Last Updated on April 28, 2021
A while back while traveling Central America, we wrote this piece about how it feels as a lesbian couple to jump back into the closet while traveling and this one on how we live a bit of a half-in, half-out lifestyle. In this guest post by our friend Aaron of Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures, he tells a story of his time in Egypt, highlighting what he perceived as a possibly dangerous situation and his mixed feelings about so quickly jumping right back in to the safety of the travel closet. Read on for one glimpse of what gay travel in Egypt is like.
Did you know that people are commonly arrested for being gay in Egypt?
As an out gay man, I’m used to living a very open life. I never thought there would be a day where I’d hesitate to tell someone my sexuality. But what if you knew that there could potentially be a fairly violent reaction to such a revelation? Would you still be so “out and proud?” That was the thought going through my head one warm afternoon in January in Luxor, Egypt, known for being the site of the Valley of the Kings.
It all started when I was wandering along the west bank of the Nile River. I’d spent the entire day fending off overzealous vendors across the river, many of whom approached people with a certain level of desperation thanks to the fact that hardly anyone is visiting Egypt these days. So I was understandably skeptical when a tall, slender, middle-aged man asked me “Have you been to the Nubian Village?”
This man did not look like the other Egyptians I had seen. I noticed mostly the way he was dressed: he wore a full length shirt that extended all the way down his legs. He said he was Nubian. After chatting a bit and quelling any initial fears of his ulterior motives, he felt comfortable asking me to join him at his house for tea.
As we sat there on a wooden bench in his rather barren-looking front yard, he told me a bit about his life. He was married and had children, yet his wife and kids lived in a different village. Instead he spent his time living in this tiny house that he shared with several other families. His purpose here? Selling tours, he had explained, but we’d already moved past the point that I was not going to buy one.
He gets to asking me the basic questions that I’m used to hearing when I travel. “Where are you from?” he’d ask. “United States,” I’d respond. “Are you married?” “No,” I’d reply. Most people would stop at that, but he continues. “I see on TV that in America some men don’t marry women, they marry other men. Is that what you do?”
I was floored. Did this Nubian guy I’d just met just ask me if I was gay? A million thoughts ran through my head. Like how this is the Middle East and they don’t take too kindly to LGBT folks! I had no idea what to say, l so I clammed up and gave an answer I never thought I’d give. “Well that’s an awfully personal question,” I told him. He took the hint and moved on in the conversation.
The conversation wasn’t the same after that came up. Not only was I again skeptical of his motives (he was now showing me testimonials of folks who had gone on tours to the Nubian Village) but I was kind of scared. I don’t know how he reacted to my reaction to his question, but I know that if someone gave me the answer I’d given him when asked point blank about their sexuality, I would have automatically assumed they were gay. I was getting uncomfortable enough with the situation to kindly excuse myself.
As I was preparing to leave, he again raised the subject, inquiring to know why I wouldn’t answer his earlier question about whether I liked men. I responded, again, that it was an awfully personal question. To which he responded, “Sometimes I want to marry man.”
Hold up! Did this guy just come out to me? He has a wife and children… Then again, it’s Egypt, certainly not the easiest place in the world to be gay…
I could have gone and consoled him. I could have told him that I understood and told him he wasn’t alone in the world. I could have talked to him about what it’s like to be a member of the LGBT community in Egypt and compared notes about how it was the in the U.S. I could have done a lot of things.
But I was already so determined to get out of there and get on with my life that what might have been his coming out moment felt like a blur. I was leaving come hell or high water and nothing, not even a revelation like this, could stop me.
In retrospect, was I proud of how the whole situation went down? Nope. Do I wish I would have talked to him more about sexuality? Absolutely! Did I ever think that one day I’d find myself in the “travel closet?” Not at all.
Since that afternoon, our exchange has stuck with me. Perhaps a tinge of guilt that I should have done more?
What would you have done?
A world traveler since the age of 4, Aaron has lived on 3 continents and blogs about his experiences in unlikely places at Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures. When he’s not blissfully on the road, he makes New York City his home.
Are you an LGBT traveler on the road? Do you have a story to share? We welcome guest posts highlighting what life on the road is like for gay and lesbian travelers. We would love to feature your story here on GlobetrotterGirls.com!
Monday 30th of September 2013
If people in russia are coming out and being beaten up for it and yet more still continue to do it, then yes I say you probably could have, should have, but would you? Definitely not considering how you responded to just that question. I would have just advised the guy to save up as much money as possible and get the hell out of there and live in a gay-accepting country.
Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
Wednesday 1st of January 2014
Haha, well, hindsight is 20/20, so they say. It's also important to note that by the time his revelation came about I was do dead set on getting out there that it almost came as a blur.
As for Russia, they are very brave. I can't say there's any country I would not visit due to anti-gay laws (funny enough, Saudi Arabia is on my list), except perhaps Russia at the moment...
Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
Friday 19th of April 2013
I've heard a lot about this. It's "fine" as long as you're not doing the "feminine" things in sexual poisitions, so I'm not the least bit to surprised to hear how common gay sex is. And yes, I've also heard that terms like "gay" or "straight" or even "bi" are strictly Western concepts. It sounds almost like what LGBT life used to be like in the U.S. in the era before the Stonewall Riots in the 1960s or even after! Have you seen "Angels in America?" There's that whole seen where Roy Cohn insists that he is not a "homosexual," despite his admittance that he's had sex with other men, and that takes place in the 1980s!
This really was the only one-on-one conversation I had while I was in Egypt, which is really kind of sad. It was a trip I took on a real whim and spent time in Cairo and Dahab with travel friends. And I should note that this guy never brought up sex at all, though it's entirely possible that the guy was dropping hints in hopes of moving in that direction. I don't know.
I do fully realize that places like Luxor are entirely dependent on tourism and that Egypt was seriously hurting for tourists while I was there given all the press about protests in Cairo. And I'm usually pretty good at ignoring aggressive selling tactics (I live in NYC, so I've had a bit of practice), but I really hit my limit in Luxor. Considering that there was hardly anyone else there, it was like non-stop selling attempts. I wrote on my own blog about my distate of Luxor, mentioning, among other things, about how a felucca captain trapped me in the middle of the Nile just to try to get me to buy SOMETHING... tours, sunset curises, drugs, girls. I finally lost it right there in that boat (that was immediately after this incident too). You can read more about that one here: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/04/disliked-luxor-egypt/
Monday 8th of April 2013
My gay friend and I felt absorbed into the sea of people in Cairo but when we were in Luxor we had a totally different experience killing a few days walking around. It was one of the gayest exp we ever had. Gay scene in Egypt in not a big club but one one one interaction. The amount of sex my friend had was obscene. There were times when he would flirt with straight married men I would just rolled my eyes but to only be later surprised when he disappeared for a quickie.
The country is very religious and conservative but when you have 1 on 1 conversation things changes dramatically. The proposition we got, the number of times we head "do you like Egyptian bananas?" happened more than times than we have fingers and toes. Sure they mostly play the role of "top" and will only receive and not give head. Maybe to them it's ok and not playing the effeminate role makes ok. A few asked for money afterwards. After a stern no one guy said, give me something anything, even five dollars. Made u realized that if they justified it as a "business" transaction that it's not gay.
I never thought in my wildest dream how quiet but pervasive the gay scene really is. Even if they were straight they didnt mind a little nookie nookie action. As long as nobody knows, why not. Sexual orientation label is a western mindset. Getting some action w/ anyone willing to give and not tell the wife and kids is theirs. Lastly I agree I didnt enjoy the aggressive selling. It was annoying actually. But when you realized 80% of Egyptian economy is tourism. A close mouth gets no worm or food on the family's table.
Maxim de Winter
Thursday 21st of March 2013
I think you acted wisely not to pursue the topic further. However, I wouldn't have accepted the invitation for tea in the first place.
I was in Egypt last year with my boyfriend and although we stayed mainly at the holiday resort, sometimes we had to face questions like where we had left our wives/women. And every time I came up with a story to satisfy their curiosity. I think you are more or less safe at hotels where there are many people from Western Europe, but still we were very careful not to display our sexuality. Plus, We always gave them some extra money, which is what they want from tourists, so in the end they were very friendly to us :)
I just have very bad experience with local people out in the streets. They always try to sell you things, shout at you, start touching you and sometimes they even take you by your hand pull you in to their shops. So after a couple of days, I had to learn to put my foot down and say a sharp NOOOO! And the best thing you can possibly do is not to talk to them at all. I am sorry, but you do not go to Egpyt to save the world for them. If you put your own life at risk, what use would it be?
Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
Friday 22nd of March 2013
Oh trust me, I did not accept the invitation to tea lightly. After a 2 days in Luxor I didn't trust anyone anymore (Cairo was a MUCH different story though, so I wouldn't generalize to include that). He spent quite a while trying to convince me that he didn't have an ulterior motive before I decided to join him (of course, he did have an ulterior motive...he was selling tours).
Though really, whether or not he was selling anything, which it felt like almost everyone in Luxor was trying to do, is almost irrelevant in this situation. I'm not the type of traveler who hangs out in tourist areas or in hotels. I'm out there trying to interact with people, which, eventually before joining the guy, I saw this as.
This wasn't in the center of Luxor. This was down some obscure dirt road by the Nile. And if you remove Egypt from the equation, which I tried really hard to do, would you have turned down an offer for tea with a local? I didn't and I still wouldn't beause those are the travel experiences you will always remember.
Tuesday 1st of January 2013
Sexuality in Egypt is so amazingly difficult. Many men have had homosexual experiences but don't consider themselves 'gay'. A lot of gay men live in the closet in their community but find they can be open with tourists and of course jump at the chance. Anyway it's so tough and I feel really bad for the LGBT community out there (I lived there for two years).
I was hit on a few times by young guys who really didn't quite know how to approach someone about such things! I also knew some younger gay travellers who had a great time and found it easy to be gay in Egypt as walking down the street arm in arm with another man isn't even blinked at!!!
Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
Wednesday 2nd of January 2013
I don't doubt that many men find solace in foreigners who come from countries that are far more open about sexuality. Though walking down the street holding hands is societally acceptable there, as it is in many parts of the world.
I think in retrospect I would have perhaps reacted differently in this situation but so many things ran through my head, not the least of which was that I was alone with this guy and nobody knew my whereabouts! I'm not one to worry when I travel, but this situation definitely put me out of my comfort zone.