Being a journalist, I like to think that I’m generally pretty open and ready for all kinds of weird situations that I might find myself in. But the other night I have to admit I was thrown off-balance in a way I hadn’t imagined I could be.
Seeing that homosexuality is still officially illegal in Lebanon, I won’t get into too many details. But after a wonderful dinner I ended up going to a gay bar in Beirut. This was actually something I had been looking very much forward to before I moved to Lebanon. I’ve been to plenty of gay bars in Copenhagen and seen pretty much everything. But I’d also been told that the gay scene in Beirut was much more fun and wild. So when some friends suggested we go to this bar I was all up for it.
However, while I might have been up for it the bar certainly wasn’t. In front of the door sat a bouncer with big biceps and a tight, black sleeveless top. He smiled when some of the others were about to enter. But his smile stiffened when he saw me. In Arabic, he asked the others (all men) if they knew what kind of place this was. They did. He asked them if they were sure they wanted to take me. They were. Then he looked at me and in English asked if I was sure I wanted to go in. At this point I started to feel slightly nervous. Seeing that I’ve been to several gay bars and know how wild things can get, I was afraid of what might be waiting on the other side of the door. Why else would the bouncer be so apprehensive? Pictures of men dressed in nothing but tight black leather with different kinds of toys and in compromising positions went rushing through my mind as I started thinking maybe I really didn’t want to enter the place.
But I didn’t want to spoil the party and figured if it was completely awful I could always leave. So I went inside and saw… A totally normal bar with totally normally dressed men. But very, very quiet men! Had the music not been playing so loud I’m quite sure one would have been able to hear a pin drop once I entered the place. From the looks on all the men’s faces one would have thought that they had never seen a woman before. And especially one (very cute) bartender kept staring and staring.
Now, for my friends the whole situation was very funny. They couldn’t help laughing at the reactions I was getting. For me however, things became a bit awkward. Not because I had a problem being there. But because I was afraid the others guests somehow felt offended or prohibited by my presence. My friends told me to relax and said it was no problem. And the owner of the bar gave me a warm welcome, so I figured it was probably ok for me to be there.
Once I was able to relax a bit (but only a tiny bit) I started noticing small things. Seeing that homosexuality is technically still illegal here, you won’t see gay men showing any kinds of signs of affections on the street or in public. So I thought they would take advantage of the fact that they were in an environment were they could be completely open and uninhibited. They weren’t. In fact, when two men wanted to become a bit more physical they would go to the darkest corner of the dance floor, kiss a bit and then return to the bar. This surprised me a bit, but after thinking about it a little I came to the conclusion that it just goes to show that in Lebanon – just like everywhere else – gay people really aren’t that different from straight people. You would never see a man and a woman kissing each other deeply in public here. Neither on the street, nor in a club. So why should that be different for gay people?
Still afraid that some of the people there felt awkward about my presence, I chose to sit on a couch in a hidden corner. And after a while someone finally did come and talk to me. A very nice Greek-Lebanese, who wanted to make sure I was having fun. He also wanted to let me know that there was actually one straight guy in the club. The very cute bartender!
So I ended my evening sitting by the bar, getting free drinks and being asked to dance by some of the men, who it turned out loved the fact that a woman was actually there. My friends looked on and found the whole thing extremely entertaining. But on our way home they couldn’t help remarking on the fact that at the end of it all I was the one who wanted the least attention, but ended up getting the most.