are not gays,” Masseur, a 28 years old Filipino said.

When asked if he does face any form of harassment at work or in the streets, he replied “Discrimination or prejudice might be a better term, particularly from self-righteous individuals. Harassment (if it is sexual) could be ignored or simply enjoyed is if the harasser is good-looking. We do experience stalking - mostly by Arab men who are attracted to fair-skinned, smooth (not hairy) guys,” he added. Masseur’s view points were echoed by most of the homosexuals Kuwait Times interviewed in this report.

For Fasial, a 34-year-old Lebanese accountant, there is no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals. “I love being gay, I started being gay at the age 14. I have a good career and a good job,” he said as he held his Kuwaiti male friend tightly to himself. Supporting Fasial’s views, the Kuwaiti man (who claims to have two children) admitted “I am both homosexual and heterosexual. But I prefer having affairs with my gay friends because they will never get pregnant unlike these girls in Kuwait who always tie you up with an unwanted pregnancy”.

Kuwait Times asked another gay man (a nurse working with the Ministry of Health) how he feels being gay in an Islamic, conservative Kuwait and he texted “I feel suppressed since being gay is prohibited in Kuwait. For me it is a way of life but for them it is a taboo.” When asked when he realized he was a gay, he said “when I fell in love with my first boyfriend and realized that I enjoy having a male companion than a female companion.”

In Kuwait, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender persons face a lot of challenges not experienced by heterosexuals. Kuwaiti law does not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits. Article 193 of the Kuwait Penal Code punishes homosexuality with lengthy jail term while Article 198 prohibits “public indecency” and “imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex” with fines and or imprisonment.

According to Dr Fawaz O Alanezi of the Department of Sociobiology Kuwait University, punishing gays and transgender persons with lengthy jail sentences will not help the situation. “Our society is socially constructed and this is a social issue and should be handled cautiously. It will be difficult to enforce the gay laws in a place like Kuwait. The solution lies on the child’s upbringing. A male child should be trained to be a man while a female child should grow up to be a woman. Parents have a lot of role to play in the upbringing of their children. There should be a family model structured for the growth and development of the society. Environment and society play a lot of role in the development of a child. Parent show watch their children grow,” he advised.

 

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