Jumping Into the Gay “Travel Closet” in Egypt

egypt pyramids

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.
gay travel EgyptIt 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.
gay travel EgyptAs 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.
gay travel EgyptAs 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!

Tags : egyptLGBT


  1. I’m an avid follower of Aaron’s blog, it;s cool to see him on your site! I’m not gay, so I can’t say what I would do in this situation, but I don’t think you should feel guilty. I think african americans are equal human beings but if I was surrounded by KKK members, I can’t say I’d be so brave. I’m sorry you had to hide in the closet but at least you are safe!

    1. Interesting analogy. I don’t think I’d ever have thought of myself as being surrounded by the equivalent of KKK members, but I see where you’re going with this. I think perhaps if the circumstances had been different I would reacted a different way, but just the way he asked me point blank really threw me off guard…

  2. I’m gay, but a woman, so it’s a slightly different thing – we don’t usually risk any criminal charges in homophobic countries, just not being taken seriously. Because you know, it’s not sex if there’s no guy involved blabla.

    Until two weeks ago, I would’ve said that I would never hesitate to tell someone I’m a lesbian, but in Peru I came out to a guy who became very aggressive after that – next time, I’ll think twice and will probably try to remove myself from the situation, too.

  3. I had similar experiences in Jordan, but for some reason the men don’t seem to go “there” when a Western woman says they aren’t married. I recall blogging about this, but maybe I didn’t. I remember I had hitched a ride back to Amman with two British girls who were staying in my hostel in Wadi Musa. They were grad students in Arabic studies and we had to make a stop at some random, out in the middle of nowhere, university to ask for permission to photocopy a book that is no longer in print from their library. While we were wandering around the library, and later while we were sitting outside, I felt comfortable enough to “out” myself to them and discuss some of the personal questions I had to deflect from curious Jordanians. They were totally cool with the conversation and it was nice to have someone to talk to every once in a while. Even though places like Israel and Jordan are more gay-friendly than Egypt, I still worry about my personal safety as a lesbian traveling solo.

    Aaron, I think you did the right thing…if you had been at a cafe surrounded by people, perhaps it would have been okay to talk to this fellow more, but to be by yourself…I think you were spot on with your reaction.

    I’ve read other gay travel blogs about their experiences in Egypt. Jaime from Breakaway Backpacker has had a very positive experience…there was another blogger, who I can’t recall the name, who did not have such a great experience.

    I found for myself as a lesbian who is out and proud back home, I tend to go back into the closet while traveling. Especially in more conservative countries. It’s just easier. Is it right? I don’t know. Do I want my parents to get a call from some foreign country that their daughter has been sexually assaulted or worse because of her sexual identity? Not really. My parents have enough issues with my sexual identity. I prefer to play it safe and when I feel comfortable, I can out myself to fellow travelers or locals. It needs to be on my terms, though.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Heather. I was pretty surprised as to how gay friendly Jordan was, especially with Amman’s underground gay scene (I have a high school friend who lives there who took me to Books @ Cafe). I’m sure an underground scene exists in Cairo too.

      Yes, I know Jaime had a very positive experience. His set of circumstances was a bit different from mine. I think you’re right that the notion that it was just the two of us alone there played into my fear of potential repercussions.

      I’ve never consciously made a choice to go back in the closet while traveling and I’ve never even thought much about it before this incident. Then again, I don’t think I ever would have responded to the “Do you have a girlfriend” question that I get so much with “No, but I have a boyfriend” in many other countries.

  4. An interesting experience! We so often talk about how difficult it can be for the community here in North America but comparatively it could be so much worse. I think you handled it safely. And when you’re traveling, better safe than sorry.

  5. Egypt can be a difficult place for travelers I think – gay or straight. I love the country and I especially love visiting the Red Sea area. Being an unmarried (blond) girl doesn’t neccessarily make things easy – despite the fact that I often travelled there with my boyfriend.

    As for your encounter… I don’t think there was a lot more you could have sad. Given the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Egypt, you really could have gotten yourself in trouble. Also… I think in Egypt many people have a different understanding of labels like being gay. Some might have traditional lives with children and a wife with a whole seperate identity when they are out with friends…. however, they still might not ever consider themselves gay. I have only ever met one Egyptian guy who was out and proud… and he can really only afford to do it because he is someone and he knows people. As I said, it’s difficult. Also… he mostly hangs out with foreigners who are much more accepting of him.

    1. Actually homosexuality is NOT illegal in Egypt, just culturally frowned upon. It can still get you carted off to jail though.

      I can imagine it’s tough being a woman who looks foreign. And I think you’re right about the labels thing. Not once did the guy actually ask me if I was gay, he just asked if I wanted to marry a man. It’s also entirely possible that labels do exist but this guy didn’t know the English translation.

      1. It isn’t? Sorry, my bad. Any PDA can get you to jail in Egypt though – even between a married man and woman. I doubt that it’s really enforced all that much in the touristy areas, but still…

        I think labels exist, but from what I understand being gay is such a hidden thing in Egypt that even people who are and sleep with men won’t neccessarily consider themselves gay. Also, and I know how crazy this sounds, it supposedly depends on the position…

        1. This is very true.

          Interestingly enough, I feel like that definition of sexuality tends to exist with people who are less comfortable with their sexuality and in more conservative places. Think of Brokeback Mountain… Or this notion that you’re only gay if you do certain sexual things…

    1. You know, I don’t know if I’d say no to living somewhere where I had to hide a portion of myself. I’m visiting a friend teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan in June and he’s got a gay roommate whose been there since August. Perhaps after meting him I’ll have some different opinions on this.

  6. That’s quite a story. We’ve never been outright asked if we were gay while traveling, but we don’t hesitate to downplay the fact that we’re a couple when we suspect we’ll meet with hostile reactions. Our philosophy is that being out in our daily lives is important, but vacations are too short to spend them fighting other people’s prejudices.

      1. I think we get friends a lot, and sometimes sisters. It helps that we have similar hair and eye color, so we can go in disguise as family instead of ‘family’!

  7. It’s a tough call! On one side, you want to be open with people and share your different world view because maybe it will open their minds, or maybe they feel the same way…. but on the other hand, you dont want to put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.

    I think after he admitted that sometimes he feels that way, then maybe I would have felt more comfortable discussing the issue with him… but as you said… you were already determined to leave at that point

    1. I think the reason I felt so guilty about it is the fact that I know it’s hard to be a member of the LGBT community in Egypt and maybe people there need to know there are other people out there.

      Another commenter mentioned that maybe had I been in a more public space the circumstances would have been different. I have to agree with that.

  8. Thanks for sharing this post. That’s such a hard situation to be in. I can’t even imagine. But I would have done the exact same thing. I would feel guilty, as you did, but in any situation when you don’t feel at ease and your personal safety could be at risk you should think about what is best for yourself above all things. That’s my opinion at least.

  9. In the end, you didn’t lie to the guy. I think, if people can ask for anything in such a situation, it’s to be true to yourself. Pushing the guy to know what he meant and console him would be either be above and beyond or unintentionally/overly intrusive.

    1. Well, okay sure I didn’t invent a girlfriend or something but I don’t think I was true to myself. Nor do I think had I said “oh?” or something like that it would have been pushing the guy into an uncomfortable place. But what’s past is past. We can take these experiences and learn from them.

  10. In Egypt more than any other country I was asked whether I had a wife or a girlfriend. When I said no, my guides and Egyptian friends would pester me more and more about “why not”. I think I was asked more personal questions there than anywhere.

    I definitely didn’t feel comfortable there.

    On the flip side, I was asked if I was gay (“do you like men?”) by a cafe owner in Jordan. I didn’t hesitate to answer there and we had a perfectly nice conversation before, during and after the question. I think it’s dependent upon your personal situation and your general feeling when you’re talking with someone.

    1. I hear ya on the personal questions. I’m used to the standard questions you seem to get everywhere in the developing world. Do you have a wife? Do you have a girlfriend? In a lot of other places sometimes a joke gets thrown in about “Oh why are you single” and you can throw out a response like “It’s hard when you’re traveling” or something like that. And that’s the end of that

      I wonder if it’s perhaps a cultural thing in that what we consider to be personal questions are considered normal conversation in Egypt?

      Interesting to hear about Jordan. I got a MUCH different vibe in general there than I did in Egypt. I never felt like folks in Jordan had ulterior motives like I felt a lot of people in Egypt did.

  11. Wow. I don’t know that I would’ve reacted any differently. You had no way of knowing if he was trying to bait you, but at the same time his gaydar could’ve been going off and he may be thinking he found someone who could understand him. So I understand your rethinking it. Still, I don’t think I would’ve come out.

    Even in areas where it isn’t illegal, I’m VERY hesitant to say anything. When we lived on Utila in Honduras it took almost 8 months before I even told 1 person, and that was because they kept badgering me about was I married, did I have a girlfriend, etc., and I knew them well and felt safe. Then I came out to 2 others I had known for months on our last night on the island. Just hearing the derogatory comments about gays by the locals was enough to make me want to keep my mouth shut, and it’s hard because if anything I believe in allowing myself to be authentic. But when given a choice between personal safety or hiding. . . sometimes that closet door has to creak open again.

    1. The odd fact that in this whole story is that after he asked me the first time he returned to trying to pitch tours to me. Perhaps he was trying to “relate” to me so I’d buy one. Who knows?

      Interesting to hear about what you’ve faced in your travels and I’m sure as a single dad you get a lot of questions that the rest of us don’t have to face.

      And I can totally understand how hearing derogatory comments about LGBT folks is enough to make any clam up a bit. And as you said, personal safety trumps all.

  12. I can see how you would possibly regret the missed opportunity of being a friend to this man who might have been trying to reach out. At the same time, in that part of the world, I would flat-out deny being gay and never give it another thought. You’re braver than me!

  13. Interesting. You know, I sat down and thought about whether I would or would not come out to someone in this part of the world before I left home. In fact I didn’t think about the issue of sexaulity at all.

    Perhaps this experience has made me realize that jumping back into the closet isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

  14. Being straight, this isn’t something I have ever thought about. I don’t know how I would have responded, but I think you did the right thing. While we have that intrinsic desire to help others and console, you were in a place that is not open to lifestyles other than the one they say is “right.” You did the right thing and protected yourself.

  15. Given that you were cornered in a house, alone. I think you made the right choice. While the conversation would have been fascinating, it was the wrong setting, especially so soon.

    I generally avoid the conversation of family when in a non-LGBT friendly country. I don’t want to get caned!

    1. It’s a little tough to avoid conversations of family per say, since seemingly everyone in nearly every country I’ve been to always ask “Where are you from,” “Are you married,” “Do you have a girlfriend,” etc. Those I’ve come to expect and I reply no to them and people always seem to accept that.

      How do you get around that?

  16. I think, unfortunately, that in Luxor you can assume almost everyone you meet — with the exception of kids on a school trip — is trying to sell you something, and that this guy will have read you well enough to try and sell you something. But, from the fact that he read you, you might well assume that he’s not 100% straight.

    The robe — a gellabiya — is quite a common thing in Egypt and the Middle East — it’s not a sexual signifier.

    Also, much as homosexuality is formally frowned on here, there are a LOT of guys on the DL: on the principle that it doesn’t matter if you’re a top, fundamentally.

    Straight friends have been invited into bathrooms for fun and games. As a woman, guys will hit on me and try to sell me things at the same time: you’re both sex and money on tap, so why not go after both.

    Not all of Egypt is like this, but Luxor is the worst.

    1. I would definitely have to agree with you about Luxor. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone there and it took a while for me to warm up to this guy. (I skipped over a lot of conversation for the purpose of this post).

      And I’m sure that homosexuality, though frowned upon, is common everywhere in the world. And the notion that it only matters depending on your sexual position is one that seems to stick in particularly conservative areas…

      I don’t know if you’re familiar with the play (or movie) “Angels in America,” but Roy Cohn, a historical figure who was very conservative, appears in it. He has this line that stands out to me in this situation where he insists that he’s not gay. He is someone who has sex with men. But he’s not a homosexual because he doesn’t get into the homosexual mindset, so naturally he’s heterosexual.

      And yes, I do realize not all of Egypt is like this. I really disliked Luxor for a number of reasons (one of which was the overzealous vendors), but as soon as I escaped to less touristy parts, it was a chance to see what real Egyptians were like.

  17. Ahh Egypt my favorite country in the world, filled with so many things I don’t understand about it. First I’ll start with your interesting story… I don’t know what I would have done in your position so I am not going to even try and wonder, because I’ll never know until I am put in that position.

    As you know I have been on the road now 13 months and I am trying to think hard if there has ever been a time where I have had to go back to the closet. I don’t think I have ever had too and I know I am not the most masculine man in the world, but know I am not flamboyant either. I have been myself 100% everywhere I have gone and never had any problems. Don’t know if it’s luck or if it’s my wit… because I know I have been asked many times in many countries if I am married and I always answer “NO” and when I get the “WHY NOT?” I say “because right now I am busy seeing the world.” They don’t have to know that because I am traveling the world I am not MARRYING A MAN RIGHT NOW… so I leave it up to them to think whatever.

    The truth is I think many people especially in 3rd world countries are really oblivious to a GLBT tourist being in front of them. I think when they see us they already see us as different and don’t think much more than just that. I don’t think they try and then wonder if we are GLBT. Does that make sense?

    I will point this out as for in Egypt… as you also know I am dating in Egyptian from Cairo and I love that we can walk down the street holding each other and we know we are holding each other cus we love each other and are dating but the rest of Cairo sees us as good friends just walking around. I don’t understand how HOMOSEXUALITY especially GAY is so frowned up and punishable by jail or even death in some of these countries is it okay for men to be so affectionate towards each other. I know it’s a sign of friendship, but I will never understand that. God I can go on and on with many other observations, but will stop it here cus this is already probably the longest comment I have ever left on a blog. I will be spending 3 months in the summer in Egypt so trust me I will be writing about things like this.

    1. Jaime, I’m used to getting the same questions, as I’m sure every traveler is. “Are you married?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” And I can always give an answer very similar to the one you mentioned. “Oh well I’m traveling right now, it would be rather hard.” Most people stop at that, so I’m very used to leaving to think whatever, but this guy didn’t stop at that, which kind of put me in a very awkward situation.

      It is kind of funny how what we would term to be “gay behavior,” like two men walking down the street holding hands, doesn’t actually mean much more than friendship in much of the world. It’s true in parts of South America too. Chock it up to cultural differences.

      But just think that if you were dating someone in a country where two men holding hands in public was NOT a sign of friendship but instead frowned upon because homosexuality was frowned upon, you’d be in a very different situation and would likely have to keep any outward signs of your relationship hidden.

  18. Great story from Aaron here, he’s one of my favourite bloggers/Tweeps out there.

    In that situation…I think I’d have done the same thing. And I think I’d have felt a bit guilty, too. I’m “in the closet” in a way in Korea. People ask me, “do you have a girlfriend” all the time, and I just laugh and say no. Nobody’s straight up asked me, “so do you like men?” – I’m not sure what I’d do in that case. (of course my friends, including my Korean friends, are well aware that I’m gay).

    I can’t imagine what it must be like for the guy you met – gay or bi, married, and in a country where even talking about homosexuality could land you in trouble. The main thing that strikes me is that he sounds kind of lonely, and that always upsets me – when people have nobody to talk to about how they’re feeling.

    1. I’m skeptical that this guy was lonely since he was ultimately trying to sell me something like seemingly everyone else I met in Luxor. He did kindly ask me on a few occasions why I didn’t want to visit the Nubian Village and after he asked me I wanted to marry a man the first time, he proceeded to show me testimonials of folks who’d gone on his tour. For all I know, his revelatory moment about how wished he could marry a man could have been a ploy to keep me there longer. Or he really could have been lonely. Who knows?

      I do agree though, it’s sad when we encounter members of our community who can’t talk about who they are or what they’re going through.

      Interesting to hear about your experience in Korea. What’s the general view on homosexuality like there? I know Thailand, for example, is very accepting, but Korea is a very different place…

  19. Thanks for sharing your story Aaron. I think you responded the right way, not knowing anything about this guy’s motives.

    While certainly not the same, I sometimes get uncomfortable talking about my lack of religion when I travel. It can make people treat you differently based on their pre-conceived assumptions.

    I have no problem lying to strangers on the road to avoid a long drawn-out conversation/argument if I’m not in the mood for it.

    And there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling someone their questions are getting too personal.

      1. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Usually while chatting with older people on local buses and in small towns. I also get the girlfriend/wife questions, and will sometimes say I have a girlfriend even if I don’t at the time. Family & religion questions are all some local people think to ask me, at least in Latin America. 🙂

  20. Even in western-leaning secular Turkey, we’ve had the same conversation with many young Turkish men. There is huge social and familial pressure to conform and get married, even if you go your own way, sexually speaking, afterwards. Besides, to most Turks only the passive partner is actually considered gay. The confusion between the sexual act and the desire to form a romantic bond with a member of the same gender is where the trouble starts. Having said that, we’re an open (though discrete) gay couple and we’ve rarely felt a bad vibe from the people around us. I assume, as infidels, we’re Hell-bound anyway so it hardly matters what we do. I think you dealt with the situation as best you could given the unusual circumstances.

    1. A few commentators in this post have mentioned the notion that you’re only considered gay if you’re in the passive position. That’s a notion that exists amongst conservatives in the U.S. as well.

      Funny, I would think the desire to form a romantic bond and the notion of sexual acts with a member of the same sex would be somewhat intertwined since sexual desires are more instinctual. Maybe it’s a matter of putting two and two together…

      Hell-bound infidels…. that’s certainly one way to think of us! 😛

  21. What a surreal experience! One minute he is trying to get you on a tour and the next he is coming out (possibly) to you. It’s strange that straight off the bat he went with that conversation topic… this doesn’t seem like a supportive environment to come out to a complete stranger, especially when he didn’t know your sexuality or views on homosexuality. Seems like a very risky move, no?

    1. Well, to be fair, there was a lot of conversation before he brought up the sexuality stuff that I left out for the purpose of this post, which included several minutes of me waiting outside for him to make the tea (in which I took the photos you see here of his house). But yes, I was rather taken aback by what I viewed as a fairly intrusive question.

      I would be willing to bet that what makes international news are the successes in the marriage equality fight in this country, not the setbacks, which might lead one in that position to believe that anyone whose from the U.S. is socially accepting of LGBT folks. Just an assumption.

      And remember, I more or less outed myself by refusing to answer his question in the first place, so he may have based his decision on that.

      OR, as several commentators have mentioned, it was simply a ploy to get me to stick around and buy a tour. Who knows?

  22. For a seasoned traveller ….. how could you be so naive? He wasn’t looking for a kindred soul to “come out to” he was offering you sex and had you pursued it you would probably have the option of him or someone else! Don’t you know that sex for men with men is part and parcel of Luxor? Just like Thailand is for men wanting women? Why do you think he didn’t take you home to his family? Living in a hut with other men waiting to sell tours? Come on! Egyptians are brilliant at reading people and particularly at sussing out when foreigners are gay. Many of them have wives and kids – it’s just business. And by the way, I’ve lived there for 10 years so I know what I am talking about.

    1. I know in most Muslim countries it is common for men to have sex with men. As long as you are the one doing the fucking & not receiving it is not a sin. I don’t know how or why they have this view point, but it’s crazy. I had no clue though that in Luxor it’s like a huge thing for men to do things like this. I mean to approach tourist for sex I know is very common all over the world, but I guess I would have never thought of it for Gay travelers. Very interesting to know.

      1. I’ve often found that to be a fairly common refrain in more conservative places, even here in parts of the US. People don’t want to be perceived as “gay” yet they have sexual relations with members of the same sex… I find it baffling too, but I guess if you’re not comfortable with the idea of homosexaulity…

  23. Ummm no, I did not know that sex for men with men is part and parcel with Luxor. Nor would I consider Thailand to be the heterosexual version of that as that’s a pretty blanket statement. Yes, Thailand has a sex tourism side, but to say that it’s part of the norm is pretty unfair to Thailand.

    According to him, his family lived in a different village and he lived here with several other families (not men). If you follow that model of the husband going off to find fortune in the big city, it exists all over the world. China is a great, yet more extreme, example.

    So if I get your implication correctly, you’re saying he was…a prostitute?

  24. Fascinating!

    I too thought that perhaps the man was thinking of sex….but unlike the commenter, Mara, above, I assume that as a seasoned gay traveller you *would* have understood if he was asking for sex in the first place. From your description, it seems to me he was a little lonely – but I wasn’t there, and the past is the past and now who knows what his ‘real’ deal was.

    I think about the topic of outing myself A LOT as I live in Qatar and am closeted with Qataris and Arabs that I work with, but out to all my western colleagues and people of all nationalities who I know socially. The fact is homosexual acts are illegal here so if QAtaris (in particular) found out then it could very well mean I lose my job and get deported. But, I knew that before I got here, and I still accepted the job.

    So, as you can imagine there isn’t much in the way of a gay community – correction: there is an underground community that I am still trying to get access too. This means I am always looking out for other gay people whenever I’m out and about. When I lived in Budapest and Istanbul, I just outed myself to pretty much everyone (including my students – I’m an English teacher, by the way)(please kindly ignore any glaring mistakes in this comment), but the thought of deportation makes me be less bold, much more careful here in Doha.

    …my point in sharing this is to say that I agree: personal safety must be paramount. I have no doubt that under different circumstances you would have come out to him, or other LGBT in Egypt, but that just didn’t come up.

    You know, it could be that an LGBT in Egypt has googled ‘gay Egypt’, found your post, and felt better about themself, so take solace in that 🙂 Heck, I found your post insightful, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.


  25. I can’t say the thought of him looking for sex ever crossed my mind. That said, by the time he made his revelation, I was so set on getting out of there that even his revelation went by in a flash. It’s possible he was lonely, but he was also clearly trying to sell me a tour so maybe he was trying to “connect” with me as a sales tactic. I don’t know.

    I can imagine that the threat of deportation is intense enough to keep just about anyone in the closet! Though it’s interesting that you came out to everyone in Turkey. I was there a couple of months ago and stayed with a gay CouchSurfing host in Istanbul, who was out to his circle of friends but no one else. All of his gay friends were the same way. And when I inquired about this he talked about how strongly Islam shunned homosexuality.

    And thanks for your kind words Simon! I’m glad to hear you found this to be insightful and hope that you’re right that maybe, just maybe it provides solice for someone!


  26. 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!!!

    1. 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.

      1. I think you acted very appropriately given the situation so I wouldn’t worry about that in retrospect. It’s tough and you need to protect yourself and stay safe. He may have just had poor social skills or he may have been nuts! People can go missing in countries like Egypt and never be found.

  27. 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?

    1. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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:

  30. 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.

    1. 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…

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