Ever wanted to know more about the gay scene in Beirut? No? Well it's there anyway, on the front page of the Times Sunday travel section. Theatre reporter Patrick Healy, a former political reporter whose coverage got more pro-Democrat as the campaign wore on, hit the gay bars in Beirut for the paper.
The subtle, almost coded headline: The Provincetown of the Middle East." (Provincetown, R.I. is a well-known gay tourist spot.) The sub head: "In recent years, Beirut has re-emerged as the party capital of the Arab world, particular for gay and lesbian vacationers who are going there in search of a social life denied them back home."
There's hardly anything about lesbians in the article though - justHealy, who is gay, hopping from gay bar to gay bar. He didn't waste any time getting tothe hedonism.Here's the lead (warning: explicit content):
The pre-party began at 9 p.m. in Bertho Makso's room at the Bella Riva Suite Hotel, and by 9:05 p.m. the air was awash in cologne, hair spray, cigarette smoke and gossip about the night ahead. Would a certain 20-something from West Beirut be at the beach party? Had the two men fromCairoarrived yet? Was the cute D.J. from Bardo, a gay bar here, going to be spinning? And did anyone need condoms?
The last question came from Bertho, a 28-year-old Lebanese tour operator who was the host of the main event that Thursday night in June: the Bear Arabia Mega Party, at the Oceana resort about 30 minutes south of Beirut. Scores of gay men - most of them "bears," a term used the world over for heavyset, hairy guys usually older than 30 - were coming from across Lebanon and the Arab world, as well asArgentina, Italy,Mexico, theUnited Statesand elsewhere. Bertho had been picking them up at the Beirut airport since morning, and he looked exhausted as he handed out fistfuls of condoms to the dozen men in the room.
"So many questions today about what 'gay Beirut' is like," he told me. "I'm just like, 'Wait and see, you'll like it, you'll like it!' "
Hidden beneath the hook-ups is a worthwhile story about the treatment of gays in Arab countries, an uncomfortable subject for American liberals.
In Iraq, for instance, conservative Muslim clerics have called for the "depravity" of homosexuality to be eliminated.Amnesty Internationalsaid this year that up to 25 boys and men had been killed in Baghdad because they were gay or were believed to be gay. In Saudi Arabia,Yemenand several other countries, homosexual acts are punishable by death.InMarch, a 44-year-old gay man in the Yemeni city of al-Hisn was shot to death, one of several gay men reported killed since mid-2008.
Healy eventually revealed, almost apologetically, that Beirut really isn't the "Provincetown" of the Middle East, that even there it's unwise to be too openly gay:
There is no gay neighborhood in Beirut per se, and bar-hopping here is not for the unadventurous.