Being Gay in Jordan

Amman, Jordan — February 2015

If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman.
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.
I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her.
One day I’d find an honest man to make my husband.
We would have two children, build our home on the Gulf of Mexico.
Our family would spend hot summer days at the beach together.
The sun would kiss our skin as we played in the sand and water.
We would know we loved each other without having to say it.

-Against Me

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I couldn’t help it.

As I noticed him exercising with a semi-erection in his tight black jeans, I giggled. You would too.

His friend saw this, pointed me out to others in the area, pointed to his penis, pointed back at me, and yelled something in Arabic. He and all his friends stared at me and laughed heartily.

And just like that, I was the token gay guy at the gym.

I’ve rarely needed excuses to harass people who I dislike, meaning that their homophobia quickly turned me into Richard Simmons.

If I had cared more, I may have pointed out that the man who had an erection while laying on his back underneath a handful of muscular, sweaty men probably shouldn´t lead a crusade against gays. Or that the two meatheads who take off their shirts to practice flexing together in the changing room aren’t the ladykillers they profess to be. But I didn’t care more. I finished my workout and winked at my new friends as I left.

Even before the incident at the gym, I already got more attention than usual. Sure I’m white and in the middle of Jordan, but plenty of Europeans used Amman as a pit stop on the way to the Dead Sea or Petra.

Did my clothes do me in? My usual outfit was shorts and either a yellow or orange shirt. I’ve seen one other person who wears shorts in Jordan and he puts pants back on before leaving the gym. T-shirts and colors were rare as well, as nearly all other men opted for jackets in subdued colors.

My typical outfit
How everyone else dressed

My shoes probably didn’t help my cause either. Black, with neon yellow laces and highlights.

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The pink, alpaca yarn lace was a later addition

Then there was my phone. My old one finally went beyond repair so I bought a new one. I chose the purple case to get under the skin of those who disapprove of men with purple phone cases. At this point I also started shaving regularly and playing The Ocean (lyrics above) anytime I was away from work and within earshot of others, creating one of the dumbest passive-aggressive stands ever.

The attention got more intense. Locals in the area would now stop me to take a selfie with me, ask me to lift my shorts higher so they can see more of my legs, or sometimes just point to my legs and give me a thumbs up. I was turning into some kind of flamboyant celebrity. This all led to an awkward finale.

I was working on the seventh floor and directly after a coworker left, the very young and very flamboyant shopkeeper from down the street came into the kitchen with me. He backed me awkwardly into the corner between the sink and counter and asked me how often I go to the gym. He then told me that he often went and flexed his noodle of an arm, asking me to feel his muscles. I politely declined, and when he offered again I explained that my hands were soapy from the dishes.

I was worried later, it took balls of steel to try that approach in Jordan and I realized that I could have handled it more delicately. Maybe my female readers who are regularly hit on would know how to handle it better?

*A week after this I found another man who wore shorts. An older Syrian man checked into the hotel who wore black, cargo jean shorts and a suit jacket every day. When I told him we were the only ones in Amman who wear shorts, he replied “When you are my age, you do whatever the f— you want.” Age, jorts, and attitude? Too cool.
**After returning to Amman from working on a farm in Israel, we had a party in the hotel to watch the Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer game. When my friend went downstairs to grab food for everyone, the flamboyant shopkeeper down the street asked me to look at something on his phone, rubbing my hand as he handed me the phone. Ugh.

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